Christmas in Jersey

Today I am going to take a break from my typical weight loss blog because I am feeling nostalgic about Christmas and Jersey. I got in the mood by watching Springsteen on Broadway. Hearing about his hometown in Freehold made me think of my hometown in Crosswicks. Mine closer to Philly; his closer to New York; but, Jersey all the same!

Crosswicks, NJ Community House
Christmas at the Community House

(As a side note. How do you know you love your wife? When she convinces you to turn off Springsteen on Broadway to watch Secret Santa on Wheel of Fortune! Giving up your home state hero for Pat and Vana is surely a sign of love. )

Relegated to my study, I got a beer; put on my best Springsteen; and decided to write about Christmas and Jersey. Here are four of my favorite Christmas memories from my childhood in Crosswicks, New Jersey! Like the Saturday Live skit from the other week, featured here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WvwX18oMR4 , Christmas memories are better upon reflection and a glass of wine (and some Springsteen).

  1. The Community House Tree. Crosswicks is a historical town where much history happened. Indeed, George Washington launched his famous Christmas time raids on Trenton and crossing the Delaware from his headquarters at the Quaker Community House in Crosswicks. This history is all fine and good but my favorite memory is from personal history. Each Christmas, the citizens of Crosswicks would light up a large Christmas tree on the grounds of the Community House and sing Christmas songs and drink hot apple cider. For that day, the rivalry between the Black Sox and Red Sox baseball teams would be buried by the tree near the baseball field with voices of joy!
  2. Hoping the club doesn’t come to your house first! My Dad worked as a Steelworker and Union Vice President at DeLaval. His friends from work and their families formed a group simply called the Club. The Club would make the rounds to each family’s house on Christmas. We mostly loved playing with all the kids. Except of course, if you were the first house on the tour. Being the first house on the tour was dreaded because it was when all the kids were really wound up and wanted to play with your new Christmas toys. Wound up kids on Christmas equals broken toys. One sad Christmas, we were the first on the tour. We were excited about our new Evil Knievel motorcycle and track. You would pump the motorcycle with air and it would fly off the track. It was our most prized toy until Jimmy and Kimmey got a hold of it. They pumped it so full of air that Evil and the motorcycle broke after flying a record 10 feet in the air. Much like the real Evil could not jump Snake River canyon, our toy could not make it 10 minutes with the kids from the Club!
  3. Granpop’s Christmas train. My Grandpop grew up in the depression, so he was careful with his money. One of his best cost saving ventures was to buy Ribbon Candy after Christmas at quarter price and put it out the next year! He may have saved his pennies when buying candy, but not when taking care of his grandkids. One Christmas, we woke up and were brought downstairs to see a fully decorated Lionel train set in the cellar. The excitement of us kids was reflected in the joy of my Grandpop’s face as he passed on his love to a new generation.
  4. Rudolph’s Nose and Dad catching Santa. One of the difficult things each Christmas was keeping my brother David from waking up
    from all his excitement at 2 AM . Me and my brother Gary had a ploy to keep David in the room we shared. Still do not know to this day why it worked and fooled him every year. My Dad used to put plastic on our windows during the Winter to keep in the warmth. Besides keeping out the cold, the plastic also fuzzed up the red light on the radio tower about a mile way enough so we could trick David. Each time when he woke up in the night and said “Is it Christmas, yet? Let’s wake up Dad and Mom! “, Gary and I would point to the red light and say that Rudolph was still flying. Even with that trick we could only contain him until 5 AM. Then we had to wake Mom and Dad. Dad in order to delay us while he was getting his Polaroid camera would say “Santa is still down here” and make some rustling sounds to keep us at bay. Oh how we sat on pins and needles until he gave us the all clear signal.

Well, I see Wheel of Fortune is finally done! I am going to get back to the real Boss and hear more tales of Jersey from the master. I hoped you enjoyed these!

The Lessons I Leaned When Running Away

When I was 16, I made the rash decision to run away.  I was distressed that I was moving away from my home in New Jersey and losing my friends.  It was understandable in some respects.  I was half way through my junior year and was tied to my school and in particular my first girlfriend.  I thought the world was ending but really it was only beginning.

I remember the day as it is almost yesterday.  My Dad was a bit steamed after my Grandpop, Uncle, Aunt and cousins came over to wish us off.  As to be expected, everyone was sad to see us leave and a lot of tears were shed.  I remember my Dad saying something to the effect that he could not take another person crying (my Mom’s family was Irish and as the stereotype goes a bit emotional).  I just got upset and belligerent after hearing that.  I told him “Well, I am half my Mom’s side and I am not crying and promised to take off.”  He half dismissed it but I did not.  At that moment, I decided to run away.

My great idea was I would run as fast as I could the 5 or 6 miles to Yardville to my Uncle Johnny’s house and hide out in the woods.  Then when my family left for Texas heartbroken, I would have my cousin bring me food while I lived out in the woods behind their house (I said the idea was rash!).  Just to show what crazy things teen age love can do, I decided then and there to take off.  I ran with all my might and with the stuffed toy Dog (Little Rascal) my girlfriend gave me.  I set off to Yardville to hide out in the woods.

Back then I could run fast.  I ran out of Crosswicks out past Ocker’s Barrel where my Dad worked when on strike (which you see below).  I got 4 and a half miles and was just about to turn off the main street to my Uncle Johnnie’s house when my Dad in the car caught up to me.

Ocker's Barrel
Ocker’s Barrel as I ran past

I do not know how he knew where I was going.  I will never forget it.  He told me that he was sorry and that I and all of my Mom’s side were tough.  He then explained that we needed to move to Texas to make a better life.  Part of the steel mill was moving down South and as a result he was not reelected as union Vice President.  He got an offer in Texas for his work and we needed to move to make a new life.  He then hugged me and I got in the car.

My brothers and my sister (although she was a bit young) can attest that I was not a happy camper on the way to Texas.  I sat sullen and made sure that I never took a turn in the middle seat.  My brothers adjusted better.  Each chance I could I would either write or try and call my girlfriend.  Let’s just say I was not a happy camper.

But I should have been!  Texas turned out to be a great place to complete my High School years.  And we literally were still in Jersey (not New Jersey but Jersey Village, outside of Houston)!  I learned four valuable lessons on my attempted run away and capture:

  1. I was self-absorbed. Yes, I lived 16+ years in New Jersey but my Mom had lived 38!  She was leaving the family and friends she grew up with for the family she nurtured and loved.  I still remember my Granpop’s hands shaking and my Mom tearing up on the day we left. My Dad, although a Texan by birth, was also leaving behind more. He had lived in New Jersey for 20 years and was now had ties as deep there than in his native state.  Known as Big D, he was leaving his friends, co-workers and the community where he was the coach of the Red Sox, the Cubmaster of Pack 55, and institution at NBC wresting matches and football games.
  2. Moving to a new place meant new friends. After a few months adapting (boy the football coaches had fun with me and my brother’s accents!), I met new friends, dated new girls and created lasting relationships that still endure.
  3. I learned a lesson that I covet as a Father. Sometimes when you are providing for your family you have to make a hard decision.  My Dad would have liked nothing more than to stay in New Jersey where he built so many bonds.  But the steel mills were moving South (and later off shore).
  4. The last lesson from him is the power of apology.  I should have apologized to him not the other way around! I will never forget when he caught up to me in the car and took me home.  It takes a big man to apologize to angst filled son!