Nicknames

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My grandparents had nicknames for everybody! In all honestly, I think my whole family had nicknames for everybody. For example, my dad and grandfather worked with a guy they called “Buckets”. My dad said something about how he had to fill buckets with parts or something at work, which led to that nickname. There was a family friend who we met while my parents where big into the CB radio craze. My grandma called him “Three Days”. He had gone over to visit once and then it had been a while between visits. My grandma asked where he had been and reminded him that “they bury the dead in three days” and the nickname stuck. We had a cousin they called “Flookie”. I don’t know the story behind that name. There was an aunt called “Harpo” because of a picture we saw of her with this Harpo Marx perm. There was an uncle called “Pif”. The list of nicknames goes on and on.

They also had nicknames for my friends. My best friend, Jeff, used to help when my grandpa drove us around delivering newspapers. We’d always be making noises and laughing. It probably annoyed my grandpa more than he let us know. Whenever he asked about Jeff, he’d call him “the crazy one.” When they talked about my Polish friend, Joe, they called him “the Polack.” My friend Steve had a variety of nicknames. Because he always seemed to have the Ace of clubs when we played pinochle, they’d call him “the Ace of Clubs.” He always ate a ton of Long John coffee cake when he was at their house, so “Long John” was another. One time he went into their fridge without asking and it pissed my grandpa off, so he became “the rude one.”

My Uncle Tom, my Godfather, had a few nicknames. The one I always used was “Rozmo.”. I am not even sure I know how he got that one. One of the Vietnam Vet guys used to call him “Rufus.” He will always be Rozmo to me.

My friends and I used nicknames, too. Many I can’t remember, but a few I do. I called my friend Margaret “M&M” because her last name started with M. This was LONG before Marshall Mathers (who went to our high school) decided to call himself Eminem. My friend Warren I called “JJ” and he called me “Victor” (characters from Cannonball Run). Steve went by a few nicknames – Srgt. PIN, Smokey the Bear, and a few others. Joe and I called each other cavemen names (maybe because of a cartoon or cereal or something) – Gronk and Ugma. Our friend Ron was called “Boom Boom” because it rhymed with his last name. I am sure my friends can remind me of others.

I don’t remember many of the ones I was called. In elementary school I ran for student council. I did my campaign speech in a blue denim cowboy hat and wore a blue suit. Although his suit was white and mine was blue, many called me “Boss Hogg.” In high school, when we were TPing houses, Steve called me “Hucklebuck” which eventually turned into “Hucklebuck DeValier!”

Baby Nicknames

It got me thinking about all the names parents call their babies. I used to call Dante’ “bubba” and Dimitri “buddy” among other silly ones. Ella is a nickname, as you know. Her real name is Pamela and we call her Ella. Both Sam and I have many names we call her:

  • Scooter Butt
  • Scooter
  • Ella Bella
  • Ellie Bellie
  • Pammie Poo
  • Poo Poo Pants
  • Stinker
  • Stinker Butt
  • Cootie
  • Scoots
  • Boo Boo
  • Toots
  • Tooter
  • Baby Goo
  • Smiley
  • Smiley Miley
  • El
  • Ginger Snap

She has so many names, she probably doesn’t even know her real name! At any rate, I was picking her up yesterday and I was talking to her. My Google Assistant on my phone went off and picked up me talking to her. It then beeped back at me and I had to laugh when I looked at my phone.

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“Sorry, I don’t understand.” Hilarious! I am sure that when I am out in public with her (when all these restrictions are lifted), I am going to be talking baby talk to her and people will be staring at me like I am crazy.

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Did you have a nickname? Did it stick with you? Tell me about it!

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Back in Time?

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All writers get writer’s block.  I am hardly a “writer”, but sometimes stare at the blank page and wonder what to write about.  Since I began blogging, I have stumbled on blogs written by others who share some of the same interests as me.  I have followed blogs that feature movies, TV, music, nostalgia, positive thoughts & quotes, and more.  There have been many instances where I read another blog and an idea will pop into my head.  My friend Max and I tend to “borrow” ideas from each other often.

Many ideas I adapt from those blogs.  For this blog I am literally stealing the idea, and giving credit, and creating some rules for it.  The Anxious Teacher wrote a blog after watching Back to the Future III.  You can read it here:

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What a great idea for a blog!  If you had a time machine – where would you travel?  As I thought about this, I wanted to limit myself to a few things.  First of all, because I have watched the Back to the Future movies, I know that if you go back and change something in the past – it will affect the future.  So Limit #1:  If I go back, I am simply there to observe.  Many of the things I thought I would like to go back and witness happened over a period of time, so Limit #2 – no real time limit.  Limit #3 – wherever I go, I will be dressed appropriately as to not raise suspicion.  I know, it’s silly, but it’s my blog and my rules.

I actually thought about adding what I would call the “Ebenezer Scrooge” element to this.  What is that?  Well, remember when Scrooge was transported into the past, present & future?  He could witness everything, but he could not interact with anyone.  Those events happened and the people were not aware he was even there.  Perhaps that would be the best thing, right?  That way, if I went back in time, I would not be tempted to change things.

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General times and places

As my blogger friend said, I think it would be very cool to visit the old west.  I have watched many westerns on TV and in the movies.  I have read many books set in the old west.  I think it would be pretty cool to walk through one of those western towns.  How cool would it be to visit the saloons, or the general store?  I think it would be cool to don a cool cowboy hat, boots & spurs and ride a horse to get from place to place.

I also think it would be cool to visit the ancient times and watch the building of the pyramids, or buildings like the coliseum.  Those historic buildings are still standing.  How awesome would it be to see just how they put them together?

As someone who has been a huge fan of the 1950’s, I would love to live a year or two in this decade.  It’s fun to see how the ’50s are portrayed in movies like Back to the Future, and I would love to see it in person.  I would love to hear the old radio stations playing those early rock and roll songs.  I would love to see those classic films in a theater.  I would love to have a meal at a real 50’s diner or drive a classic car!

I would love to visit the 1940’s, too!  The music of the great band leaders, the early music of Sinatra, and of course, those great old radio shows! Of course, World War II was going on, but it would be interesting to see how life in America was at that time.

Everyone wants to visit the future … that peaks my interest, but is it something I would do?  I don’t know.  I’d be tempted to come back to the present and use the information for personal gain, or to alter outcomes.   I’m not sure visiting the future would be something I’d want to do – unless I knew it was something specific I wouldn’t be able to see.

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General People of Interest

I would love to watch Beethoven or Bach (or any composer, really) writing and composing a piece of their music.

I would love to watch someone like Edgar Allen Poe or William Shakespeare writing a poem or story.

I would love to sit on a set and watch them shooting a Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy film.

I would love to be in the room where the First Continental Congress held meetings and watch men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others in action.

I would love to attend a taping of an old episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or a taping of the Dean Martin Show.

I would love to be in the audience at a Rat Pack show in Chicago or Las Vegas.  Come on!  Dean, Frank and Sammy!!

I would love to be an extra in one of my favorite movies.

I would love to watch Elvis in the recording studio.

I would love to watch Thomas Edison working on the phonograph or the electric light.

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Specific Events

I would love to watch the moon landing (on TV or from space).

I would love to watch the first flight with the Wright Brothers.

I would love to see JFK’s inauguration.

I would love to see a Beatles concert.

I would love to see Lincoln deliver his Gettysburg Address.

I would love to witness the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I would love to witness the launch of Titanic on her maiden voyage.

I would love to be in the stands at Tiger Stadium at the final game of the 1984 World Series.

I would love to be in the crowd at 1985’s Live Aid concert.

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Personal Things

I know I put some limits on what can or cannot happen if I went back in time, but if there were no limits there are a few things I would like to do with that time machine.

I would love one more conversation with my mom.

I would love one more pinochle game with grandma and grandpa.

I would love one more Christmas Eve with grandma and grandpa.

I would love one more radio show with Rob.

I would love one more cribbage game with my grandpa.

I would love to play my trumpet in one more high school band concert.

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Just One Day

For whatever reason, writing this blog made me think of the Nat King Cole song, “That Sunday, That Summer”.  The lyrics of the song say:

“If I had to chose just one day, to last my whole life through, it would surely be that Sunday, the day that I met you.”

With a time machine, you could go back to one day.  You could pick the day.  You could relive whatever happened that day.  What day would that be?

I don’t know that I could pick just one.

What I do know is that there are plenty of days that I am looking forward to that haven’t happened yet – the birth of my daughter, the graduations of my sons, etc…. I am perfectly content moving forward and experiencing the days to come.

Here is sit, remembering the past – loving the present – and looking forward to the future.

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Three Birthday Tributes

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Today I would like to salute three of my closest friends.  I guess, in a way, I am taking the easy way out by including all three of them in one blog.  I am doing it this way because they all celebrate birthdays this month.  So here are some thoughts on three great guys.

Joe – October 15

Joe is my Polish brother.  He says that I am his Italian brother.  The great Red Buttons used to joke that “there is only one difference between the Polish and the Italians – One year of high school!”  We truly are like brothers.  Joe and I met in junior high school.  We had band 1st hour.  It was in this class that I also met Steve K, who you will hear about shortly.  We all hit it off immediately, and have been friends ever since.

In high school, I used to pick Joe up and drive him to school.  He used to run out of the house with a bowl of cereal in his hand.  I remember that cereal was Fruit Islands.  They don’t make it anymore, but the commercials had some guy saying “Ayumma yumma”.  Not sure why, but I will always remember that.

All of the guys I am talking about were in band.  Steve K, Joe, and I all graduated the same year.  Steve M, graduated before us.  Joe and I were band officers.  We were both librarians.  That meant we were responsible for all the music.  We copied it and made sure the parts were placed in the right folders for band members.  Our senior year, Joe was head librarian and I was band president.  We spent many hours after school working on music and hanging with the band director and custodian.  We were probably more of an annoyance than anything!

Bill, the custodian, was such a cool guy!  He invited us to his wedding!  We used to pick a day and he would make sure not to bring lunch that day.  We’d order a pizza from Sorrento’s and eat it in the band room.  We’d sit around telling stories and laughing.  Such fun times!

There was a brief period where I switched from trumpet to tuba.  Joe was the lone tuba player.  I played tuba at the commencement ceremonies for the class of 87, and then played it briefly for marching band.  I was asked by the band director to switch back to trumpet.  He said we needed more trumpets – but now that I think about it, maybe I was just a real crappy tuba player!

It seems like Joe and I have been golfing and bowling together for as long as I can remember.  I remember bowling at this little hole in the wall dump in St. Clair Shores with Joe.  It was always such fun there, and we are still friends with many of the folks we met there.  Eventually we joined a league at Pastime Lanes.  It was there we made more friendships, and I watched him bowl a 300 game.  Pastime is long gone, but we still have many memories there.

Steve K, Joe and I all golfed for Senior Skip Day.  Steve borrowed our buddy Wayne’s golf clubs.  On the first tee, he hit the ball, but the club head broke off the driver.  The club head went farther than the damn golf ball!  Joe and I laughed like hell!  One time Joe and I were golfing in Lapeer and there was an electrical wire that went across the fairway.  What are the odds that one of us would hit that?  Joe did.  He teed off – it hit the wire and dropped like a stone in the fairway.

We used to play pinochle over at Joe’s parents house till all hours of the night.  Their house was just one of many houses that hosted pinochle nights.  Eventually, he and his sister moved into their own place and the card games moved there.  We’d sit around drinking Bud Light listening to 580 CKWW or WCXI and play cards all night.  So many nights of crazy conversations about music, movies, and TV.

Steve M – October 19

Steve and I had probably met before, but we really got to know each other because of Alumni Band.  I remembered that alumni had played once or twice at homecoming while I was still in school.  When I graduated, I wanted to make sure that the tradition continued.  So I bugged the band director and we threw it together.  The first year was a small group.  The second year it was a little bigger. It was a way for us to get together and play and have fun.

Steve and I hit it off immediately.  We both were trumpet players.  I knew his younger brother, Jeff, because he was my brother’s age.  He was also a DJ and did weddings and we loved to talk music.  He hosted some alumni band BBQ’s and was a key part in the success of the group.

I am not sure exactly how we ended up DJing together.  I think it was because he had a light show and I didn’t.  I brought him along and we ended up having so much fun, we kept doing it.  Little by little we added things to the gigs we did.  We both did this stupid Blues Brothers intro to kick off dancing.  I had this bad Elvis wig and would go out and sing to a female wedding guest (story about the wig in a sec).  We had blow up instruments and silly cardboard things we’d hold up while we danced.  We had a friggin blast!!

One time, Steve had his truck backed into the garage.  He had the tailgate glass up and I went inside to comb the Elvis wig down.  I used to put it on my head and comb it down before I put it on this stupid Styrofoam head I had.  I was in his bathroom combing and I heard the truck start and all of a sudden a huge crash.  I walked to the door of the garage and saw that the tailgate glass had caught the garage door and shattered all over the place.  I stood there, wearing that dumb wig, and asked what happened.  At the time, it wasn’t funny (It was raining, we were running late, when we got the gig, Steve had forgotten his shoes, so I went to Kmart to buy him a pair, it was a mess!).  We look back now and Steve will still laugh, “You were standing there wearing the King’s hair!”  After weddings, it was tradition to grab White Castle hamburgers!  Some of my favorite gigs were DJing for cancer benefits or VFW steak outs. When Steve M was living in his apartment, his crazy neighbor (who we called Fruit Loops) used to always come out when we were loading or unloading for DJ gigs.  I wonder what happened to her….LOL

Steve M, Steve K, Joe, and I spent many nights singing karaoke.  We used to have so much fun.  We’d go to these two dive bars – McGee’s and Grady’s.  We’d drink, sing songs and laugh like hell.  We all had specific songs we used to do.  We used to have these guys who’d get up and sing that we’d make fun of.  There was a guy who looked and sounded like Bela Lugosi!  He’d sing Let Me Call You Sweetheart with that accent!  Then there was “Opera Man”.  We called him that because every song he sang, he’d sing it like he was one of the Three Tenors! I would sing harmony for Steve M on Losing My Religion a lot.  We’d have such a fun time!  Now, he is actually hosting karaoke every week at a few places.  I’m over due to get out and sing!

Steve K – October 28

Steve and I became friends in junior high, in the same class as Joe.  Here’s the thing – we almost didn’t stay friends.  Admittedly, we all kind of picked on Steve.  We razzed him – a lot.  Steve and I both played trumpet.  Now I am not sure why he found my trumpet to be better than his.  I do know that he would often switch his with mine.  Well, one day he was walking in the band room and he dropped “his” horn and bent the bell.  I laughed.  We all did.  I probably said something like “You idiot!  Nice job!” or something like that.  He looked at me sheepishly while I laughed and said, “Uh, Keith….this is YOUR trumpet.”  My laughter stopped and I grabbed him by the throat!  Our band director, Mr. Mest, came running over and pulled us both into the office.

Steve and I were in 2nd hour with each other.  After the “incident” we went to the next class.  I was still upset about the whole thing and kept egging him on throughout the class.  I was calling him names, and just being an ass.  He finally got up and walked over to me as I was talking to our buddy Warren.  He grabbed the desk I was sitting in and literally flipped it over – with me still in it!  It totally took me by surprise! Needless to say, we both were sent to the office.  I don’t know if detention was given or not, but I know we both got “yellow slips”.  This was bad, I just don’t know or remember how bad.

I think our dad’s ended up having to talk to each other about the incident and arrangements were made to take care of the horn. I think we both got a “talking to” by our dads and we stayed friends.  We always seemed to be together.  We sat next to each other in band for as long as I can remember.  I often call Steve “Norton” because he reminded me so much to Ed Norton on the Honeymooners.  He’d say some of the silliest things.  We’d laugh all the time.  That Senior Skip Day, he even golfed like Norton did in that episode of the Honeymooners!

The only real time I got in trouble in band class was with Steve.  The other trumpets always waited for us to bring up our horns.  They never seemed to count the rests.  So Steve and I were talking and saying “Let’s bring up our horns early and fool those guys.”  Well, we were rehearsing for band festival and the band director was in no mood for jokes.  He stopped the music and asked what we were talking about.  When I told him he simply pointed to the door and said “Bye.”  We were told to wait until after rehearsal and then talk to him afterward.  We both felt like crap.  You just didn’t tick off the band director – not when festival was the next day!  We were allowed back to rehearsal shortly afterward, but we both still felt stupid!

We’d spend hours in the car driving around.  I would make “driving tapes” and we’d pile in and spend the night driving around the neighborhood.  We’d cruise Gratiot and look at girls.  We’d drive with the windows down, jamming to our favorite songs and singing at the top of our lungs.  We’d harmonize to Huey Lewis & the News, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frankie Ford, and so many other artists.  It was what we did!

He was with me when I got my first speeding ticket (on my way to Sam’s Jams) and he was with me when I had my first car accident.  I was driving in my ’79 Caprice Classic (ok, my dad’s ’79 Caprice Classic) and it had rained.  I was going to his house to drop him off.  I made the left turn and the roads were wet.  I began to go into a skid (rear wheel drive).  I remembered Driver’s Ed class “turn into the skid”, and I did.  Too bad I was literally in front of a parked car when I turned into the skid.  I slammed into the front of this car!  Steve’s mom called my dad.  I was in shock.  I knew I was a dead man.  My dad drove over and walked right past me and looked at the car.  I heard him mumble under his breath “There’s about $1500 worth of damage here.”  I later said, “You didn’t ask about me at all!” to which my dad replied, “I saw you standing there – I knew you were ok!”

I don’t recall if it was our senior year or not, but we had a band trip to Cedar Point.  I am not a ride person.  Steve, me and Chris walked around most of the day probably looking at girls.  We stumbled on this “You Be the Star” booth.  This was LONG before karaoke was a thing.  You went into a sound booth, put headphones on and sang to an instrumental track of a song.  Then, you got a cassette tape of your recording.  I think we did Twist and Shout, Steve did Mack the Knife (which would become his karaoke theme song), and we all did Hip to Be Square by Huey Lewis.  The song had just come out and he said he knew it, so he sang lead on it.  Chris and I sang the “Hip.  Hip.  So Hip to be Square” lines in the background.  I think I may still have that tape!

At my graduation party, my dad and some of his band buddies set up and played music at the party.  My dad had typed up the lyrics to Weird Al’s parody of La Bamba (Lasagna) and his band played it while me, Joe and Steve all sang it.  Steve was leaving to go to basic training soon after we graduated.  It was sad to know my buddy was going to be leaving.  I’m not sure what happened, but he never ended up staying in the navy.  He did, however, move to one of the Carolinas for awhile.  I’d get in trouble for long distance calls to him talking about stupidity…LOL.  He would tell me all about these silly sweepers he’d hear on a station called The Frog out there!

When he moved back to Michigan, Steve also used to DJ with me.  He would bring these crazy songs I had never heard before and want me to play them.  Sometimes they’d work, sometimes they didn’t.  One day, Steve M and I were DJing at the VFW right by Steve K’s house.  He came to the event.  He was dancing like crazy on the dance floor.  I think his wife wanted to go home and he wanted to stay.  She left and went home.  He had to call her later to come pick him back up because while he was out on the floor dancing he split his pants!  Typical Steve.  Stuff like that happened to him all the time!  That is one of my favorite Steve stories.

He was always my pinochle partner when we played with my grandparents (and when we played with Tonya, Michelle and the gang).  You could always count on him having the Ace of Clubs!  A trickless is when you and your partner take every possible trick in the hand.  Steve and I pulled one against my grandparents once.  It pissed my grandpa (who was very competitive) off!  The next hand, we pulled another one!  That was the end of the card playing that night!  Grandpa was done!  Somewhere, I still have the yellow legal pad with those back to back trickless hands written on it!

One day, we were all playing cards at Tonya’s house and the “F You’s” were flying around the table.  Steve meant to say, “F You and the horse you rode in on”, but instead said “the horse you rode on in.”  I am not sure why that made us all laugh so hard, but it did.  To this day, I say it wrong – because of Steve!  I am sure I could devote an entire blog to some of the silly things Steve has said.

He recently had a stroke.  That being said, he is recovering well.  I have to tell you though, when I heard the news I was scared!  This is my buddy and I can’t imagine not having him around.  When I went to the hospital to see him, I was like all emotional.  I hid it very well, but here is a guy, one of my closest friends,  who was my age (not even 50!) and this happened to him.  I was happy that he was ok, and that the prognosis was good, but just knowing that it could have been a very different outcome freaked me out.  It was an eye opening experience.  I guess that’s why I am writing this blog.

I want these three guys to know how glad I am to have their friendship.  We all share a love of music.  We all have the same taste in movies.  We all love a funny joke or pun. We have all shared silly conversations, as well as deep serious conversations.  I have one blood brother, but I am blessed to have these guys as brothers and friends.  In 30+ years, I have been lucky enough to share laughter and tears with these guys.  All of them stood up in my first wedding and I stood up in Joe’s and Steve K’s weddings.  We can go months without chatting and then pick right up where we left off.  Conversations always include laughter, movie quotes, and a whole lot of love.

Even though two of them have already celebrated theirs, and one is a few days away – Happy Birthday, Boys.  I love you guys!  Thank you for being such amazing friends for so many years!

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Joe, my brother Chris, Me, Steve M. Jeff, and Steve K at my first wedding.

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Beers are overdue!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ghost of Christmas Eve Past (and Yet To Come)

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For as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve was always spent with Grandma and Grandpa P. when we were kids.  I don’t necessarily know that there was any particular reason for this, I only know that from a very young age, this was the tradition. I also remember that dreaming of a White Christmas was hardly ever necessary.  If my memory serves me right, as a kid, there was maybe one or two Christmases that were we didn’t have snow.

The excitement for Christmas Eve was a bit different from Christmas Day.  Grandma and Grandpa always seemed to ask for our Christmas list early …. like July early!  She obviously planned ahead and shopped throughout the year, which must have saved her a ton of hassles finding things.  We usually were dressed and ready to go to Grandma’s house by 2 or 3pm. We would leave knowing at least one thing we were getting – a winter coat.  She got us one every year (which we hated, because she’d take us out shopping for it as early as October!).

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Christmas Eve dinner was always the same with very little variance.  Ravioli was the main dish.  There would be a feast that included breaded steak, sausage or meatballs, dinner rolls, and just about every other things you could imagine. Grandma prided herself on being able to make dinner that could feed an army! Grandma always made her Ammoghio (pronounced Moy-Gyoo) sauce to go on top of the steak.  This was made up of olive oil, tomatoes, some seasonings and a WHOLE LOT of garlic!  I never ate it as a kid, but as an adult – I love it!  Everyone who ate it smelled like garlic for like a week!

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There was always a dish with olives (green and black), sweet pickles, and veggies.  You would also find a big bowl with pistachios, and another one filled with nuts of all kinds.  The nuts were still in the shells, so you had to crack them open with the old silver nutcracker that was probably older than my grandma!  I can’t remember, but I think there was also a bowl or two of M&M’s and Hershey’s Kisses out to snack on, too.

For dessert – there were ALWAYS cannoli! Early on I think she made them from scratch (I may have her recipe somewhere), but I really remember her getting them from the Italian bakery.  There were also always plenty of cookies!  Grandma spent days baking them and by the time she was done, I think she had like 400 dozen!  She used to store them in these big tin cans that Better Made Potato Chips used to come it.  She always made chocolate chip for me, oatmeal for my brother, cut out sugar cookies and these little ice box cookies that none of us ate … well, I can’t say that … we fed them to the dogs and they seemed to like them a lot!

I recall the year that my grandmother bought my brother and I every Star Wars Figure that was out.  There were one or two that were very difficult to find, but she found them.  We each got a set!  Then there was the year she bought us the Atari 2600!  This was long before the fantastic graphics of Play Station or X-Box.  The games on this thing were very primitive as far as graphics went!  Oh, the hours I spent playing Sea Hunt, Pac-Man, and Pitfall!!  Even after all of the gifts were open, there was always an envelope for us.  For many years there would be a crisp $100 bill in it.  $100 was a LOT of money and I was always amazed at how new the bill was – it was almost like she had printed it herself!

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One Christmas Eve I remember particularly well.  Unlike previous years, when we came in the house, we were ushered immediately downstairs.  Usually, we went into the sun porch off the back of her house, where tables would be set for dinner and food would be out.  This year, dinner was in the basement.  We hardly EVER went in the basement, so I wasn’t sure what was happening.  In the middle of dinner, we heard a noise from upstairs.  Someone was walking (actually stomping, I think) around upstairs.  I think she had my great Uncle Ralph some in and do it.  My grandma said that Santa was probably up there leaving presents.  It was well before midnight, and you know how kids are – we knew that Santa came at midnight and we questioned it.  Grandma said she had called and “made special arrangements with Santa”.  Looking back on it now, I can totally see Grandma like Don Corleone of the Godfather making “special arrangements” with Santa!  At any rate, soon after the noise was gone, we were allowed to go upstairs and into the porch.  I am sure I am over exaggerating when I say that the porch looked like Toys R Us!  It was loaded with presents and a bike for both my bother and me.  I don’t even know how we got the presents home!

After dinner and presents, my brother and I would go watch movies, play the video games, or with our toys, while the adults went back into the porch to smoke and play cards.  Pinochle was what they usually played, although I seem to remember one year they also played gin rummy.  Depending on the people who were present, sometimes dad will play his guitar, Uncle Sam would play his accordion, or grandma would sit on the old Hammond organ and sing songs and play. Grandma played by ear and had no sense of tempo (or time signature for you musical folks), so she was either hitting wrong notes or playing ahead or behind everyone else.  From a child’s perspective, the music wasn’t very good, so my brother and I would go to another room.

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When I had finally learned how to play pinochle, I was a welcome addition to the card table.  My dad played, but he was usually done after a few games, so I gradually took his place as a “regular” at the table.  I LOVED this!  We could play forever!  Grandpa and mom were always partners.  He would often over bid my mom because he thought he had a good hand, then they would lose the hand.  They would get so mad at each other.

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I remember before I started playing, they would play cards until well after midnight.  My brother and I would be struggling to stay awake, our job was to remind mom and dad of how late it was getting – God forbid Santa not come because we weren’t home and in bed! Dad would constantly remind us that he paid for Santa to bring toys, and Santa would “circle the house” until we were home and in bed before delivering the toys.

When I began working in radio, it seemed that I was always on the air on Christmas Eve.  One of the “on air” traditions that I started was to call grandma and ask her how the preparations for dinner were coming. She would go into detail about what was on the menu and what time dinner was.  She would often razz me on the air and warned me not to be late.  She was an instant hit.  It was amazing how many people would call and ask if I was gonna check in with Grandma!

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Over the years, the faces of Christmas Eve changed.  Some years there were more relatives than others.  Aunt Rose became a staple after Uncle Sam passed away.  After Grandpa passed away, friends of the family often came by and the pinochle games continued.  As the years passed, there seemed to be more reflecting on Christmas Eves of the past with laughter and sadness.

Over the last few years, Christmas and Christmas Eve has undergone many more changes.  While many of the voices of Christmas Eve have been silenced, those wonderful memories warm my heart.  I look back at the memories fondly, and I also look forward to the new memories that will be made.  This year, my two amazing sons will be with us Christmas Eve morning to open presents with us.  They are older, but still full of excitement.  When they saw the gifts under the tree their reactions were typical for their age.  Dimitri, 11, saw the big box and said “Whoa, is that for us?”, while Dante’, 16, said “Is this all of the presents, or will there be more?”

I sit writing this as everyone in the house is still asleep.  Sam and I have joked around at what is in the big box under the tree more than once.  The camera is ready to capture the moments from this Christmas Eve, ready to provide them both with memories to look back on themselves in years to come.  I hope that someday, they will look back at Christmas Eve as one of their favorite holidays, just like I do.

Mom Dad Keith and Chris 1980

 

 

Happy Birthday, Pops.

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Today would have been my Grandpa P’s 96th birthday. In a previous blog, I wrote about my mom’s dad, and today I want to write about my dad’s dad – Pops. This blog is sort of a rewrite of a blog I wrote years ago on the anniversary of his passing.

When my mom’s dad passed away, I had to deal with the loss of a loved one for the first time. It was an eye opening experience that changed me forever. I realized that the people in your life aren’t always going to be around. I made a promise to be closer to my remaining grandparents.

I was very close to my grandpa. When he passed away, it was one of the most difficult times of my life. When I describe him, I often tell people to think of Abe Vigoda from the Godfather (some may remember him as Fish on Barney Miller). Abe reminded me a lot of my grandpa.

He quit school at a very young age. I don’t recall how young he was, but I recall him being in elementary school or maybe junior high. He quit to go to work with his father (my great grandfather). He worked to help bring money in for the family, as times were rough and money was tight. When he was young, they had one of those cars with the crank in the front of it that you had to crank to start the car. As I remember the story, he was trying to start the car one day and the crank snapped back and caught him in the nose. His nose was broken and it remained crooked the remainder of his life.

I used to love listening him tell stories about when he was young. He often talked about the days that him and his friends would hang out on “Joseph Campau Ave.” in downtown Detroit. Detroit was very different then. He and grandma would tell stories of how they could leave the house unlocked when they left and how they could sleep out on the sun porch during the summer without ever having to worry about being robbed or hurt.

Speaking of grandma, one of the stories that they both loved to tell was how they ended up together. The story goes that grandpa saw grandma walking and wanted to ask her out. She kept telling him no, but eventually broke and decided to go out with him, after he bugged her too much. I used to love hearing those stories.

When he was young he was stationed at “the CC Camp”. I’m not really sure what he did there, but some of my favorite pictures of him are when he was a young man there. He never went to war, because of his nose. They wouldn’t let him serve because it was broken. Even though he didn’t serve, he used to tell me many stories about World War II and we would often watch shows about the war on PBS when we spent the night.

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I have mentioned before that grandpa was responsible for giving me my first cup of coffee. I was like 11 or 12 and it was probably more cream and sugar than coffee. He also gave me my first “job”. I used to come over and cut his grass. Before the term OCD was ever used regularly, grandpa was very strict about the way he wanted his lawn cut. I had to check with him before I started to find out if I was cutting the grass vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. He was a stickler for straight lines! We used to call him “eagle eye”. He’d stand outside while I mowed, making sure that I was keeping the mower straight. I was always afraid of making a mistake!

During the summer, you could count on him having the Tiger game on TV or on the radio. The excitement of hearing the Tigers during their 1984 season (when they went on to win the World Series) is a memory I treasure. I was familiar with the current team members, but he would share stories of the 1968 World Champions as well as many other great ball players – he always seemed to bring up Rocky Colavito. Another Rocky he would talk about was boxer Rocky Marciano.

Before he retired, he worked at the same company as my dad. It was about 2 miles down the road from my house. During the summer time, it was always a treat when he would stop by the house on his lunch break. He was probably out at the store buying his lottery tickets for that day, but he would always pick up something for my brother and I. He would stop by with candy bars – usually Mr. Goodbar or Chunky. I remember Chunky used to be wrapped in a foil – it wasn’t sealed like they are today. It was literally a piece of silver paper wrapped around it. Today, Chunky is divided into four sections so you can break off pieces to eat it. Back then, it was just one big hunk of chocolate (with nuts and raisins)! Those two candy bars still remind me of him. He knew that my friends were usually over playing, so it wasn’t odd for him to drive up with 5 or 6 candy bars, so my friends could have one too.

When I think about Pops, I am reminded of the laughter. He made us laugh a lot. Because of his limited schooling, his vocabulary wasn’t always great. He mispronounced many words and would flub words when reading. Some people may think this is cruel, but we used to write scripts for him to read while we recorded them on a cassette tape. I did this primarily because I never wanted to forget what he sounded like. I am glad I did this, because I still have the “tapes” saved in a digital format. Personally, I think he liked being the center of attention. He loved be the star. He never doubted we loved him, he read these scripts because he knew it made us laugh. It made us happy. We acted out plays with him on tape, too! Sometimes, while he read through the script, he’d be laughing so hard, he could barely make it through. I remember one week I wrote a bunch of stuff for him and when we came over that Sunday to visit, I gave it to him. When he saw how many things I wrote for him he yelled, “God Doggit!” – that still makes me laugh … and I can still hear him saying it! I find myself saying it today!

I also remember that he was really ticklish, so we’d record him laughing while we tickled him. Sometimes he’d laugh so hard his false teeth would fall out!

Pops bought me my first lottery ticket. I think I was like 13 years old. He had this old raggedy book called “Skippy’s Lucky Lottery Dream Book”. The way it worked was, when you had a dream, you’d look up the subject and there was a 3 digit number. You play that number in the lottery and hopefully, you’d win. Early in my 7th or 8th grade year, I had lost my house key. I had a dream that I found it at his house. I looked where it was in the dream, but it wasn’t there. He, of course, looked up “found keys” and found the number – 195. He told me he was going to play that number for us, and if it won, I could have the money. Sure enough, that week, it came out. I remember he came over with an envelope with 42 dollars in it. He was true to his word. He never said, but I am guessing he played it for himself, too.

He and grandma taught me how to play Pinochle. That’s what they did almost every holiday. We’d have dinner, and the adults would go in to the sun porch and play cards. My brother and I would basically sit and watch TV, bored out of our minds while they played cards. I finally asked to learn and they taught me. They were patient and taught me well. My dad was happy that I learned to play, because he never really liked to play all night like everyone else. I, however, loved playing and was a welcome addition to the card table.

When I got my driver’s license, I would go over there on the weekends with Joe or Steve and we’d play Pinochle all night. Grandma would have coffee on and a Long John Coffee Cake for us. Grandpa didn’t like to lose. He’d get so mad sometimes! There were stories about him cutting up decks of cards when he was losing, but we never saw him get that mad. We saw him get mad … just not that mad! He was the kid of guy who at one point, you’d try to throw the game his way because you didn’t want to see him mad….lol.

My friend Steve used to make him so mad. Steve and I were always partners and sometimes, we’d get really lucky. A trickless is a hand where one team gets all the tricks and the other team gets nothing. It doesn’t happen often, and I remember one night Steve and I did it with back to back hands! We were happy as hell, but that was where the game ended that night!

One time Steve got up and went to get coffee. He opened the fridge without asking permission. My grandpa was so mad. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Where are your manners? I don’t go to your house and go in your fridge!” I was surprised at how much this bugged him. He was probably losing at cards, and he lost it at this little thing. Steve felt bad, and apologized.

Pop’s also used to help me with my paper route. The station where we’d pick up the papers was over by his house. He’d pick me up, take me to the station, we’d get the papers and he’d drive me and Jeff around so we could deliver them. He had a gold Caprice Classic with tan seats. I remember he used to put a blanket down over the seat because he didn’t want the ink to get on the seat. Jeff and I used to laugh and make noises and stuff while we were with him. He never really understood what was so funny. Because of those days on the paper route, he called Jeff “the crazy one”. I’d go over there to visit when I was older and he’d say, “Hey! How’s the crazy one? Do you still see the crazy one?”

As he got older, he got more forgetful. One time, my grandma asked him to take her to the store. He went out the the garage and got in the car, but left grandma at home. My dad had to go looking for him. Grandma called the police and they were looking, too. My dad pulled into the parking lot of Farmer Jack (I think) and found him sitting in the car. Dad asked him what he was doing and he replied, “I am waiting for your mother!” My dad had to break the news that she was still at home. He was so flustered.

He deteriorated pretty quickly after that. He was more forgetful and often repeated things. I don’t recall if it was on Christmas Eve, but I remember him sitting in his chair looking at the TV guide. Occasionally, he’d look up and say, “Murder, She Wrote” is coming on” and then stare back into the book. It was hard to see him like that.

I’ll never forget seeing him in the hospital on the night he passed away. I remember when everyone walked out of the room whispering to him how much I loved him and how much I was going to miss him. He had basically just been laying there the whole night, but as I spoke to him, he reached up and grabbed my neck. I remember being startled, but I again told him I loved him and it was ok to go.

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Grandparents are a wonderful gift. I remember the looks that my mom and dad had when they first held my oldest son. The smile just got bigger when my dad got to hold his second grandson. Seeing them, I realize the love that my grandpa had for me and my brother. I was blessed to have him for 24 years of my life. He was a very special man and I miss him very much. The memories I have of him bring many smiles and keep him alive in my heart. I wrote a song about him. It never was recorded, although I had hoped it would. I have shared it on Social Media before. Perhaps I will add it in a separate blog sometime….

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Happy Heavenly Birthday, Pops! As I wrote in my song – I still love you and I still miss you!

Four Songs – Four Friends

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Last night at work I was listening to my iPod on shuffle. I have 4800+ songs on it and would have more if the hard drive that I stashed all the tunes hadn’t crashed. Last night a string of 4 songs in a row played and each of those songs brought me back to a specific memory regarding 4 of my best friends.

Song 1 – Green Onions – Booker T & The MG’s

When I hear this song, I immediately think of my best friend since elementary school. Jeff and I met in 2nd grade. He used to come up and hang out with me when I worked at my first radio station. He’s always ask me to play Green Onions. “Why the hell is it called Green Onions?” we often asked. Who knows, but it’s one of those great instrumentals!

Jeff and I listened to some crazy and silly songs growing up. Some of the ones that come to mind are Gimme Dat Ding by the Pipkins, Bread and Butter by the Newbeats, Beans and Cornbread by Louis Jordan, Ain’t Got No Home by Clarence “Frogman” Henry, I’m a Nut by Leroy Pullins, Show Me How To Dance by the Bingo Boys, and Ponderous by 2NU. Just looking at the list of those songs makes me laugh out loud! There are stories for each of them!

I can’t hear Sweet Emotion or Same Old Song and Dance by Aerosmith without thinking of Jeff. He always went over to the jukebox at the place we shot pool and played those songs. Another one that always makes me think of him is the Sanford and Son Theme by Quincy Jones. I think we’ve both used that as a ring tone for each other on our phones.

More recently, he played some crazy song I had never heard before – Saved By the Bell by Roy C. Tell you what – I’ll let you find it and listen to it….if you can describe it….please do in the comments!

Song 2 – Softly As I Leave You – Frank Sinatra.

This song is one that sits me at a kitchen table playing Pinochle with Joe. We’d be listening to 580 CKWW and the big band songs on there. The DJ was Don Alcorn and we listened to him a lot. He would often close his show with this song. Pinochle would usually go one for hours after Don went off the air.

Another song that makes me think of Joe is GI Jive by the Spitfire Band. It was another song we’d hear on 580, but we switched around a bit too. Sometimes we’d be listening to classic country on WCXI.

While in high school, we discovered that each of us appreciated Weird Al Yankovic’s music. Yes, both of us believe him to be a musical genius. Sure, anyone can write a parody song, but Al also wrote some pretty awesome originals, too! Al’s album, Even Worse, was released in April of 1988. We were in our final months of high school. “Fat” was probably the biggest hit on the album, but at my graduation party Joe, Steve and I all got up and sang Al’s parody of La Bamba – Lasagna. My dad had a few of his old wedding band players (and some cousins) bring their instruments and they played music at the party. Dad knew he was gonna have us do this and he had the lyrics ready for us to sing from (not that we really needed them). I will always remember us singing that.

Other songs that remind me of Joe: K-Mart Blues by Tom “T-Bone” Stankus, UHF – Weird Al, Santa Must be Polish by Bobby Vinton, Bus Stop by the Hollies and any Sousa March or random Polka!

Song 3 – Mambo #5 – Lou Bega

Steve and I spent MANY hours wasting gas and listening to music. I can’t tell you how many “driving tapes” I made. Cassette after cassette of songs we liked. The list of our favorites seemed to get bigger and bigger every time one of us heard a new song. Steve listened to songs like I did, he’d hear things in them that mostly went unnoticed. Sometimes he’d hear stuff that NO ONE ELSE heard, but then after telling you about it, that would be ALL you could hear! Mambo # 5 is a good example of that. Now, get the chorus in your head:

“A little bit of Monica in my life, a little bit of Erica by my side
A little bit of Rita is all I need, a little bit of Tina is what I see
A little bit of Sandra in the sun, a little bit of Mary all night long
A little bit of Jessica here I am, a little bit of you makes me your man”

Good. Now, when that part of the song plays – start singing the theme to I Dream of Jeannie. It totally fits! And thanks to this clown, I can never NOT sing it! LOL

Because of our many hours of driving (and wasting my dad’s gas), I could list at least 100 songs that make me think of Steve. Mack The Knife by Bobby Darin is one because he’d always sing that when we’d go sing karaoke. Viva Las Vegas (by Elvis and ZZ Top) was one of our favorite driving songs, as was Shake, Rattle and Roll by Big Joe Turner. He was the one who first played me Keep Your Hands To Yourself by the Georgia Satellites.

Huey Lewis and the News Sports album was one of our favorites. Songs like I Want a New Drug and Bad Is Bad were great sing a longs. We also added Hip To Be Square and Whole Lotta Lovin’ by Huey to our tapes after Fore was released. I remember Steve, Chris and I were at Cedar Point and before Karaoke was a “thing”, you could go and sing to instrumental tracks and make a tape of it. We paid big bucks and recorded Hip to Be Square with Steve on the lead vocal. Yeah, it sucked. LOL.

One last one for Steve – Rag Mop by the Ames Brothers. It’s a song that we used to hear on 580 and were familiar with because of an episode of The Honeymooners. Our school put on this Lip Synch contest and Steve and I did a “sketch” to Rag Mop involving a chalk board. At some point I was supposed to flip the chalk board over to show the other side of it and the leg of it broke. I still laugh about this. Great tunes and a good friend!

Song 4 – Tubthumping – Chumbawamba

This one hit wonder was a big one and we played it at a lot of weddings. My partner at those weddings was another Steve. We DJ’d many gigs together and those gigs remain some of my favorites. We had so much fun, and the guests could tell! We were having as much fun as they were. We choreographed some dumb dance to go along with this song and looking back at it, we must have looked pretty ridiculous! When ever I hear this one it makes me think of him.

Since we DJ’s together, you can imagine that there are plenty of songs that make me think of him. We used to open our gigs as the Blues Brothers, so the instrumental “Can’t Turn You Loose” always brings back memories of “Jake” coming out with his briefcase handcuffed to his arm, hugging “Elwood” and kicking off the gig.

We spent a lot of time hitting the Karaoke bars singing too. As a matter of fact, he is still hosting karaoke often. One of the songs that he sings is Big Ten Inch, a song originally done by Bull Moose Jackson, but better known to younger folks by Aerosmith. I didn’t even know they had that song at Karaoke, but I laughed like hell when he sang it!

I remember harmonizing with him on songs like Losing My Religion by REM and All My Loving by the Beatles. I remember dancing and jamming with fake instruments to Jump, Jive’ and Wail by the Brian Setzer Orchestra, doing the Chicken Blister to Blister in The Sun, and grabbing a microphone and making up stupid names to yell when he sang What’s Your Name by Lynryd Skynryd.

Four songs – Four Friends

Jeff and I have been friends for 40 years. I have been friends with Joe, Steve, and Steve for over 30 years each. That’s a lot of time, a lot of music, and a lot of memories. Each one of these guys stood up in my wedding and their friendship through good times and bad has been so important to me. We’ve shared many laughs, many tears, and many beers together. I am so lucky to have these guys in my entourage.

I hope you guys treasure our friendship as much as I do!

“A delicious cup of coffee …”

Coffee

I had my first cup of coffee at 12 years old.  I use the term “coffee” here loosely because my grandpa made it for me.  It was probably 1/4 coffee and 3/4 cream and sugar.  Coffee was a staple at my grandparents house.  They drank it all the time.  Whenever we went over there for holidays, all the adults were drinking it and eventually, I had asked to try it.  My grandfather obliged and I have been drinking it ever since.

Grandma used to use an old percolator to brew her coffee.  She tried a drip coffee make once, but she said it didn’t taste right.  I tend to agree with her.  There is something about a cup of coffee that has been brewed in a percolator that just tastes better.  Sadly, drip coffee makers seem to be the way most folks brew now.  When I got married, there was only one thing that I really wanted on the registry – a percolator.  I was lucky that my buddy Billy got it for me.  It lasted 13 years, and then finally perked it’s last pot.  I have yet to go get another one – but I plan on it!

Coffee brings back many memories for me.  First of all, I drank it all the time when I worked on the air at my first radio station job.  Working overnights, it was the fuel that kept me going.  Radio in 1989 was a bit different than it is today.  The DJ’s talked more.  We were an all request station, so we would be talking to listeners and taking requests throughout the show.  Coffee helped soothe my throat, at least I felt that it did.  Back then I used to always drink it black – nice and hot.

Speaking of radio, one of the first people I met in Radio, Donnie P., used to drink as much coffee as I did.  We’d spend many hours talking over coffee about radio, religion, family, and politics.  When Don finally got a Facebook page, there would almost always be a weekly status update that said he was “enjoying a delicious cup of coffee”.  Even though he passed away a few years ago, I remember him and our chats fondly as I drink coffee.

Another coffee memory involves, yet again, my grandparents.  I remember going over to their house with Joe, Steve, or Jeff to play pinochle many times.  Often their would be cookies, brownies, or Long John coffee cake, and of course, fresh coffee.  We’d sometimes go through two pots between the four of us.  I miss playing pinochle – especially with them.

When I decided to go back to college, I rarely studied without coffee.  As a matter of fact, I often studied in coffee shops, or in the college cafe (where I knew I could always get a cup).  I know that I would have never been able to stay up and study without it.  When my clinicals started, I was doing 12 hours there, and had classes full time.  How in the world would I have made it with out it?!

Since graduating from college, I have been working the midnight shift.  That’s what a sleep tech does.  I watch people sleep and help diagnose sleep disorders.  Once again, coffee is what keeps me going, especially on nights where I wasn’t able to sleep much prior to coming in (Hey, it’s hard to sleep when the rest of the world is wide awake!). We recently moved into a new building and they neglected to put in the water line for the coffee maker.  We kept the local 7-11 busy on those nights!

I sat down in front of the computer debating what to write about today.  Right next to me was a cup of fresh brewed coffee in my “World’s Best Boss” mug that was given to me by a guy I worked with.   That’s all it took.

My coffee is getting cold, but let me end with a quote that is appropriate for this blog entry:  “Everybody should believe in something.  I believe I’ll have another cup of coffee” – Author unknown