INTRODUCTION: I love to relate the tales of my parents’ and grandparents’ interaction with the rich and famous during their sojourn in Austria. These family exploits and adventures were related to me over and over again throughout my childhood and early adulthood. Quite often, there was a great deal of reminiscing during conversations amongst themselves and their friends.

The family reminiscences had one shortcoming. The name, rank, serial number of these contacts were never spoken. After all, everyone knew who was being spoken of. So, informal names, according to family tradition – were used based on nicknames, old ranks, behaviors, parental connections, etc.

So, when Der Verrükter (The Lunatic) came up, I knew they were referring to family friend Sigmund Freud. His family had informal names: Die arme Frau Doktor Freud (That poor married to HIM Mrs. Freud). Daughter Anna had no formal nickname. Everyone just held their open hands upright on their cheeks whilst rolling their eyes heavenward.

As time goes by, I find myself increasingly caught up in gaps of the stories of my family’s history. Peculiar matters such as names, relationships – or even royal titles – are little minutiae of my parents’ and grandparents’ relationships which have slipped away into the corners of my brain tissue.

The internet saves me from embarrassment.

When an incident of the present time reminds me of a family reminiscence, I have learned – the hard way – to research the facts.

September 01, 2013 happened to be a wonderful day in church for me: It was my turn to read the scriptures. Luke 14:1, 7-14 holds a parable which expands upon egotistical, self-centered attendees with overblown egos at a banquet, and their total lack of humbleness and humility. A warning is given to us by Jesus: live in humility, humble yourself before those you serve, and don’t be expect to be repaid. Pastor Joe’s sermon detailed these words of Jesus and expanded the meaning of their truths within our own life styles and responsibilities.

As the words flowed through me, I was wafted back in memory as I recalled the egotism of my father and his first cousin Hans back in the 1920’s.

These two men cultivated and fostered a lack of humility, lack of humbleness, an overblown opinion of themselves – all their lives. Yes, I loved them a great deal. And yes, the tales of their adventures and incidents were really funny to listen to. However, eventually I trod the road taught to me by my grandmothers and grandfather, who spelled out my responsibilities to heaven, to this nation, and to the unfortunate.

The retelling of the following event was always preceded by gales of laughter, whenever Dad and Hans gleefully related us about “Strawberry. Raspberry. White Tie. White Tails. Oh my! Was the Emperor furious with us!” They would chant. Decades after the event, they still recalled every detail.

Dad: Leon Peter Bruck, 1899-1979. Cousin Hans Lurien, lived in Paris post WWII. I last met him in California in the mid-60’s when we both were visiting his sister Margarete. Therein lies another – but related tale.

Well, I thought to myself, but Emperor Franz Josef, who and his wife were friendly with my dad’s parents – was assassinated in 1914. That’s when the WWI started.

After the war, the Austrian Empire was dismantled, and it became a half-serious Republic until Hitler invaded in 1938.
And … and … who would have thought in The Weavings of the Tapestry of Life – as well as in the Six Degrees of Separation Theory – there would be a direct connection between myself and the Pretender to the Austrian Throne Otto von Habsburg?

The retelling of the following event was always preceded by gales of laughter, as Dad and Hans told us about “Strawberry. Raspberry. White Tie. White Tails. Oh my! Was the Emperor furious with us!” They would chant. Decades after the event, they still recalled every detail.

STATISTICS: Dad: Leon Peter Bruck, 1899-1979. Cousin Hans Lurien, lived in Paris post WWII. I Last met him in California in mid-60’s when we both visited his sister Margarete.
Well, I thought to myself, but Emperor Franz Josef, who was friendly with my dad’s parents – as was his wife – was assassinated in 1914. That’s when the WWI started.

After the war, the Austrian Empire was dismantled, and it became a half-serious Republic until Hitler invaded in 1938.
But the emperor had been assassinated, and Austria became a Republic. Who in heaven’s name was the “Emperor” my relatives and grandmother were referring to after WWI?

The answer, my friends was not blowing in the wind. Once again, the truth was on the Internet.

The House of Habsburg rose to power in Europe at the end of the 13th Century, and at its height ruled much of the continent. Otto von Habsburg saw the crumbling of the empire that his family had ruled for centuries and emerged from its ashes as a champion of a united and democratic Europe. The oldest son of Austria-Hungary’s last emperor fought Nazism and Soviet communism during his long decades of exile from his homeland, and was lionized by leaders across the continent as a great European.

Otto von Habsburg used his influence in a vain struggle to keep the Nazis from annexing Austria before World War II, lived in Washington DC during the war, then campaigned for the opening of the Iron Curtain in the decades after the war. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, he used his seat in European Parliament to lobby for expanding the European Union to include former Eastern bloc nations.

Born in 1912 in Austria, Otto von Habsburg witnessed the family’s decline after the empire was dismantled and Austria became a republic following World War I. He became head of the family at his father’s death 1922, and the nine-year-old Otto officially took over as the head of the House of Habsburg. He and his family continued to claim the throne until the 1960s, when he and his family relinquished his title as The Pretender and Emperor.

THE FRUIT OF THE MATTER. In the 1920’s my Dad and Hans were frequent visitors at banquets in the palace. After her husband’s death, the two men went because my Oma Mausi insisted they be her escorts.

They hated the formalities, tuxedo – white tie – tails events because of the arrogance and lack of humility of most of the guests. They, and my grandmother always sat a few seats down from the Emperor. The young men’s humor and laughter became very much appreciated, and while the Pharisees at the table looked on in horror, he and has wife and several close friends laughed heartily at the cousins’ antics.

During the last event they attended, the Master Chef brought in the piece de resistance for the desert. It was a five foot in diameter, twenty four inch high Torte covered with raspberry icing and many decorations.
Otto thanked the chef profusely and ordered similar cakes to be delivered to the twenty or so banquet tables.
No one in the huge room smiled, or cheered. A few people clapped lightly and politely.

Hans and Dad looked at each other across the table and asked if it was strawberry or raspberry flavored.
They smiled wickedly.
Oma Mausi looked stricken, and hurriedly excused herself.
Dad looked at Emperor Otto and innocently asked, “Is your majesty SURE it is indeed raspberry.”
“Oh yes,” came the answer.
Dad reached over, and delicately took a small swipe of the icing. He tasted it. “Yes, your majesty, it is indeed raspberry.”
Hans did the same motion, tasted it, and said, “Strawberry!”
Dad once again repeated his action and statement.
Hans did the same.
This was repeated about six times.
Conversation ceased around the table.
Then Dad took a two finger swipe and repeated his “Raspberry!”
Hans retaliated in kind: “Strawberry!”

The two trouble makers stood up. They each swiped a handful of icing. They loudly repeated their point of view.
Women began to sniff their smelling salts.
The Emperor was stunned.

The two mean started throwing chunks of icing, decorations, and cake at each other. They were covered with debris. After a half dozen icing tosses, they were both pink.

Then each grabbed a huge handful, bowed to the Emperor, and left whilst rubbing the material in each others heads and laughing hysterically.

The cake was ruined. Everyone from the Emperor to about a dozen attendees were covered with pink goop.

The butlers called the armed guards with pikes, who escorted the Dad and Hans from the table and onto the courtyard.
Oma returned and was escorted to her seat.

The Emperor and his wife got up to hug her and give their blessings.

He and his wife held her in their arms and she was told they would always be friends, but her son and his cousin were to be banned forever from the entire Palace grounds.

Oma Mausi didn’t talk to the two men for almost six months. And they never dared to reminisce when visiting her in New York City, where she lived.

Boys should not upset emperors or mamas.

While doing my research today, I saw the photographs of Otto von Hapsburg and, in a flash, I remembered his face! Otto von Habsburg remained good friends with my Oma Mausi, and would visit her in New York City from time to time during the Second World War. He served as an advisor to Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the war, and lived in Washington DC.

The four of us all would have coffee together at her apartment in New York City when I was a child. She was not permitted to serve him either raspberry nor strawberry jellies.

He never talked to my father again.




My Omas’ Treasures ~ Part 1 ~ Oma Mausi

Comments Off on My Omas’ Treasures ~ Part 1 ~ Oma Mausi


Frisco and My Frogs ~ More Richland Adventures in the 40’s


The most popular illustrations celebrating childhood will most certainly reveal animals as a most popular motif. Within this category, I suppose the most well-liked imagery are dogs, cats, fish, rabbits, pigs, reindeer, birds, butterflies, caterpillars, and, amazingly enough, worms. Don’t chuckle. Children under the age of eight love them.

            Before I reached the age of eight, I had already chosen those animals which fascinated me the most. I wasn’t interested in pets, per se, except for Frisco, my dog. With the exception of spiders, which bite, most living creatures were merely curiosities to be observed, read about, or seen in various natural environments. For years, I actually thought zoos were natural environments. Fish, as far as I was concerned, were meant for aquaria, but more importantly, were  to be caught, cooked, and then eaten.

            In the distant days of my childhood, when we lived on a chicken farm in Richland, NJ, and continuing well toward the end of high school and beyond to the present day, certain animals have lived in my home where they were able to be observed closely,

Caterpillars are in part of that interesting group. Hundreds of these creatures became part of my personal zoos as far back as I can remember. They were captured, fed, allowed to spin cocoons, and eventually hatch out. My mother, after a few secret caches were discovered in my bureau or closet, insisted they develop their lives on the front porch. At her insistence, worms took up outdoor residence in a carefully prepared leafy mud pile under the kitchen window.

            Preying Mantis egg cases were also popular. Much to my chagrin, Mom insisted they be kept in locked screen cages. One experience with several hundred of the insects exploding into our living room late on a spring morning initiated that rule.

            Insects and arthropods fascinated me, too. An eight-creature cricket chorus in a cage under my bed was discovered when I was nine. Like grasshoppers, crickets chirp and warble.

It took me years to figure out how my mother had discovered them.

            A lovingly constructed pool in an old fish tank held several dozen mosquito larvae. I fed them daily. Of course, the top was a heavy screen, firmly fastened down with a brick. Once the creatures metamorphosed into adults, they were summarily executed by me. Sixty four different species of the animal have been documented in New Jersey.

            “What am I going to do with my child?” Mom asked a friendly neighbor on an early summer day. “She hides her creatures everywhere, hoping I will not discover them.”

            The neighbor suggested giving me shelf space in the barn, and henceforth, all my pets had a place to develop and grow. It was my first museum.

            Mom breathed a sigh of relief.

            The following spring, I was told in no uncertain terms to consider my zoo’s permanent home to be the barn, PERIOD. It was an arrangement I could happily live with, of course.

            My father said jokingly, “Of course, you can only keep one bullfrog at a time, you know.”

            Mom darted him a venomous look, and I was a bit confused by his laughter and her anger.

            “Bullfrog? Who would want to have a bullfrog? I just like to hatch out the frog eggs until the tadpoles can hop away.” I said to him. “Look here, Daddy. These tin tubs will hold hundreds of frog eggs, which will hatch, turn into tadpoles, and eventually hop away.”

            He grinned.

            The four tubs were a yard long, a yard wide, and about eighteen inches deep.

            So spring flowed into summer, and July was coming to an end. One day, Frisco and I were swimming in a nearby stream and found a bullfrog entangled in the roots of an oak tree at the water’s edge. Frisco barked frantically, until I extricated the animal. I was about to toss it back, but our eyes locked.

            It was love at first sight.

            I had to cup both hands over the bullfrog to keep it captive. How would it be possible to keep such a creature in my barn? It was so large!  It would hop away. Well, I thought, I’ll bring it home and find a shallow pond on the farm and release it there.

By the time we arrived home, about twenty minutes later, the bull frog felt like an old friend needing protection. I knew bullfrogs were eaten by herons, egrets, kingfishers, ducks, raccoons, and opossums. Garter snakes relished them.

I discussed the matter with Frisco, and he happily wagged his stump of a tail and barked comfortingly. Without further ado, we went upstairs, and I cleared out space in my largest and deepest bureau drawer. The original contents were stuffed into other drawers.

I could not keep the frog there all day, so I constructed a hidden outdoor habitat for him at our largest pond. Carefully, I constructed a metal mesh cage for bullfrog on a far bank, partially submerged in the water. The cage was hidden in a small bay on the far bank. To keep away predators, I nailed rags to sticks, then stuck them into the mesh. Every day, I diligently caught insects and worms for it. The next few days, Frisco and I played near the bullfrog in his pond. I carried it home to safety at night. It nestled lovingly in my cupped hands.

At the break of day, before I launched into the day’s activities, I would carry it to the pond.

One morning, my mother awoke me early. Dad was going to Atlantic City, a forty-five minute drive away, to deliver some fresh chickens and several dozen fresh eggs to a customer. I wanted to go so I could collect shells on the beach. As he wanted to leave immediately, I hastily got dressed and ran down to the car. We had breakfast at a nearby diner.

After the delivery had been made, we had a wonderful day at the shore. I collected dozens of shells to bring home.

By the time we got back to the house after sunset, I was really tired.

Mom was awaiting us as we pulled into the driveway. She carried a covered cake carrier in one hand and a large wooden spoon in the other. It was her weapon of choice when she hit me.

“I wonder if she’s going to visit a sick neighbor?” mused dad.

We got out of the car, and walked towards her.

As soon as I saw her face and the spoon, I thought, “Uh-oh. I know The Look. What have I done now? I’ve  been so busy with the bullfrog, I haven’t had a chance to get into mischief all month.”

Bullfrog? Oh, NO.

Mom turned the cake carrier upside down and opened it. There was my frog. He looked tired and somewhat dried out. I had forgotten to put him in the pond during this morning’s rush!

“If we were not normal people and actually ate bullfrogs,” snarled my mother, “I would cook it and make you eat it. Peter, she had it in her bureau drawer! Frisco was whining and crying for an hour this morning at the back door, and when I opened it, he dashed upstairs and tried to open the drawer.”

Betrayed by my best friend, I thought.

Dad fought back laughter. “All right, Susie, I’ll take it to the pond and release it.”

Panic-stricken, I confessed about the cage.

I turned around to tearfully say goodbye to my pal and that’s when Mom whacked me twice on the rear end with the wooden spoon. Oh, what pain!

As dad headed to the pond, singing and laughing, mom called after him, “She takes after your side of the family!”

It was to be nearly twenty years before I understood the implication of what she had said.


Leave a comment


PHOTO SQUAD MAIDEN ~ I Was Trusted In High School ~ bah!


 The tapestry of my life has intertwined threads woven through my life from the beginnings to the present day. On occasion, a familiar thread shows up somewhat unexpectedly, and then just as quickly it disappears. Reminiscences from the Old Days sometimes surface because of a quirky memory or a casually dropped word by another person.

            A week ago, some of my friends and I were talking about high school, and I mentioned I had been the only girl ever to be on the Darkroom Squad in my high school.

             Memories flooded back that evening. What do you remember about high school? In 1951, I graduated from William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens, one of New York City’s five boroughs.

Because of my intellect and knowledge, it was a only a three and a half year stint. On many complex and intertwined levels, it wasn’t the same world for me and those I knew as it is for today’s students. Mind you, I’m not saying our generation’s or theirs is good or bad. However, life during my stint in high school days was certainly different from today and of yesteryear. I honestly don’t believe I could have dealt with today’s world.

When we took the entry test, we were seated at the lunchroom tables. Tests “A” and “B” and “C” were given out to us to prevent cheating. However, the student next to me and I quickly discovered, though the questions were different, the pattern of the answers in the little answer circles on the answer sheet was the same for the three versions. The strategy made sense. In those days, the tests were scored manually, and over three hundred incoming freshmen took the three hours of examinations.

He saw how well I was answering questions, and he gleefully copied all my answers. Well, I was placed into the Honor School. So was he. Within two days, he sobbingly confessed his peccadillo to the guidance counselor and was rescued by regular classroom assignments. I understand he became a banker as an adult.

            Keep in mind I was born onto a different philosophical, psychological, and cultural planet from most people. Consequently, by the time I entered high school, my family decided only a miracle from either God or Aladdin’s genie would enable me to survive until graduation. I was lucky.

During my high school tenure, I definitely became part of a miracle. There was no Aladdin, but there were caring, if somewhat unusual friends who were emotionally and intellectually my equals; as well as teachers who loved me, taught me, and protected me fiercely. The teachers actively encouraged my intellect and curiosities. Furthermore, my off-campus stomping grounds were the five boroughs of New York City, which included parks, famous historical sites, New York Harbor~ and, yes, I did see the Normandie after she sank at the dock! And, thanks to public transportation, my exploration included the natural world within a fifty mile radius of the Empire State Building The Good Old Days meant a network of inexpensive public transportation, no crowded interstates, and safe hitch hiking.

            A personal sense of adventure brought about a series of discoveries on all levels. I learned about hiking the mountains along the Hudson River, inland seas, rivers, the Appalachian Trail, railroad bridges to hop on freight trains to get from Point A to Point B. Actually, after I turned sixteen, the freight train adventures ended when I began leaving the state via commercial truck hitch hiking. But that is another story.

            Mrs. Rosalie Kirshen was the director of the Science Department and she introduced me to the director of the Biology Lab. They became my mentors. Happily, I became part of the student team who supplied the science teachers with live and stuffed animals, biological research materials, and laboratory materials for experiments. We would lay out and clean up laboratories. The six other assistants, all friends, and I were involved in experiments, student research, teacher assistance, and field trips during our entire time in high school.

            From my early days as the child of ardent union-activist parents, I knew there were three choices of higher education open to me as a woman: get married or become a teacher or pursue being a nurse. Sexual activity was considered low class and demeaning. Not that my parents worried overly. After all, I didn’t shave my armpits and legs; nor did I use bras and deodorants. The family kept me out of blue jeans and insisted I wear skirts, heeled shoes, hats, gloves, and stockings during my excursions. It was an outfitting that kept me out of a great deal of trouble in Greenwich Village, where my outer appearance seemed to mark me as eccentric. Skirts were a minor annoyance, and until I learned to wear jeans rolled up under them, I ran into some interesting problems. For instance, shinnying up electric light poles on the Hudson River Parkway parks attracted police attention and stern warnings.

            My two favorite teachers were enthralled with my adventures, but they also gave me the usual parental advice. May it be said I seldom fell off the middle class wagon?

            Photography had begun in my early childhood and was encouraged by my parents, both superb photographers of people, places, and events. My skills and interest developed gradually in this area  over the years, and I often brought my photos to school to share with friends, teachers, and clubs.

After six months in his basic math skills class, during which I struggled to master an impossible subject, I began to make progress. My math teacher then generously invited me to become part of the Photo Squad as a reqard, which included learning the fine points of composition, all phases of darkroom work, and taking photographs of school events. “I don’t know how you’ll do in math,” he told me, “however, we’ll see if my tutoring can keep you in the Honor School Mode.”            
          It worked! He taught mathematics as an illustrated language; as well as using his humor, strange cartoon figures, and strange art work. The other guys and I were actually able to pass our courses with B’s. This marvelous teacher worked miracles ! He arranged to have the group of us tutored by him during our time in high school, and charmed the other teachers to ignore much of our lack of mathematical gestalt. I wish I could remember his name after all these years. I remember he was young, completely bald, and had a delicious sense of humor. We all adored him. It made us feel so proud to have these two teachers such as him and Mrs. Kirshen have such great faith in us.

            On a fine summer morning during freshman year, Walter H. Wolff, the principal, who was also a close mentor and very fond of me, stopped by and watched our group in action in the darkroom. He whispered something to the teacher, then called me over. “You know, you’re the first girl who has ever been on the photo squad. That’s quite an honor. Good work, Liz.” Then Dr. Wolff left, giving a thumbs up to our mentor.

            So time went on, and I eventually graduated with honors. Then it was on to Queens College in Flushing,New York. My explorations and photography grew more sophisticated. However, like the other graduated students, I spent a great deal of time re-visiting my old high school and the mentors who had led and pushed me forward.

            The math teacher always showed me the new equipment in the photo darkroom, shared the books he was reading, and one day, I thanked him profusely for having so much faith in me.

            He smiled. “Well, considering your psyche and intellect, as well as your unique appearance and voice, I wasn’t worried that you and the guys would have sex, you know.”

            Hmmmmmmm. I thought about it a split moment. “Well, thank goodness for your insight. But I must admit it is a bit embarrassing to be considered in that manner. In fact, some people would consider it an insult.”

            We both laughed heartily. But I admit a smidgen of shame stayed with me most of my life. I was a “safe” girl. Goodness. The Photo Squad Maiden retained her honor!    

          Oh, if he only knew what happened to me at various later times in my life! Giggle.

Leave a comment


Step Right Up … and Fall. Some of Us Are Born Clumsy

Chapter One ~ “She’s never going to get married!”

Please understand there is humor of this particular memoir. An old expression comes to mind: All’s well that ends well.
             We arrived in the United States from Vienna, Austria in August of 1938.  For various reasons, we settled in New York City. Talk about culture shock to my parents! The initial introduction to New York City sent my parents into the deepest throes of refugee shock. Both of them bemoaned being deposited in what they considered “a different planet on every possible level.” Not surprisingly, the knowledge that it was impossible to return “home” led to dejection and a great deal of bellyaching verbalization.
           In their native Austria they had assiduously and ardently pursued their various interests; America, they thought, would give them no opportunity to continue their recreational and cultural pursuits. The all-important “theater / opera problem” was almost immediately solved to their satisfaction. As the reality of  New York City’s wealth of museums and soccer clubs and stadia sank in, the parents were almost ecstatic. “But what,” they said over and over to all who knew them, “are we going to do for bodily enjoyment?”
          Almost immediately, Dad, a former national soccer hero in Austria, discovered street basketball. We lived in several of New York City’s boroughs, usually moving in August,  and in each new location, he found he was welcome to play street basketball with the neighborhood boys and men. Dribbling was no problem for him. However, he also would toss a ball into the air and then kick it to other players. At first, the other players were totally awed when he scored one basket after the other by kicking the ball upwards behind him, and then, with a toss of his head, make a score. Soon, the cheered him on. This was not NBA, it was street basketball!
           During Europe’s warm months, Mom had been a fervent gymnast, tennis player, hiker, and swimmer. Dad wasn’t interested in gymnastics or tennis, but he shared Mom’s other passions. Both my parents were also incredibly talented and admired dancers. As I approached my teens, they tried to teach me their skills, but, because of my lack of balance, I literally brought them down to the floor. During winter, ice-skating and skiing were their ardors. And, might it be said, they were near professional in these proficiencies, too.
           I must confess I eventually believed I was not born to be a child of these athletes and proficient dancers. Much to my family’s chagrin, I was – and still am – clumsy.  Incidentally, early in 2012, I was diagnosed with several unpronounceable genetic brain syndromes which were the root of those balance symptoms which plagued my entire life. It is simply impossible for me to have any balance. Even the podiatrist pointed out I was naturally pigeon toed, and one leg was shorter than the other. As this is written, I am pleased to report Physical Therapy is helping somewhat, but I will never attain the heights my parents saw for me.

           My immediate 2012 reaction to the diagnosis was . . . ecstasy! I haven’t stopped smiling since the doctors told me what was wrong. After decades of self depreciation, I finally was released from my guilt. “I am born clumsy! I am born clumsy! Let’s hear it for DNA!” I chanted for days. At unexpected times during the day, I will chant it several times at a moment’s notice. What a beautiful mantra!
            During my formative years, however, the entire family was increasingly ashamed of my inability to follow in their footsteps. By the time I reached the age of ten, Mom and my two grandmothers were convinced I would never marry well. Dad sadly agreed with her. From birth, it seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I could never be graceful or balanced. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I could do no gymnastics. To her great shame, I was kicked out of ballet school at the age of eight because the owner considered me “hopeless”.  My mother cried out to him, a fellow Austrian, “She’ll never marry well, you know.” He patted her shoulder and nodded in stoic agreement.
           It’s amusing in retrospect, of course, but let it be said I knew in my youth the entire family was appalled by my lack of grace. Swimming, hiking, sledding, skiing, and even ballroom dancing were completely impossible for this genetically un-engineered person. I would consistently fall, fly into the air before crash landing, slam into rocks, trees, people, buildings, automobiles – in fact, anything stationary – without warning. Be the terrain urban or mountainous, I would be out of balance. This ruled out walking a straight line, let alone undulations of an inch or more under my feet. This however, is another story, but the police decided I was sober.
           I could barely master the art of swimming, and whilst under water, would not know which way was up. In the 1970’s I recall an incident off Florida’s West Coast.  While wearing a snorkel I almost drowned in eighteen inches of water because I didn’t know which way was up. Again, it’s another story”!
           On the ski slopes, well into my teens, I was the original Snow Bunny.  For decades I could not graduate from the beginners’ slope. At the end of several hours of falls and tumbles, not only my rear, but my entire body, front, back, face, and head was covered with snow glued to me from spills, tumbles, rolls, slides, and falls. My family was mortified when I would manage to lose one or both skis on the beginners’ slope.
           So time went on, and broken bones were just part of the picture. By the time I reached thirty, every toe had been broken at least twice. Sprains, dislocations, twists, and falls bruised my body. Believe it or not, until recently, I could not even walk without unexpected disasters tripping me up – so to speak. When the physical therapist put me through a series of tests during my first session, standing up straight before falling over to one side another lasted a mere two seconds. “Oh, you do have a balance problem,” he chuckled.
           The lifelong list of injuries included bruises and sprains, as well as broken bones, teeth, and skin. As for my dancing, it moved both of my parents to tears. They and my grandparents were again convinced I would never marry well. “Who wants to be married to such a klutz? We shall have to resort to an arranged marriage!” moaned Oma Feld after I entered high school.            
           Believe it or not, I joined the volley ball team! Much to my teachers’ and friends’ delight, I was able to serve a ball with deadly accuracy. Serve after serve was was a guided missile which confounded the other team. Often, our side would get between a dozen and fifteen points until I tired. When I was playing with the team, other team members laughingly learned to protect me from falls, and themselves from collisions.
           There were some things I could do well.  I was able to develop a mean backhand in tennis during my late teens, although I would sporadically fall into the net and was occasionally was somersaulted onto the opponent’s side. Square dancing was another skill I acquired, which I suspect was because I had a partner to anchor me. Wearing tightly laced boots for trail hiking and rock climbing enabled me to become somewhat skillful.          
           To their dying days, my parents and other family members never recovered from the shame I brought upon them. “I hope your children are not as disabled as you!” was often said to me.

Chapter Two ~ Where it’s flatland and squishy swamp, there’s hope!
           In August of 1942, when I was eight years old, my parents moved to the flatlands of southern New Jersey to become chicken farmers in Richland, New Jersey. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. There were no hills, which meant no skiing. In warmer weather I could go barefoot and be less disoriented. High heels worn “because all ladies wear heels”, capitulated me heavenward on city vistas as a I walked around exploring. However, the Richland venue, wearing farm boots or in my preferred bare feet, I was surprisingly stable. Then, I discovered that when I was in the woodlands, the thick forests enabled me to grasp trees and bushes to keep balanced as I walked or ran. Furthermore, most local public roads were unpaved dirt or sand. This means they were rutted, but, there were no curbs to trip up or down from. Miles of oak and pine woods were so overgrown with trees and vines I always had handholds. I could climb trees sprouting horizontal branches, and even though I couldn’t avoid falls, the relatively short trip down to lower tree arms or intertwined vines prevented many injuries. Additionally, a plethora of natural materials for improvised walking sticks existed, and I had quite a collection of favorite sticks and poles. By the age of ten, I had become an avid explorer whose only admonition given by my mother was, “Make sure you’re home for dinner!” ringing in my ears.
           I still keep a collection of walking sticks, despite the progress made by physical therapy. As a side note, my favorite walking stick is made from Swiffer poles that can be carried in a Ziplock Bag in my handbag or luggage when travelling , and can be quickly screwed/unscrewed as necessity dictates.
           The Richland area straddles New Jersey’s Inner and Outer Coastal Plains, and is rich with  acres of fine sand, and those many sand roads. There are innumerable swamps and delightful cranberry bogs which were soft and squishy to walk in. Even if I did fall, no damage was done!  Miles of thick oak and pine forests, covered with thick vines provided horizontal hand and foot holds, cushioning for falls, and hand holds on thick bark. It was heaven.         
          Recently, I revisited the location, and nothing natural has changed dramatically since the 1940’s.   
          As I approached eleven, my parents reluctantly came to the realization I was a menace on a two-wheeler, but soon accepted this unfortunate fact. They bought me a woman’s two-wheeler, and said silent prayers when they saw Frisco, my dog, and I set off on adventures. Actually, pedaling on back country roads without holding handlebars was more stable than the usual fashion of bicycle steering. 
          Even if Frisco wasn’t with me, my search for adventure took me into every nook and cranny in a geologically flat ten-mile-square area. Many shallow streams supported me as I explored old homesteads, long-gone commercial establishments, and other archaeological mysteries. Railroads were another means of transportation. The engineers and conductors knew me well, and would let me hop the slow-moving freight trains for trips over longer distances than a mile. My bicycle was safe at the pick-up point, and there was no problem in dropping me off on the return trip. 
          Do not imagine I was immune from injury. There were broken toes and ribs, teeth, sprained ankles, dislocated shoulders, neck dislocations, cuts, bruises. Some of these injuries were not reported to my parents, who did not take kindly to these events. Dr. Cleary, our family doctor, would just shake his head and once suggested my parents “get a shield. Then you can carry her here triumphantly.” He and I laughed. The parents did not.
          Two episodes causing more serious injury come to mind. One involved jumping from the first level of a nearby high tension tower for the sheer adventure of it. I was bloody, bruised, and had a dislocated elbow. After two days, I told my mother when I had fallen, and she took me to the good Doctor Cleary. He fixed the elbow quickly with a quick shake and twist of his arm and commented, “Did you also get tangled up in the harvesting machine?”
          I shook my head and said, “At least I didn’t fall into the neighbors’ pig pen again.” He just looked at me, shook his head, then cleaned up my wounds.
          The other serious event I recall occurred when my friend Dickie, the neighbor’s boy, and I set up a sled run after a rare heavy snowstorm. We looked at his grandparents’ barn roof, which had a forty-five degree downward slope on its ten foot high upper roof, but only a thirty degree slope on the much larger lower roof. Quickly, we found a ten foot long, two foot wide plank, and began packing snow tightly under its lower end for a foot or so, to enable aligning the plank to the barn’s lower-roof angle. Then, carefully sprinkling water we built up the rest of the plank with a thin layer of ice. An hour later, we were finished and ready for flight.
          Though common sense was not strong in our brains, we realized we would only have one chance before an adult caught us, so we finished our measurements, climbed the built-in ladders onto the snow-covered roof and made our way to the proper spot on the lower roof, dragging the sled. The alignment between plank and roof was perfect. The water had frozen, too!
          Screaming with joy, we disembarked. Alas! Two children, sharing a weight of about one hundred and fifty pounds, were launched into space. Our sled hit the very end of the plank closest to the barn, as we had so carefully planned. Nothing was weighing down the other end, you see. It was just sitting there. Naturally, we hit the upper end of the plank, and this end crashed straight downward and hit the ground. The shock of our fall cracked all the ice and flung the pieces everywhere.            
          I had been sitting in the rear position, holding Dickie in my encircling arms for safety, so I hit the ground first, while Dickie became airborne and landed safely in a snow bank on the side of the plank. I wasn’t as lucky. The force of the collision smashed my coccyx as I hit the ground butt-first and h-a-r-d. Instantly I heard and felt the bones snap and break. Within a few minutes we picked ourselves up, just as his grandparents around the corner to the barn. I was in agony, so I didn’t get a spanking.   But he did.
          Dr Cleary shook his head, but said nothing. It was several months before the pain stopped.           
          Then, in April, I got my spanking.
           No one said anything about my clumsiness about that traumatic event.
          We eventually moved from Richland back to New York City in 1947. Although New York City was a great place to live, I missed Richland and the farm. 
          The city had no reachable barns.

Leave a comment