The Hot Comet ~ Teenage Tale

A long time ago in a hamlet far, far away from where she eventually wound up, a teenage girl went to get her driver’s license.  It was summer.  August.  Her mother reluctantly drove her to the appointed location at the appointed time.  The girl took the driving test and joined her mother for what became a very silent ride home.  Those were not days of “instant gratification.”  She was not rewarded with her license on the spot.  She was told “you’ll be notified by mail with the results.”  The ride home was very silent because she was certain she’d failed.  She could not parallel park.  Now, let’s discuss her mother’s car.  A 1959 Chevrolet Impala. 1959-Chevrolet-Impala-2dr-hdtp-rvl The fins on the car seemed a mile wide.  In fact, one of the first times her mother had backed the car into the garage she’d knocked a hole in the wall. However, on this fateful summer day, after three unsuccessful tries the instructor said “let’s move on.”  Three words she didn’t want to hear during her driving test.

The wait was interminable.  Every day she waited for the mailman.  He arrived around 10:00AM.  Truth be told, she liked having an excuse to wait for the mailman.  He was the very cute older brother of one of the first friends she’d made when they moved to the hamlet six years earlier.  This fateful morning he headed up the front walk with a big smile, waving an envelope.


Picture the teenager shouting in glee as her mother came out onto the front porch, uttering the words ~ “the only test I prayed you’d fail.”  The teen age girl had her driver’s license.  She wasted no time asking her mother if she could, “please, please drive the car today.  Please?????

My mother reluctantly relented.  Despite serious concerns Emmy let me drop her off somewhere and drive her car for a couple of hours.  I do remember driving down Ryefield Road and flooring it as I passed the school field and the left turn that led to the Dutch Reformed Church.  When I hit 70 I slowed down, recognizing my newly found freedom wouldn’t survive a first day speeding ticket.

About  year later my Grandfather’s 1960 Mercury Comet found its’ way into our driveway.  Another car with big fins.  hot comet

I nicknamed the car “The Hot Comet,” which it surely wasn’t either in looks or speed but I surely loved that little car.  I can’t remember how long I had it but I do remember the day I lost it.  Very clearly.

Before I get too far ahead of myself with this story, I’ll provide a bit of background information.  If you’ve been a reader of this blog you know I talk about Emmy, my mom, often.  I haven’t mentioned my father.  Big Joe was his nickname.  He’s the one on the left at a wedding reception of mine.  Reception.1980  A man used to being the center of attention. He was a self-employed attorney.  I grew up on his witness stand, with his favorite phrase “do you think or do you know?”   A simple way to describe him is in his own words.  “I don’t get ulcers, I give them.”   My mother had ulcers.  My brother had ulcers.  I had a big mouth and would often respond “I think I know.”  Enough said.

Let’s just say from a purely observational stand point, my gene pool was not meant for deep diving.  There are stories I could tell to emphasize the point, like the time my father wanted to shorten the electrical cord on the kitchen wall clock and attempted to do so while said clock was plugged in.  My mother and I watched as he went to do so without uttering a word of caution.  In our defense, we couldn’t believe what was happening.  His resounding “holy shit” was louder than the brief electrical crackle so all ended well.  I like to think of us as “colorful,” albeit more than mildly dysfunctional.  But weren’t we all to a certain extent.  Growing up behind the facade of 50’s television was the truth.  Nothing was as it seemed.  The facade of my childhood was aided and abetted by the wonderful place we lived.  The “hamlet,” Locust Valley, on the North Shore of Long Island.Image

There were simple, family fantasy shows, “Father Knows Best” and “Ozzie and Harriet,” but s we moved through the 1960’s there were a few a bit racier.  One was Peyton Place, the first prime time soap opera, based on the novel of the same name written by Grace Metalious.

One beautiful summer day I decided to go to the the library to check out THAT book.  The library was down the hill and around the corner from our house but I drove into the village.  Yes the center of town was, and is still, called “the village.”    Locust Valley - holidays

I filled up the Hot Comet’s tank for a future adventure before heading to my destination.  Book in hand I left the library and headed home.

I pulled into the driveway, turned off the ignition and heard a “pop.”  It didn’t sound ominous, rather odd, but as I got out of the car I noticed smoke coming out from under the hood.  No one was home.  I stood for a moment thinking, “this is not good” but truly had n idea of what to do next.  So I said, “HELP.”  Really loud.  Our neighbor from across the street, Mr. Kropp, came running out of his house.  He grabbed the neatly rolled hose from the backyard, turned it on, started watering the hood of the car and said, “call the fire department.  Now.”  I ran into the house and did what I was told.  When I came back outside,  Mr. Kropp was still standing over the car hood, hosing it as he yelled.  “GET ACROSS THE STREET .”  Again I did what I was told.Fire House

The fire house siren went off.  I forgot to mention the fire house is also around the corner, so although it felt like an hour the volunteer firemen arrived very quickly.  Mr. Kropp stayed with the car hosing the hood.  What a guy!  I was terrified the car was going to explode, hurt Mr. Kropp and catch the house on fire.  The fire truck came speeding up the hill and firemen rushed to the car with extinguishers and hatchets.  Mr. Kropp stood with me on the lawn of his house with his arm around my shoulder saying “it’s OK.”  By the time they were finished the “Hot Comet” was no more.  The loss of my freedom loomed large along with the fact that I’d probably get busted for borrowing Peyton Place from the library.

My mother came speeding up the hill around the time the fire truck was leaving.  Our next door neighbor, Annie Fitzgibbons, had figured out where she was and called.  From Anne’s vantage point at her kitchen window, the message was,”Janet’s car is smoking in the driveway.  Stan Kropp has a hose over the hood.  The fire whistle just went off but I don’t see Janet.”  How did we ever survive the complexities of life without instant, accessible communication?

My father’s first acts that evening were to bring a bottle of scotch to Stan Kropp and then head over to the fire house to thank them for their hep.  Whoever he spoke to told him the car didn’t explode because there was a full tank of gas.  No fumes in the tank.  My father never said a word to me about it.  Since I spent a large part of my teenage years in the dog house of his discontent over my actions, or lack thereof, no words were a good thing.

Someone I never knew “back in the day” was going through an incredibly difficult time in her life around the time the hot Comet met it’s driveway demise.  Just recently she and I connected on Facebook and she related the fact that my father had helped her through her personal hell with his legal expertise and support.  The man she described was someone I saw only infrequently.  Kind and supportive.  To quote her, “see, your Dad did something so very good and you never even knew about it.  I remember him as a very kind man who was so proud of his daughter.”

Who knew?  I hope he was proud of the way I acted that day in the driveway.  I did yell HELP … really loud.

The moral of this story ~remember to tell those you love how proud you are of them, even if you think they already know.

And always top off the gas tank.  Just in case.

Peyton Place








The World We Live In ~ then and now

Boomers...Broken down or Blissful?

Saying this has been a difficult week is an understatement.   The world we live in today is not the world in which I have lived the majority of my life.   I really did grow up in a town with a little white church. Dutch Reformed Church  I also grew up during a time when “duck and cover” and the fear of mass nuclear destruction were very real.  Yet we always felt safe enough to play kickball in the circle on our street.  We always felt safe enough to get excited when we heard the bells on the Good Humor truck and search for lightening bugs when it became dark during the summer.   We lived through the Cuban Missile crisis and the assassination of  JFK but felt safe enough to go to The Valley Tea Shoppe after school, hang out at the library with the cannon out front and the bowling alley in…

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As the “booms” at Camp Pendleton were fierce today and poor Harley was scared, this blog post about devotion came to mind. Hope you enjoy!.

Boomers...Broken down or Blissful?

The definition of devotion ~ love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity or cause.

I’ll start with love.  I have been fortunate in this life to have experienced an abundance of it.  Some did not end well, but it was love.  Some did not last forever, but it was love.  Some left behind better memories than others, but it was love.  I will start with the blessing of unconditional love.  My first.My mother.   She loved me dearly and completely throughout her life.   Emmy and JammieThat gift helped form my psyche and my soul and although I lost her while we were each far, far too young, I know her unconditional love was one of my life’s greatest blessings.  Occasions I was far too young to remember, immortalized in old pictures, remind me of the feelings I have to this day whenever I think of Emmy.  Safe.  Loved.Christmas Eve

Many people know that…

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You Still Got It

Boomers...Broken down or Blissful?

ImageWhile we were at the park the other morning with Riley and Harley, I was thinking about how lucky I am.  Others have pointed that out to me throughout the years and I wondered why they would ever say that because I have had some really bad stuff happen in my life.  I’ve had some really dark moments as I’ve wandered through this tunnel they call life.  But then, haven’t we all?   A dear friend recently told his story of going to a shrink, beginning with the opening, “you won’t believe this story.   The shrink replied, “with all respect, there are really only five stories…the rest are variations on the theme.”   While we all like to think we are unique and individual ~ and, to a certain extent, we are ~ the themes of what we all experience are similar.  Abandonment, grief, loss, love, happiness.  There are more, I’m sure…

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Our Greek Adventure with Barry Manilow

Boomers...Broken down or Blissful?

ImageI love Barry Manilow…always have, always will.  The story I am about to tell about last night is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

But first, some history about Barry and me.  We go back a LONG way…all the way back to his first appearance on Midnight Special in 1975.  I was working at NBC in Compliance and Practices and I was assigned to the show this taping.  There was this young man, introduced by Clive Davis and the host was Mac Davis ~ ok, be honest, who remembers him?  He sat at the piano and played “Mandy.”  That’s all it took for me.  I was hooked.

In 1977 he came to the Universal Ampitheater…it was a large, outdoor venue at the time.  We had lousy seats but I didn’t remember much about the concert.  That morning I’d received the call from my Father that changed…

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Happy Memories

Meanderings about the dogs I’ve loved…..

Boomers...Broken down or Blissful?

Today we were at the beach and met a schnauzer named Duke who could have been Riley’s twin.   We first saw him when we were stopped at a light before parking the car.  We watched him approach another dog and interact politely so we said “nothing like Riley.”  Seconds later this little guy started the “schnauzer snark” and we laughed recognizing the fact that schnauzers are always schnauzers.  We ran into them on our walk and got to meet Duke up close and personal.  It made us laugh.   Jay had never heard of schnauzers until he met me.  We all have our baggage.  Mine includes multiple schnauzers.  At the beach It all began with Smokey.   A miniature schnauzer, brought home as a surprise when I was in Kindergarten.  The breed was chosen because my Mom had really bad asthma and schnauzers are supposedly hypo-allergenic because they have hair instead of…

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Tradition ~ Part One

tra·di·tion ~trəˈdiSH(ə)n/ noun

the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

THEOLOGY ~ a doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the scriptures, in particular.

We all have them.  Variations on a theme perhaps, but they exist in our hearts and often spill over into our present.  Especially around the holidays.  Memories that we annually duplicate with varying degrees of success.  Like the ice-box cake Emmy used to make every Christmas.  I know I speak glowingly of the woman but quite honestly, Martha Stewart she was not.  Domesticity was not her long suit but she gallantly stepped up to the plate every day as she threw herself into hearth and home.  I remember the time I asked her to help hem a coat dress ~ remember them?  Well, when I put it on one end was at least two inches shorter than the other.  Her solution was to just double fold the offending end.  She giggled and said, “At least it’s the side that goes underneath.”  She had the very best laugh.

Jay and I were walking the other morning with Riley and Harley and I was thinking about how lucky I am even though I have had some really bad stuff happen.  I’ve had some really dark moments as I’ve wandered through this tunnel they call life, but then haven’t we all?  A dear friend recently told his story of going to a shrink years ago, beginning with the opening, “you won’t believe this story.”  The shrink replied, “with all respect, there are really only five stories…the rest are all variations on the theme.”  We all like to think we are unique and individual.  Special snowflakes, and to a certain extent we are.  Yet the basic themes of our experiences are similar.  Abandonment, grief, loss, love, happiness.  There are more, I’m sure, but I’ll stop with the first five that came to mind.  If you’re lucky the good themes outweigh the bad.

I started this blog a couple of years ago with encouragement from my high school BFF, Geri.   When I got stuck, a childhood friend contacted me out of the blue and remembered things about me I had forgotten.  How much I enjoyed writing.   But I had to figure out what to write about.   It is, and will always be, a post-by-post work in progress.

The Knolls

Diane and me ~ The Knolls – reminding me I loved to write

I’ve done some interesting things and had some fascinating experiences but as far as my daily life, I’m really a pretty run of the mill extroverted introvert.  So, as in many other times during my life, I just started.  While I usually have a general idea of what I want to say I never have any idea of how I get there.  Some posts meander more than others.  I have a feeling this is one of them, so please bear with me.

Holiday traditions during my childhood included my cousin, Patty.  Our fathers were the two youngest of four sons and for many years were best friends.  Patty and I visited Santa together.  Patty and Me We spent Christmas Day together ~ and had a one-time holiday tradition of going to Radio City with our paternal grandmother to see the Rockettes.Janet and Patty

Grandma Mafera was not a warm and fuzzy type.  At all.  In hindsight, it’s obvious that life had been unkind to her emotionally but at the time she just seemed cold and more than a bit preoccupied with human tragedy.   Seriously, she kept what we called a “Book of Horrors” ~ a scrapbook containing newspaper clippings about terrible occurrences.  I think that’s all you need to know right now about the skeletons in my familial closet.

Grandma was a great baker and every year on my birthday she would make a most delicious chocolate cake.  We spent most of the summer I was seven in Rocky Point and I remember it and the party very well.  It was my brother’s first summer and Rocky Point was pretty far out on Long Island and required a trek for all concerned. yellow rock I remember my Grandmother attending said event and I also remember saying,  “Look Grandma, I have a birthday cake with my name on it.”  It was not chocolate and she did not bring it.  It came from, gasp ~ a bakery.  Unintentionally, I set off a family catastrophe.  There was never another chocolate cake…for anyone.  Ever.  Honestly, I never really noticed but then I’m not a sweet person, literally.  Years later Patty shared the tale.  “Oh yeah, after that birthday Grandma stopped baking chocolate cakes because ‘Janet wanted a cake with her name on it.'”  From this picture with both my grandmother’s on my brother’s first birthday ~ occurring a few months following mine at Rocky Point ~ I seem to think the cake from the bakery was more Emmy’s idea than mine.  As you can see, Grandma Mafera is about as far as she can get from the offending cake without being out of the picture entirely. Grandma's.jpg  The end of THAT tradition.

Sadly, as happens in many families, a disagreement over something stupid led to estrangement so our holiday tradition began anew with our Locust Valley next door neighbors, the Fitzgibbons.   We had wonderful times that included playing lengthy board games ~ Monopoly and Risk come to mind ~ during holiday breaks.   Christmas fun with the Ouija board.  When we asked what my father did, we expected the word “lawyer.”  It spelled out “attorney.”  We didn’t cheat, really.  But when it spelled out the answer to a question neither Kathleen nor I knew the answer to we decided to move on to another game of Monopoly.


Summer traditions included summer barbeques, games of croquet and badminton in the backyard and kick ball in the circle.  While our parents are gone what remains all these years later is a deep friendship that picks up with love no matter how much time has passed.


Kathleen and me ~ 2014

This holiday season I decided to make a family comfort food favorite.  The recipe comes passed through Grandma Mafera given to my Mom.  Over the years I remember much trial and error on the ingredients, as I think Grandma just might have omitted proper quantities, perhaps as retaliation for the “chocolate cake incident.”  The recipes live in a copper box in a cabinet in the kitchen on the top shelf, along with many cook books I never use.  To be fair, I’m my mother’s daughter.  Not Martha Stewart’s.  Book case

For a reason I cannot logically explain, when I turned around to put the box back in the cabinet a Bible had fallen to the floor.  My mother’s Bible.  I admit it was a little freaky ~ the books sit far back on the shelves and I surely didn’t hear it fall.  Bible

Jay told me to open it and read whatever was there.  I did, and it opened to the first page of a book I’d never heard of, let alone read.  The book of Habakkuk.  So I turned to google for an answer.

The major theme of Habakkuk is trying to grow from a faith of perplexity and doubt to the height of absolute trust in God.

Did I mention this all happened on Emmy’s birthday?

The Spanish Rice was excellent.  Here’s the recipe ~  I promise the quantities on the top card are right! Spanish Rice

There are no accidents!