The term “blog” was coined in the late 1990s, My Aunt Natalie (Nana’s sister and our family genealogist) was among the WORLD’S FIRST BLOGGERS, as a charter member of The Melrose Silver Stringers of Melrose, Massachusetts formed in 1996!
The 1996 Boston Globe headline reads “Melrose Seniors Tell of Their Lives On-line Via Electronic Paper” http://stringers.media.mit.edu/globeArticle.htm
The Silver Stringers was/is a group of some twenty determined senior citizens in their 60s, 70s and 80s who, with the help of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory, formed an electronic “rag” [aka blog] called The Melrose Mirror. A section of their mission statement read:
…The members feel that, suddenly, something wonderful has loomed on the horizon — an exciting opportunity to explore the world, to meet interesting people with whom to exchange information and ideas, and a challenge for self-expression. They want to be involved in the world around them and to have the ability to reach out into cyberspace. They are a living patchwork quilt of ideas, opinions, projects, talents. With past experiences to support them, they want to be able to use the current and future technology to stay in touch with the world and to contribute what they have learned and experienced….
Natalie’s bio and blog posts can still be read here:
I wanted to save copies of these blog posts to attach them to my tree in FamilyTree Maker. I use a free program (they do accept donations) called:
Just copy/paste the URL and press the fancy yellow P
Within seconds you have a .pdf!
Natalie covered local stories of interest, wrote poetry, shared recipes and BEST of all recorded memories of her life!! Some of my favorites:
You’re Only Young Once
… A rhyming version of Depression days
Depression Days were then at hand
(Financial woes throughout the land.)
A seventh child was added to
A family which grew and grew.
Their worries big, their money small,
Their laughter rang from hall to hall.
Each day brought on a new event
From buying shoes to paying rent.
They picked blueberries in the sun
And sang on rides ’til day was done.
The castles were all made of sand;
The water cool, the sunshine grand.
The root beer was, of course, homemade;
Each holiday, a new parade!
The bonfires bright, who can deny,
Were better than the last July.
The icy tunnels dug in snow;
The car would need a push to go.
The swan-boat rides meant trips “in town”.
The clothes were mostly hand-me-down.
The marks in school were of the best…
Such praise for every “A” in tests!
A photograph in groups, you know,
Would find them always in front row.
The house was clean, there was no clutter,
But, oh, “Go easy on the butter!!”
The Market on those weekend nights,
With pushcarts for their city sights.
Their visiting was done in groups,
But picnics called out all the troops!
A wink from Dad, a smile from Mum,
Would mean a happy time to come
With dishes washed and windows closed,
The bathroom busy, off they’d go!
World War II Diary
… Teenage life during a world-wide war
December 7, 1941
At Mother’s suggestion for secrecy, I was wrapping Christmas presents alone in Billy’s bedroom this afternoon. There was some sort of an outburst from Dad, which compelled me to leave my happy chore and go to the living room where both parents were engrossed in the radio announcer’s voice (or President Roosevelt’s?). When I inquired, “What happened?” I was rudely shushed. I went back to my wrapping in tears. Mother joined me in a moment and explained that Dad was very upset. The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. It would probably mean that this country would go to war and that Bill (my brother, aged 21) would be drafted into the armed services.
At Beebe Junior High we practice air raid drills. When the alarm goes off, we all leave our classrooms, carrying one of our books to sit on. We sit on the floor of both sides of the hallways with our backs leaning on the wall. In case of a real attack, we will raise our knees and rest our heads on them.
Our family saves the gas stamps in their ration book and when we have enough, we travel to Windsor Locks, Connecticut, to visit Bill in the Air Force.
Ed Thomson, later husband of author Natalie Thomson, is at the right with two buddies in Platling, Germany, April, 1945. Ed had forged a birth certificate and joined the army at age 17, but by the time the officials caught with him, he had turned 18. His brother Paul had recently been killed in England.
November 17, 1942
Berneice (my sister age 19) gave birth to Little Jimmy today. I can hardly wait until she brings him home from the hospital. The Haineses will take the place of his father while Big Jimmy is in the army in Africa.
December 14, 1942
After being sick with an embollism since Sunday, Dad died today! Bill was given a few days leave from the Air Force to attend the funeral. We had lots of company and Aunt Margaret slept over. I was sent to Aunt Doris’ for the week, returning with her for the funeral.
Bill Haines (at right, with friends) joined the army in 1940 and survived four years in the European Theater. He was the brother of Natalie Thomson.
I write V-Mail letters to Bill and he RAVES about them which makes me want to write more. Marion and I write to the two young daughters of the family he’s become attached to in Scotland.
Edith (my sister, aged late thirties) and her married friends meet every week and knit for servicemen overseas. This is a continuation of what they made for Great Britian before the U.S. was included in the war.
Marion (my sister, aged mid-twenties) is attending the U.S.O. dances on Boston Common and they’re going to have a ‘formal.’ She sent me out to rob someone’s garden of a couple of roses for her corsage.
At the left is Ed Thomson, guarding defeated Germans at a POW camp in Belgium, in 1945. He had just turned 18.
Mother says that servicemen aren’t what they used to be. NOW they are “someone’s son or brother.”
In addition to classical pieces, my piano lessons include the songs of the different of the armed forces, i.e., Anchors Aweigh, Off We Go, Semper Paratus, etc.
The news and movies are full of battles and deaths and love stories that must be postponed. I hate the Axis.
A young sailor walked me home from Malden Square today. He was very nice and told me about his family. It was like an Ida Lupino movie. I said goodbye to him outside the house. I wasn’t sure if Mother would approve.
Young Charlie Hall (teen-aged nephew) is in the Legion Band and they play at the different local army camps.
The Maldonian high school yearbook has several pages of pictures of the boys who would have graduated with their class, but instead are in the different branches of the service.
Some of the popular songs are: The White Cliffs of Dover, I’ll Be Seeing You, and Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me. Also, from Germany, Lili Marlene.
On the way to high school this a.m. I stopped outside Kennedy’s in Malden Square to say ‘Hi’ to Marion. She was waiting in the ‘butter line.’
Mother let me use Marion’s ration stamp for my new shoes. When Marion needs shoes, she’ll use my stamp.
An Old Key Collection was held in Malden. They melt them down and make bullets.
Mother got a special purchase paper from the local Ration Board that will allow her to buy extra sugar to make a large batch of grape jelly to be used this coming winter.
I met Ed Thomson who was given a hero’s welcome back to Malden High School after serving in the Infantry in Europe. His poor parents are jubilant that he came home safely but, at the same time, are desperately mourning Ed’s brother, Paul, who was killed at an air base in England. The people there have sent the Thomsons personal thanks and regrets. They also sent a booklet that describes the burial place of so many Americans. His name will be included in a large book in the new American Chapel in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Ed has reenlisted in the Air Force and is stationed in Washington, D.C. That’s where we’ll live after our October wedding.
Ed has been appointed to be the Honor Guard for his brother, Paul, whose remains will be brought home from England. There will be a military funeral and burial in Forestdale Cemetery’s World War II lot beside the pond. The Thomsons seem to be more at peace, though they will always be in mourning.
Two out of ten
… sand, sea and sky
In a calm swimming pool, I can do about 12 strokes with my arms, kicking my feet behind me, then I sink. That’s how it’s been since the first and only time I nearly drowned. It happened in Wilmington’s Silver Lake when I was about 13 years old. I believed my girlfriend who said, “You can do it.” Panic struck a few moments later when I was “over my head” on my way to a diving raft. I awakened in a rescuer’s rowboat as he paddled toward the shore. In the years that followed, I dunked myself in pools and at beaches and loved it, but “over my head” wasverboten.
Many years before the above near-tragedy, a trip to Revere Beach was a regular summertime family affair with two experienced parents, two teenagers, a ten year old and me in my fourth or fifth year on the hot sand. It burned my feet. I whined pitifully. I had to be carried to the hard, damp, low-tide strip of dark grey moist sand.
I always got lost at the beach. Sibling posse parties spent a lot of their time scouting through the crowds on checkerboards of beach blankets ’til they found me. I would either be crying loudly or sometimes silently observing the activities of all the strangers … unaware that I was lost. Over and over my mother knelt beside me, our backs to the water, as she pointed out a landmark across the boulevard from where our blanket was spread. “See that sign with a picture of a hotdog? Just follow it down over the sand to where we’re standing. That’s where our blanket is. Find the hotdog and you’ll find the blanket. Now don’t wander.” In another ten minutes I was lost again in the crowds. I sometimes wonder if, in today’s times, would my family have been accused of child abuse? I was always getting lost … but they always found me.
When lunchtime came, everyone was called out of the water to the blanket. I was constantly shivering and blue-lipped. I was the only one that had to “sit down” to eat. There was usually a little sand covering my hands as I held the crabmeat salad sandwich which had been packed in a “market bag” with no ice but plenty of waxed paper. The sand eventually made its way to my tongue and teeth. Then I would need a drink from one of the bottles of homemade root beer. A paternal “Give her a sip,” was followed by screams of negativity. No one wanted to drink after me. I was lucky. I was given my own bottle. If paper cups had been invented, we didn’t buy them.
Late in the afternoon, when it was time to go home, I was taken to the back seat of the car and clumsily tried to help my mother secure edges of towels in the rolled-up windows. We created a private dressing room and in moments I emerged dry and dressed in play clothes. That night my arms were no stranger to the tingling of a mild sunburn. Applications of saleratus (baking powder) were the cure-all. The strenuous day quickly produced sleep.
I probably dreamed of the unleashed dogs I ran screaming from through the sand. Or the round hopscotches that the older siblings drew on the shore where the dark sand was damp and hard. If you made it to the end on one foot, you could initial a resting block. We also played “statues.” I was no good at holding my pose for a long time. From one sister I learned how to dig a moat at the water’s edge and make a castle. Hers was beautiful. So, I thought, was mine. There were no pails and no shovels, but large cooking spoons which could not get lost, or so went the parental warning.
The dreams continued of prized rock souvenirs with rare patterns on them in varied colors. To me, they were artistic geological treasures. There were some shells, but most of them were flawed by holes. The calling of the wide-winged seagulls as they swooped overhead became part of the lullaby that was punctuated by the whoosh of waves following their collapsing crests. Their progress, now they were transparently shallow, was slower and subdued and finally silent on the shore.
… I’m NOT dreaming
Why is it that every year at this time most of us review past Christmases — for better or worse? Among my friends (and even strangers) I hear about their long ago favorite gift, the elaborate tree ornaments and the food, company and revelry now long gone but still bringing pleasure.
My own nostalgia brings on an oxymoron imbalance of past happenings. Why was I alone in the house on Christmas Eve the first year of my teens, allowing myself to be hypnotized by the multi-colored lights on the tree in the bay window? Surveying the wrapped gifts beneath the branches, my curiosity became uncontrollable and I carefully opened every one that had my name on its tag. Years later, my closest sister told me what a selfish brat I had been as a teenager and cited that long ago Christmas morning when I had opened each of my presents, quickly put the gift aside, ready to open the next one. I was shocked that anyone had noticed my ho-hum reaction and confessed the error of my adolescent yule-ish ways.
An earlier year, the first one I can remember, brought out another emotional experience. I was probably six years old when I announced to my family of about ten holiday-happy adults that there WASN’T any Santa Claus! (This was in response to threats about my behavior.) Well, I did a double-take at the horror my statement created. Everyone gasped at my heresy. I apologized through swelling tears. My conduct was exemplary during the few remaining days ’til stocking-filling time. When I awakened that glorious morning, there was the darling, smiling Shirley Temple doll in the plaid dress that I had notified Santa I wanted. I wisely stifled my questions when I opened a package of beautiful handmade clothing for the doll. One of my older sisters was a talented seamstress.
I learned from others in the family about another Christmas that happened when I was three or four years old. The Depression had disrupted our family with a move to a less expensive house in a less expensive town. Our Dad had come home after a very late trip through the city on Christmas Eve, carrying a floor to ceiling tree which he and my mother decorated while everyone else slept. Foreverafter they told the story of how Dad scouted the town for a marked-down tree but the only ones he could find had been abandoned hours earlier. As he picked one up and started for home with his cache, a policeman suddenly appeared and asked what he was doing. The truth of six children sleeping at home with nothing to look forward to except Christmas morning, prompted the policeman to turn his back and walk away as he shouted, “I didn’t see a thing! Merry Christmas!”
A decade later, this may have been the memory that my mother harbored as she tried to build a frame and attach it to the trunk of an evergreen lying on its side in our living room. My father, her husband, had died ten days before the Big Holiday. The family vote was to erect and decorate the traditional tree for the sake of the youngest! That was me. That afternoon I held the tree straight while Mother, lying across the floor, wielded Dad’s hammer and held back her tears. Success on both counts. We had another Christmas… almost as usual.
…I’m not prejudiced, but…
I was seventeen years old and I knew I was leaving the party later than my mother allowed me to be out. I knew she’d be angry and I didn’t care. I knew she’d punish me by not allowing me to go out after school for a week, and I didn’t care. At the party I had been coupled up with one of the boys with whom I ate lunch in the drugstore every schoolday. He was handsome. He was a football player. He was a veteran of World War II who had returned to my high school class after winning the war. At the party he asked me to go out the following weekend. I said, “Yes,” enthusiastically, but I knew I would have to face my mother first.
“What’s his name?” went the third degree.
“Thomson,” I answered, never mentioning that his father had changed it from Yeremenko.
“Does he go to our church?” was the next question.
“I haven’t seen him there,” I hedged and then lied, “I think he’s a Methodist.”
By the time she learned that this wonderful boy whom I eventually married had a Roman Catholic mother and a Greek Orthodox father who had come to this country from Russia, she admired him a lot, was pretty sure he’d be good for her youngest daughter and, furthermore, she didn’t know anything about Russians. Her strong suit of proclaiming inferiority concerned the Irish and Italians and drunks and Catholics.
My older brother had pointed this out to me when I was fourteen, comparing my mother’s prejudice to my own towards the World War II enemies – Nazis and Japs (not even “Japanese”). That reminded me of my first dramatic encounter with bigotry when, in 1939, I met my girlfriend’s show-biz step-brother and his beautiful, talented wife. I was told the dramatic story that, because her new husband was not a Jew, her family held a funeral service and she never saw them again!
I was an old-married lady of nineteen when I enrolled in a book-of-the-month club. That was where I was introduced to “Gentlemen’s Agreement” by Laura Keane Zametkin Hobson. Wow! It professionally told me of the cruelty my friend’s family had suffered and it reinforced my brother’s earlier words on prejudice being “taught.”
My wonderful Aunt Min kept company for twelve years with her devoted Bill. They “had to” wait until his Irish-Catholic father passed on. They had a loving life together, but, unfortunately, only for a short while. He died during a heart attack when the children were sixteen, fourteen and eight, instead of twenty-eight, twenty-six and twenty, as they might have been.
I was determined that these miseries would never happen to me or my children. My church provided me with some literature on raising a family to be spiritually healthy, thus tolerant, and that, along with Dr. Spock’s paperback, gave me permission to start off on a new path of the Paragon Parents raising Perfect Progeny. I was aghast one day, and let my eight-year-old daughter know it, when I saw the live TV news happening of National Guardsmen escorting a black first-grader into her white-populated southern public school, to protect her from angry white parents! We discussed it. She could relate.
The same repulsion took over about six years later when one of my daughter’s ninth-grade classsmates’ mother telephoned. She was organizing a trip to Boston for some of her daughter’sgoyische buddies (my adjective) because “those Jews” had planned a Boston-trip and had rejected her daughter’s offer to accompany them. I was amazed. This lady attended my church! Hadn’t she been paying attention? It was my surprise introduction to bigotry in MY generation….in MY social circle.
To skip ahead over the next thirty-four years, I recently attended an annual holiday get-together of three friends whom I met twenty-seven years ago…a white female Irish-Catholic, a black female Protestant, a former supervisor and her executive husband who are both white Jews. I don’t feel like a WASP, but that’s what I’m called in print. This year, at my suggestion, they agreed to participate in a discussion of prejudices they had encountered and/or inherited.
Left to right, Nana Goldberg, Natalie Thomson, Lillian Johnston and Betti McCarthy.
Manny, the Jewish husband, offered that his father was so bigoted that he took his son to a South Boston saloon one day. As they sat there, his father pointed out that the entire clientele wasn’t white and Jewish. In response to the question, “Did you adopt your father’s ways?” he answered quickly, “No. I was drafted into the army. I didn’t stay isolated.”
He also told of years later being cast in the role of the “token Jew” when he was made an officer in a staid, old Yankee Boston bank. He consulted his wife and rabbi and made the decision to confront the Chairman of the Board. He was taking a big chance. His job could have been in jeopardy.
Lil, a worldly woman of Irish Catholic descent, reported that her family’s previous generation had been more concerned with “Lace-Curtain Irish” neighbors who hid their family problems behind their lace curtains. Her mother, she reported, had nine children and the church wouldn’t allow her to practice birth control. During a trip to Florida in 1950, her mother was offended that Blacks had to sit in the back of the bus. She was horrified at the signs that proclaimed that blacks and whites had to use separate public restrooms. Relatives told her that there was more subtle prejudice up north and, at least, it’s out in the open down south. Lil said that prejudice is fear of others or, more accurately, of the unknown.
Betti, twenty-five to thirty years younger than the rest of us, said that she wouldn’t have gotten through her black female existence without her sense of humor. She pointed out that our parents’ prejudice meant hating someone without justification. Her father died young and her mother (about the same age as the rest of us) was passive. Her grandmother, however, at 91, strongly dislikes everyone except the Cherokee Indians….her ancestors.
Betti, who attained her Masters Degree while raising four children, told of being “dropped” by a junior high school friend, under orders from the girl’s parents. She thought that it had something to do with puberty and race. She pointed out that talented Wesley Snipes has a white girlfriend. He says black women are too domineering. (Was he doing a “take off” on prejudice?) She recommended that we all see Eddie Murphy in “Trading Places.” She said, “It’s very hard to erase prejudice and be openminded; to be accepting of humankind. You NEED a sense of humor to accomplish this.”
Nana (pronounced Nah-nah) reminded us that her parents were more interested in politics than in nationalities or religions. She rose above the small-minded neighborly slights when they involved hers or Manny’s Hebraic religion. She told the story of meeting the Jewish parents of her first son’s first wife and how all was well in this same-religion betrothal. Then she told of the meeting with her other son’s non-Jewish inlaws. There again, all was well. Those parents had two older daughters who had educated them as to young people’s rights to choose their own paths through life. Nana felt Judaism was weakened by mixed marriages. Her feelings were motivated by foreboding, not bigotry.
Betty’s remark that closed our investigation of the subject:- “It’s funny* how none of US are prejudiced, even though we grew up in a time when there was more segregation and intolerance than there is today!”
*Author: “Funny,” in this case, is a synonym for “awesome.”
My driver’s license test
… and first accident
I was not going to participate in this particular group-writing. I didn’t consider myself qualified to talk about cars until I thought of that infamous week in 1950 when I was twenty-one years old and determined to put the wheels of a black ’37 Chevy under me.
I had heard that my girlfriend in Dorchester was paying to learn to drive and had mastered the multi-laned traffic buzzing around Neponset Circle. If she could do it, so could I, and my young husband was forced into the role of my instructor. He was far from professional and far from polite as he took on what he deemed an impossible chore.
Next, I learned that the Commonwealth had granted my friend the freedom to legally drive anywhere she wanted. I announced that I was ready to make my appointment at the Registry to try for the authorized go-ahead. I threatened and black-mailed my reluctant husband to accompany me. I think he did so, hoping that a state official in uniform would ban me from ever solo-driving a vehicle in Massachusetts.
On the Big Day, I was ultra nervous but determined to take and pass the test. The Registry Rep lacked every human kindness and understanding and reminded me of the grisly Gestapo members I’d seen in the last ten years of war movies. The turn, without touching the curb on a narrow street, the hand signals, the speed … all went well, I felt, in spite of the tight-string tenseness I was experiencing throughout my mind and body.
At the end, when I pulled up in front of the Registry and heard the Inspector say, “Now what?” I responded with “Huh?”
In a gruff voice he commanded, challengingly, “You’re supposed to pull up the emergency brake!”
His harsh tone ignited my tension and I burst into tears! My husband, in the back seat, remained silently embarrassed in the presence of authority. Mr. Official Examiner adopted a kinder attitude and with a “Now, now…here you go…” handed me my signed permission to operate a vehicle! My husband said later that if I hadn’t cried, I never would have gotten my license.
Afterwards, our family wage-earner drove to where he worked locally, then I took over and expertly soloed to a friend’s house with a jubilant, “Look who got their license! Let’s go out for lunch.” I drove to the vicintiy of the Strand Spa on Pleasant Street, Malden. Across the street were two empty parking spaces. They were in front of the Strand Diner at the edge of a driveway entrance. I pulled in frontwards and stopped in the first space near the driveway and shut off the motor. Immediately, I voiced my concern that someone turning into the driveway might nick my fender. I started the motor, put the shift into reverse (without looking in the rear view mirror) and pressed my foot down on the gas peddle while gently letting out the clutch. BA-BOOM! Our car stopped suddenly and I realized someone had driven into the no-longer-empty-space behind me … all in a slowly split second.
The driver of this beautiful red convertible was most kind. While instructing me about what information I would need for my insurance agent, he seemed to want to let me know what a hard-luck person I had run into. “My car is two weeks old,” he said, “and last week a guy threw a lighted cigarette into the back seat. I had to have the whole thing replaced,” he continued. “Now I park behind a lady who got her license an hour ago. It’s a bad luck car.”
The chaotic event of my first time behind the wheel went the rounds of my family and friends and was greeted with guffaws and words like, “I don’t believe it!” and “You’re kidding, aren’t you?” All except my husband-former-instructor. He believed.
And my first blog post (not really)… But a”Letter to the Editor” I wrote and they published in 1997/8.
To my Great(est) Aunt Natalie …
… on sisters taking bus rides …
from Linda Hall
From: Adnil1962 <email@example.com>
I grew up in Malden, moved to Melrose 6 or 7 years ago, until last October
when I relocated to San Fransisco (which is the most beautiful place in the
world – with the exception of Melrose!!!).
I really enjoyed the articles – especially the bus ride story written by my
“great aunt” Natalie (or as she would say my “greatest aunt’). It reminds me
of her sister Edith’s bus ride story….At the time she was in her late 80′s.
She gets on a bus thinking that she is heading to Melrose-Wakefield Hospital
to visit her son (my dad). Instead, she finds herself lost for more than two
hours, as the bus cruises through Revere and Winthrop. Instead of panicking
(as was the rest of the family, because we couldn’t find her), she says - “It
was a very beautiful ride, the bus driver was very nice and can you believe it
only cost me 10 cents!!!
Anyway…enough babbling. San Fran is beautiful and I’ve met lots of new
friends, but it could never replace home. Your page brought me back home for
a little while (for free!!!). I’ve added it to my “favorite places”. Keep up
the great work, and say hi to my “greatest aunt” for me!!!!