Saturday, July 11, 2020

Finally Green ! Our New Reality Sets In


It seemed like such a big deal, when Luzerne County went to the "green" phase of re-opening.  That was on June 19th....  For me, the biggest change was that hair salons and barbers opened up, after over 3 months (a very long time for anyone running a small business).  Mom's hair trimming service on the deck at 215 Montgomery Ave is no longer needed - but all the newly-acquired trimmers & scissors are saved for future use.  Steve got his hair cut at his usual place near Walmart, Rob went to see Kevin (Jim's partner), I am going in 2 days when my hairdresser Sheryl is back to work and Alex doesn't have an appointment yet.  Dentists can begin routine checkups.  And indoor dining is allowed, subject to lower occupancy and distancing between tables.  After eating out a few times, it seems like restaurants are not super busy.  Wisely, most people around here are being careful.  Masks are required in all public places, and can be removed in limited situations like while in the dentist chair (of course) and while sitting at a restaurant table.

Alex, you've had a rough couple weeks.  Taylor's grandfather had been failing and began hospice care shortly before her planned vacation to see her Dad in Florida.  Unfortunately, he passed during her visit in Florida, in fact on her birthday (just awful!).  She drove home with her brother Mark just in time for the funeral, shortly after which Mark got sick.  He was seen by a doctor who told him he had COVID-19 symptoms and sent him for a COVID test.  While waiting for the results, he was getting better and the Fumanti family spent weekend time together at a campground including Taylor's grandmother.  On Sunday night, you told me Mark's COVID test came back positive.  Yikes!!!  So now it's a 14 day quarantine for you all, including COVID testing for you & Taylor last Thursday.  Results come back in 2-7 days.  Great news - every time I text you, you tell me you're doing fine.  And in fact you got a new kitten "Azula" (or Zuzu for short) a few days ago, so somehow you did go out to adopt her.  She is tiny and quite adorable.  Hopefully Chloe is contented with having a younger pal around.

I passed along Steve's suggestion that you name her Covid, with Covie as her nickname.  Your response was "Haha".

As soon as you get your COVID test result, I'm going to try again to get you a haircut appointment with Kevin.  Hopefully the timing works well, with you waiting to begin Volunteers in Medicine internship time on-site at the clinic.

In the meantime, Rob you have a summer job after all....  Plans to work at Camp Orchard Hill did not work out, since this year's summer program is limited to day camp with a small enrollment.  Plus you really will need your driver's license to work there conveniently, and won't have that until the end of the summer.  So in the meantime, you've begun helping Jim out with pet washing/drying at Grooming Cottage in Wyoming.  Today was your first day, and you seemed to be content on our drive home.  Plus you smelled pleasantly of shampoo (much nicer than the somewhat fishy odor Alex gave off upon coming home from his first job in the Fox Hill Country Club dish room).  You learned that wearing long pants and sneakers will be helpful.  And you're scheduled for 3 days next week, when you can polish your pet washing technique.

Thanks to Steve's love of yard work, we do have pretty flowers along the front walk and gorgeous flowers in pots on the deck and along the fence in back.  Below is a picture of a Mexican sunflower plant Grammie gave us that grew amazingly fast over (with constant watering) since early June.  Steve also planted 5 tomatoes in the original garden next to the deck, and I belatedly "suckered" them last weekend - likely way too much.....  It remains to be seen how productive the plants will be.  One huge accomplishment - Steve did 95% of the scraping, repairs and re-painting of the front porch window, railings & decking.  A big, tedious, time-consuming job.  Otherwise, I keep doing Prudential work - really am looking forward to vacation next month.


On the depressing side of things, Steve has not gone back to work yet and is getting restless.  He is starting to find more job postings, but the economy is not going to bounce back quickly as the pandemic affects our country & the world.  We had hope at the beginning of the summer that the first wave would subside.  It has not, COVID-19 case counts in Southern (including Florida) and Western states are very high, particularly where governors did not mandate strict and adequately long shut-downs.  Our great country is struggling through this pandemic with inadequate leadership at the federal level.  We are truly fortunate to live in Pennsylvania, where Gov. Wolf takes this situation seriously.  When you were very young, I read you Winnie the Pooh stories.  It's easy to remember Christopher Robin, Pooh, and the exuberant & bouncy Tigger.  Remember Eeyore who was almost always sad?  In one story, he lost his tail - Owl found it and pinned it to the tree trunk next to his door to use as a bell-pull.  Pooh noticed it there, and brought Eeyore his tail back.  As gloomy Eeyore said while his tail was missing: "It's not much of a tail, but I'm sort of attached to it."  I'm feeling similarly like we have lost our tail and need to have it pinned back on.  And I doubt the operation will be as quick and painless as Eeyore's was.



Saturday, June 6, 2020

COVID 19 - And Now We Are Yellow

Well, I feel like writing tonight.  About a week ago on May 29th, Luzerne County moved up to the "yellow" phase of Gov. Wolf's plan for re-opening the state.  Lackawanna County as well as Montgomery County, where Rivers and Bloom families live, just switched to "yellow" yesterday.  What does this mean?  Well, some retail stores have re-opened (like Boscov's) and restaurants can now have outdoor seating.  Steve and I went had gone for a walk in downtown Wilkes-Barre last Sunday, realized that Boscov's was about to open up and couldn't pass up the opportunity to be among the first returning shoppers going in at 11 am.  Also, it seemed "legal" to spend an overnight with Grammie and Grandad this weekend, which we also enjoyed.  (It is truly disturbing that the spotted lantern fly is now well-established in Wyncote; we expect it to arrive in Northeast PA as well - hopefully none too soon.)  Rob, you were quite happy to stay home by yourself and enjoy quiet time with Jean Luc and Rambo.

So what have you been up to?  Alex, when we talked last weekend (as I took you to work at Gerrity's for 7 am, while the Camry was getting new tires) you told me the pace of work at your internship is still a bit slow, given the remote work situation.  Hopefully it will pick up soon as offices re-open over the summer.  The Camry is up to over 131,000 miles and is holding up well without major maintenance expenses yet (makes me very happy that we've gotten almost 10 years of dependable driving with it).  Chloe has recuperated from urinary tract and ear infections, but still may not be feeling quite right since she is cranky and aggressive with you in particular (less so with Taylor).  It sounds as if you and Taylor will be bike riding now that Steve spruced up your bike and we've dropped it off.

Rob, now you've submitted everything required for your AP Computer Science exam and are are trying to keep focused on wrapping up school work.  Only two more weeks of remote school - yeah!  Camp Orchard Hill announced that it will open for summer day camp on June 29 (this is great news since at least there will be some camp this summer, though cancellation of all overnight camps is a big disappointment).  We are still going driving together, and need to begin parallel parking practice.  What else are you into these days?  Impractical Jokers!  Here are a couple "punishments" from YouTube that you shared with us after dinner this past week.  I especially like chasing poultry around the office.






I am trying to be more active, and enjoying morning walks.  It's great to be out when the air is fresh, there is usually a breeze and I can avoid getting overheated.  Today we went for a walk with Grammie at Pennypack Preserve.  A couple weeks ago we went to the Seven Tubs in Wilkes-Barre, which has a nice hiking trail along beautiful water falls.  Here a couple nice pictures that Steve took along as we walked along the stream.



In the larger world, there has been some good news as the unemployment rate is improving slightly.  But overall this was been a very difficult week for the country - following the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd.  There have been many peaceful and also some violent protests, along with property damage, injuries, looting and outrage that has its roots in systemic racism.  We heard from Mark yesterday that Grace has volunteered in downtown Philadelphia, helping any protesters who needed first aid.  A street in Washington DC was re-named Black Lives Matter Boulevard, with the new name painted in huge yellow letters.  Joe Biden has officially won the Democratic nomination for President, running against Donald Trump.  As we move into the final months before the 2020 U.S. presidential election and continue to navigate these dangerous times with COVID-19 sickness and death around the world, I hope that American people can find ways to focus on goals that help us address inequalities, protect the rights of all people in our our country and save our beautiful planet for future generations.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Grandma Carrollisms

About a month ago, Aunt Pam texted me that Grandma passed 12 years ago.  It seems like a long time, so much has happened and you both have grown up so much.  I think of her often at this time of year, especially when I see dogwood trees in bloom.  For Grandma, spring was the best time of year since she could enjoy the garden.  She was completely satisfied once it had been fertilized, tilled (by Dad, normally) and planted with sticks by every tomato plant (often 60+).  She would stand outside in bare feet watering in the morning and evening.  Once in a while there was threat of a frost, and she and Uncle George would get out every brown grocery bag in the house to cover up their young plants.

Your Grandma Carroll loved you so much, and was a full partner to Dad and me in raising you as young children.  After each of you were born, she told me how very hard she prayed while I was in labor with you.  She loved getting you clothes and toys, and of course you remember the Thomas the Tank Engine train platform at her house - which you played with for so many happy hours.  We were blessed to have her in our lives.

Here are a few things that come to mind when I think of how much she enjoyed you, along with names, words, phrases etc. that she used.
  • "Bob" - Grandpa
  • "Bobby" - Dad
  • "Ruthie" - Aunt Pam
  • "Becca" - Aunt Rebecca
  • "Georgy" - Uncle George
  • "Black Foot" - Grandpa's nickname for Grandma (as washing her feet was an afterthought)
  • "Boughten" - store-bought
  • "Mango" - a green pepper 
  • "Piggies" - Pigs in a Blanket stuffed cabbage, following a Slovak recipe
  •  "In a coon's age" - in a Long Time
  • "Dry as punk" - very dry (sometimes her well-done roast beef served for Sunday dinner could qualify, but was saved by homemade gravy)
  • "Beer garden" - A local bar
  • "Dig in the dirt" - Planting the garden, her absolute favorite thing to do
  • "Put that in your pipe and smoke it!" - when quite annoyed 
  • "Going to watch my program" - watching a favorite TV show, sometimes a soap opera or preferably a professional wrestling match
  • "Had to get out every pot in the house...." - when making halushki, a Polish dish that was one of Dad's favorites
  • "Framer's Omelet" - oversight when Grandma ordered a "Farmer's Omelet" from the menu at a local diner, when having breakfast with Aunt Pam
  • Crestfallen - when baby Alex first tried her mashed potatoes and spit them out in disgust, after which she found out that he ate them mixed with apple sauce at day care (CDC)
  • Hysterical laughter - when toddler Robby ran into the TV room and said "Grandma, there's teeth in your bathroom!" after noticing her teeth soaking in a clear drinking glass
  • "No ketchup on your fruit!" - directed to Robby who wanted ketchup on almost everything as a little kid (with pancakes was especially disgusting)
  • "EEEEEKKK" - while climbing on top of a chair or couch, completely horrified at the slightest inkling there was a mouse in the kitchen (God forbid there was an actual mouse - she would not come down until someone, like Grandpa or Dad, removed it)
Here's a happy picture of Grandma with Dad, in Ocean City during the summer of 2006.  


Saturday, May 23, 2020

COVID-19 - Still Red

Well, it's Memorial Day weekend 2020.  I haven't felt much like writing about here-&-now for a few weeks.  We are past the worst of what is probably COVID-19 Wave 1 (we're likely to have Wave 2 next winter).  Case numbers are coming down in Luzerne & Lackawanna County.  The most illness and death has involved, sadly, lower-income people especially in Hazleton (many of whom live in larger family groups, and some of whom work in warehouse businesses and meat packing plants), residents of nursing & assisted living facilities, and health care workers.  Fortunately, all of us are healthy - so I won't complain about some recent boredom with staying home so much.  I am very amused that our Charmin Plant has gotten more publicity:

NPR: Charmin Factory Keeps Humming

TheWorldNews: Always Busy Charmin Factory

Alex, you have been fine so far, to my relief.  Gerrity's is pretty serious about protecting store workers.  Rob, you just stay home mostly all the time.  I am home a lot too - since he's not working, Steve is out more with careful stops at home stores & grocery stores.  There are limitations on how many people can be in stores, carts & other surfaces are cleaned regularly and wearing masks is a "must" (as you told me Alex, shoppers are asked to leave or sometimes get arrested if not wearing one at Gerrity's).  With help from YouTube, I am now capable of simple men's haircare....  with beard & hair clippers and a couple pair of scissors, I have managed to get Rob's beard & hair mostly under control, and trimmed Steve's hair fairly well.  Quite proud of myself :-)  Here is Rob after his initial "do" looking suspiciously like a mushroom cut, before I got the thinning shears so I could even it out the ridge along the sides/back.  What a handsome boy !!!



So what's new with you?  Rob, you took your APUSH exam about a week ago - yay!  it's over!!  The exam was modified, and involved writing out one essay in just 45 minutes.  Your topic was Slavery From 1754 - 1850.  You said you were not thrilled to have an exam that was limited to an essay, but you Absolutely have learned the APUSH material and clearly deserve to get credit for that.  You won't know the score for a while, but I cannot imagine that you didn't pass.  The AP Computer Science testing requirements are due to be wrapped up next week - without a timed exam.  So you're getting close to being done with Junior year AP work entirely, then school will be wrapped up on June 18th.

Alex, you finished the spring semester at Misericordia with, I believe, 3 finals.  You are Very Happy to be done, as online classes were very demanding.  Plus you have senioritis (you're not taking a summer class and just 1 semester to go!).  This summer it's going to be weekend shifts at Gerrity's and also an internship at Volunteers in Medicine, Wilkes-Barre (www.vimwb).  I am so glad your college experience includes this opportunity.  It's at least beginning as a remote internship, which is definitely unique.  I expect you will learn a lot, at least partly due to being involved during the midst of a pandemic.

I am working many hours for Prudential, still remotely from your old bedroom Alex (it has been super useful to have this extra space, and still nice to know you're happy at Wildflower Village).  I don't miss traveling to CT and NJ.  But things are kind of crazy as workload demands have grown steadily over several years - and now with stock market volatility and the sudden job losses & likely economic recession as a result of COVID, there is additional significant strain with volumes of customer phone calls and loans & distributions that employees are taking out of retirement plans.  The unemployment rate is now about 15% across the US (in your lifetimes, the next worst was a 10% unemployment rate during the 2009 global financial crisis).  Steve is pursuing a good job opportunity, but doesn't think it would materialize until offices begin to re-open.

When will things re-open?  Governor Wolf has announced that Luzerne County will go "Yellow" on May 29th.  More retail businesses can open and gatherings of up to 25 people will be allowed.  So Grooming Cottage can re-open and JLA will get a bath.  (Salons will have to wait at least until "Green", sadly for me.)   Rob and I took a roadtrip to Wyncote yesterday, to celebrate Grandad's 83rd birthday.  It was nice, but disconcerting to be with so many people at once - even just family.  Everyone is well, in fact Meagan and Anthony are expecting another baby is December, to join big brother Julian.  Rob, you seemed to enjoy Julian and time with Lu.  As one final interesting note, there are still some empty shelves at stores including for all-purpose flour.  Apparently many people are spending extra time baking, including us to some extent.  I made Spice Drop Cakes this morning, a Rivers family favorite - as you can see below.  (I've also included a picture of a Carroll family favorite which was originally Aunt Gloria's recipe, Cherry Pudding - this time the cherries floated to the top.)  Yum!  Alex, we're bringing yours over in about half an hour along with your bike that Steve is currently working on to inflate tires and clean up.  SYS !



Sunday, May 17, 2020

Jersey Girls

It was a soft landing.  If you're going to leave your home in the Caribbean and return to the Northeast U.S., coming back to the Jersey shore was perfect.  In 1971, after three somewhat difficult years for Grandad especially, we headed back toward Pennsylvania.  Now there were 5 of us, including Aunt Diana.  I think we arrived in late spring.  We lived in Ventnor (immediately south of Atlantic City), a couple blocks from the beach in temporary housing for missionaries taking a vacation between or upon returning from work overseas.  After an internet search, I've figured that the property where we lived included for 4 houses owned by the provided by a non-profit organization, the Interdenominational Foreign Missionary Society.

My favorite memory is going to the beach that summer our buckets, shovels, towels etc. walking on the hot pavement, across the boardwalk and out to the sand.  Of course we played in the water, and discovered it was fun to play under the boardwalk where the sand was cool and we could see people walking overhead.  There were other girls around our whose families were staying in the complex -  Ruthie and Dawn.  Interesting, Steve and I have spent a couple long weekends in Atlantic City and drove around in Ventnor, eventually finding the property in 2017.  It's off Portland Ave (I had long forgotten the street name).  See the picture below - the house with the porch in the foreground.  Now the yard seems so much smaller and I realize it's attached to the house next door.  (A side note, many homes are now being permanently raised for flood protection - the 4x4 lumber stack was being used for to raise a house along the street.)




We enjoyed the yard playing with the other girls.  I remember going to a local church, where Grandad sometimes helped out with services.  My first memories of TV were from this time - Grandad liked to watch re-runs of Get Smart.  We found out there were cartoons on Saturday mornings.  I learned to ride a bike without training wheels here - after getting the basics down, Grandad told me I was all set except not to ride down by the bay.  That would have never occurred to me, so I immediately rode down to the bay, took a quick look around and came back home.  Some other memories are an outing to the fire station in Margate, visits from Nana and Grandad, and a weekend with Uncle Dick, Aunt Ginny and cousins Matt, Jess and Steve when we drove up to Atlantic City to walk the boardwalk.  I seem to remember Grammie getting almond macaroons, which are still one of her favorites.  During the next school year, I repeated second grade this time with English instruction (I assume Aunt Julie repeated kindergarten).  This was the only time of my life that I rode a school bus to and from school.  Here are two pictures of the Jersey girls from 1971.  Pictures of Aunt Julie are almost always "action" shots, since she had (and still has) SO much energy.  I'm sure Nana had knitted our beautiful sweaters.


In the spring of 1972, Grandad became the rector and Gloria Dei (Old Swedes) Church, and we moved to Philadelphia.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

COVID-19 Doldrums

Another week past in the COVID-19 shutdown.  Alex, you're now wearing a mask to work at Gerrity's (yeah!).  A batch of disposable, anti-viral masks that I ordered 2 months ago arrived this week.  I'm so glad you, of all of us, have them since you're at the greatest risk working in a grocery store.  Starting on Monday, Gerrity's will require all customers and employees to wear masks.  That is a relief.  It feels like this shutdown will Never end, though in fact we are so lucky to be healthy and not have young children at home (which creates the huge challenge of taking care of them and working, as many of my friends at Prudential are doing).  Federal and state leaders are just starting to plan for re-opening, but that certainly won't be for a while (testing must be readily accessible - seems like the Mohegan Sun Arena may be a drive-in testing site).

Rob, you hear that Wyoming Area will begin instruction on new material by the end of the month.  That will be great, as life is getting quite boring.  On a related note, SATs have been cancelled through June (however, College Board indicates there will be plenty of testing opportunities in the fall).  One super good thing happened this week...  Mr. Butler, a WA guidance counselor, let us know that Wyoming Area nominated you for a University of Rochester award for high school juniors - the Fredrick Douglass Award.  This is so exciting!  We are SO proud of you!!  On the University website, I found information about the award program including this description:

Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony Award
  • Demonstrated commitment to understanding and addressing difficult social issues
  • Leadership and dedication to community action
  • Strong grades and rigorous courses taken in the humanities and social sciences

One more unique event of the week (a "first")....  Grandad and Aunt Julie organized an Easter Vigil via Zoom on Sunday morning, including music that Julie played (french horn and piano).  It worked fine with one person speaking, but didn't synchronize well with everyone talking or singing together.  Alex, you went fishing at Harvey's Creek from 6:30 on, and Rob you were not up by 9 so missed it.  Really enjoyed seeing my whole family, which included Uncle John, Aunt Fran and the boys from Doha as well as Meghan, Anthony and Julian from Phoenixville.  Noel and Larson looked great (Noel read a lesson so clearly) and Julian of course is adorable - waved at everyone and said "Uh Oh" for good measure.  I have been thinking all week about how I can contribute more to my community, prompted by this one sentence prayer from the conclusion of the service:  "Pray that we may have grace to glorify Christ in our own day."

The weather has been cool and on the rainy side this week, which has contributed to being in the doldrums (no walks around West Pittston).  Rob, we went driving on Thursday night and hit a massive pothole on Wyoming Ave. in Forty Fort - which amazingly, Steve had hit driving the Silverado on Wednesday night.  The truck came through unscathed, but the Maxima immediately had a completely flat tire.  We called AAA - thankfully, I have not yet changed a tire - and the donut spare was on in about 45 minutes.  Now the car at Jack Williams for tire repair...  waiting to hear how bad the damage is.  On top of that, today Steve and I were supposed to see Fiddler on the Roof at the Scranton Cultural Center - but the show has been cancelled.

Alex, you've mentioned that "Dad Music" is playing on the speakers at Gerritys all the time.  Well, this song probably falls under that category since the Bee Gees are a band from my younger years.  They are world famous, and this week I discovered a contemplative song performed beautifully in concert by Robin Gibb.  It was 1989, when he was 39 years old (I was 24).  I just know this is going to be a favorite song I'll enjoy on YouTube for a long time to come.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

La Gran Aventura - The Princess Years

Fifty years ago I was living in the Dominican Republic.  By far, this was the most interesting and memorable stage of my childhood (it's kind of unique that Grandad was a missionary in the Caribbean).  My parents were definitely ready for an adventure, heading off with pre-school girls to a country that recently had serious political trouble.  We left Allentown when I was 3 years old in 1968 - initially to spend time in Cuernavaca, Mexico where Grammie and Grandad went to classes at what I believe was a missionary training center.  This included learning Spanish.

About 6 months later, we arrived in the Dominican Republic to live in a city named San Pedro de Macoris.  I just looked it up in Wikipedia, and it is well known for its excellence in baseball - you can read about it here: The Craddle of Shortstops   Here's a map of the entire island of Hispaniola, showing Haiti and the DR.


Maybe it's surprising that I have many memories of living in this warm, balmy place with incredible sunsets, latino culture including wonderful music and stark contrasts of the "have's" (mostly Americans) vs. "have not's" (mostly Dominicans).  This will likely be an exceptionally long post as there is so much I can write about.  I will supplement my actual memories with details that I've gathered from Grammie and Grandad over the years.

Politics:  The history of the Caribbean islands (what transpired with their native people, colonization, slavery and economic development) is incredibly sad.  As with all the native populations, relatively few colonial settlers benefited from the toil and sacrifices of many, many unfortunate others.  There had been a violent dictatorship, followed by some of years of turmoil during which the US Army and Marines occupied the DR.  In the late 1960's, it was not completely safe for Americans - at least one time Aunt Julie and I stayed with friends outside of San Pedro.  We had limited awareness of the troubled times, but it was certainly stressful for Grammie and Grandad.

Culture:  I can't describe all the cultural norms, but will mention what comes to mind.  Society was dominated by men, who might have multiple sets of 'wives' and kids.  Lighter skinned people were considered more attractive and had greater opportunities than darker skinned people.  Overweight women were considered beautiful (which is understandable in a country where many don't have enough food).  Most people were poor.  Housing was very simple, often concrete block construction with limited plumbing.  It wasn't unusual to see very young kids going around naked.  Anything of value (such as church items) should not be left unattended or accessible, due to risk of theft; and if this did occur, the unfortunate person who failed to secure the valuable item was considered to be at fault.  As an example, clothes hung out in our back yard to dry could be and were stolen.  I remember hearing a lot of Cuban music.  Christmas is primarily a religious holiday; a bigger celebration with family, friends, food, music and gifts occurs at Epiphany or Three Kings Day (Dia de Los Reyes).

Geography:  San Pedro de Macoris is on the southern coast, not too far from Santo Domingo.  Outside of town there were sugar plantations, where men were still cutting fields of sugar cane using machetes.  Kids would chew on raw sugar cane (imagine the tooth decay!).  Downtown, there was an outdoor market with all types of food items.  I remember trips to Santo Domingo for shopping and to visit family friends, as well as trips to La Romana where we also had friends.  In particular, an Episcopal Bishop Kellogg and his wife who lived in Santo Domingo were very close friends; they were very generous to all of us.  They gave Julie and me a fabulous doll house.  In La Romana there was a country club-type place with a pool that Aunt Julie and I loved to swim in.  The DR was prone to earth quakes (none serious while we were there), and everyone knew to run outside if the ground started to move.

Weather:  It was generally Hot, although there was often a breeze.  During the hottest part of afternoon, there was a quiet siesta time to rest.  Although it didn't bother us much as kids, I remember Grandad sweating a lot.  There was a rainy season in the fall, and tropical storms were fairly common (I don't remember any major damage).  Really, it was beautiful around our house - we had a garden with hibiscus and other tropical plants.  There were also small lizards and plenty of bugs (the nastiest being centipedes).  One very unpleasant memory is accidentally stepping on a centipede and getting bitten (maybe this happened twice); I think this is why meeting the occasional house centipede freaks me out, and I make other boys and men in the house deal with them.  We went to some absolutely gorgeous beaches, in particular I remember day trips Embassy Beach.  Just like in the movies, local boys would shimmy up palm trees to knock down coconuts - they would be split open, and we could drink the "milk" inside.  Actually, I don't like it at all.  We would play in the ocean, somehow eat our sandwiches including sand every time, and I remember Grandad going spearfishing nearby, 

The Church:  Grandad's church was San Esteban, of the Iglesia Episcopal Dominicana.  The church sponsored both elementary and secondary parochial schools; the elementary school was directly across the street from our house.  Grandad dealt with some significant labor problems related to the secondary school, which may have involved a strike.  His work certainly was not easy.  Here's a nice photo I found on the Diocese website.  Looking back on his time there, Grandad has said that he believes the time of the American missionary in the Dominican Republic was over.  He understood that Dominican clergy would be leading the church from then forward.



Our House:  We lived in a beautiful, large home with a lovely back yard, about half a block from the church.  I understand it had previously been a diplomat's home. The front porch wrapped around our house, and wasn't completely level.  After storms, Julie and I would take turns sweeping rain water off the porch.  One of the most disturbing memories from my childhood was waking up to find a man walking around in our house - a burglar had broken in.  Julie and I ran into Grammie and Grandad's room and climbed into bed with them.  I was absolutely terrified that he would hurt us, which he didn't as he just wanted whatever money and valuables he could steal.  The next day, the police thought I could potentially identify him and I remember looking at photos of men in a large binder, trying to see if there was anyone I recognized.  Since it was night time, I didn't get a good look at his face and doubt this could have been successful.  In retrospect, I don't understand why a girl about 5 years old would be asked to look at mug shots.  For many years afterwards, when I heard unfamiliar sounds at night it was very frightening....  I would lie awake shaking.  Here's a picture of us at home in 1969.



Family:  When we arrived, it was Mom, Dad, Julie and me.  Diana was born in 1970 (a baby had been lost to miscarriage a bit earlier).  Given Grandad's stature (and given the size of the house & grounds, with limited appliances), it was normal to have servants.  I remember just a couple of them, but in particular Henny was a nanny to the kids - a sweet person who loved all of us.  A birthday party picture from the DR that's hanging along the stairway was from a joint "half" birthday party that Aunt Julie and I had along with neighborhood friends including Henny's children.  And inserted below is a 1970 picture of all us kids, in front of Henny's house.  There was an earth quake after Diana was born, and I remember Henny running to get her from the crib.  Grammie worked as a teacher for a time (maybe one year?) while we lived in the DR, which was possible due to Henny.  Grammie was also a girl scout leader - I think she enjoyed this, and it was certainly fun for Julie and me to spend time with the big girls.


Food:  First of all, it was not safe to drink water unless it had been boiled.  This had to be done daily.  In our pantry, there was a large cistern on the counter for storage of sterilized water.  Locally, most people seemed to subsist on a popular dish - rice with a kidney bean sauce (moro de habichuelas).  We had a fairly normal, varied diet although some foods were difficult to get.  Chicken and rice (arroz con pollo) was a particular favorite, and we did have rice & beans regularly.  Staples could be purchased in Santo Domingo.  Produce came from the downtown market.  Grammie and Grandad were very careful about what we ate; Grammie tells me she is proud that Aunt Julie and I didn't get any food-related sickness.

Visitors:  My Nana and Grandad came several times - this was a highlight for us, very special!  Nana regularly made clothes for Aunt Julie and me, sometimes matching.  (She also knitted us mittens as we grew up; I still have a pair of which with "CR" knitted into them).  Later, Nana laughed about being told "You must have been very beautiful when you were young.", which meant that she must have been quite fat as a  young woman.  My Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary came, along with cousins Bruce, Brian, Mary Lee and David (you have met the boy cousins at our Grotto Restaurant parties).  Although they lived relatively close in Florida, Grannie and Grandad Zeller did not come as the strenuously objected to this missionary stint.  Here's a photo from one of Nana and Grandad's visits.



Neighborhood and School:  There were a few other well-off families living in attractive houses across the street, with kids around our age.  Julie and I played with them and also with Henny's children.  I started school at the San Esteban elementary school probably when I was just turning 4.  I went to kindergarten and first grade learning Spanish at school, while talking English at home.  Julie also started school at San Esteban.  We wore blue school uniforms.  I do remember occasionally riding the school bus bringing kids home at the end of the day - and seeing some desolate houses on dirt roads and young kids hitting baseballs on dirt lots.  I learned to read first in Spanish, then picked up English - I'm told I could read from the New York Times but with a Spanish accent.  Our house was relatively close to the ocean, which had rough beaches.  There was an open-air cantina along the beach a few blocks away, were Grandad would sometimes take Julie and me.  It was a great treat for us - we had soda (one of us liked grape, the other orange - can't remember which was which).  In a different section along the beach, there was very desolate looking wharf  built out over the ocean which we were told used to be a slaughterhouse.  We understood that sharks still frequented this section of the beach, as they had been attracted by blood.  Outside of town, toward the East I think, there was a rocky section of the coast with many blowholes.  Here's a picture that's similar to what I remember:



The Princess Phenomenon:  As daughters of the "padre", Julie and I were treated as being quite special.  We had nice clothes (many of which Nana had made for us) and shoes, particularly as compared to local kids.  We had a fantastic yard - mostly the kids came over to our house to play.  I remember feeling free to walk around the school building.  Our Mom was pretty and wore nice dresses.  We probably got away with some bad behavior.  In short, I remember feeling like a little princess.  It was fleeting time in my childhood, but fabulous while it lasted.  We did eventually learn that we couldn't get away with Everything....  one day Julie and I decided to skip school, and instead played in the yard next to the house.  We were throwing our school bags up into the air to celebrate, when Henny noticed us from the window.  She immediately came out and marched us over to school, where we arrived late to our classes.

Favorite Memories:

  • Going to the market in downtown San Pedro.  I remember picking our bananas from large fronds.  Also Grammie would drive the car, which caused some mayhem - the policeman directing traffic in the middle of an intersection near the market would jump down from his concrete block and run to the side of the street when she drove by (as it was very unusual for women to drive at all).   
  • Getting fresh chicken.  Well, one way to get fresh poultry was to go directly to the farm.  This was quite an experience, and you might not think young girls would find this nasty process so riveting.  But we did.  So upon arrival, there in front of us was an enclosure full of live chickens. In Spanish of course, the farmer would ask which one you wanted.  Your parent would pick it out, and then with one swift twist of the neck, it was dispatched.  The chicken's head was them cut off with a large knife and its body was turned upside down in a metal cone for the blood to drain out.  (If by any chance the chicken somehow escaped from the farmer or the cone after its head was removed, it would run around without its head until re-captured.  Completely fascinating!!! )  The chicken body was then dropped into boiling water - this scalding loosened feathers, after which a group of women continued to process the chicken by removing all the feathers, cutting off the feet, removing entrails, washing and wrapping it paper.  Then you bring it home and make dinner - it doesn't get any fresher than that!!  
  • Celebrating Three Kings Day.  I never believed in Santa (I don't think Grammie and Grandad encouraged this), but I did believe in the three kings.  I remember watching the lights from a passing ship out on the ocean the night before Epiphany, and being so excited that the kings were coming (and bringing me presents the next day).
  • Ship Tour.  On a not-so-favorite note, once when Nana and Grandad were visiting we toured a large ship (maybe a military ship, I'm not sure).  Anyway, Julie and I were walking ahead of the family up to the bow, where there was a large crank.  Julie suggested I should turn it, which I regrettably did - turns out, it was a horn which was deafeningly loud and scared me to half to death.  I'm telling you, Julie was a handful.

Another favorite story, speaking of Julie....  On one of Grandad's trips to Santo Domingo, Aunt Julie stowed away in the back seat of the car and popped up to say "hello!" when he was well on the road.  I'm sure he was not too thrilled when this happened.  Grandad stopped at a gas station with a telephone to call Grammie, so she would know where Julie was.  Meanwhile, Julie walked around to the back of the gas station and was very excited to meet a kitten (or kittens?).  Once the way on to Santo Domingo, there were suspicious sounds from the back seat and Grandad asked "What was that?!"  Julie didn't want to let on right away, but eventually had to admit that it was a cat - which rode back and forth to the city with them, and then we ended up adopting.

On the whole, this was a magical time in my childhood.  I had my sister,  a built-in community and friends, great living and playing space, and active, young parents.  I'm glad I could share some of these memories with you both.