For mom’s birthday: Nat King Cole 78s

I remember when Nat King Cole died in February 1965 from lung cancer.

My mom loved Nat King Cole. Not only did she appreciate his voice, but she thought he was quite handsome. As he was born on St. Patrick’s Day 1919, he was less than nine years older than she was.

I remember being in my maternal grandmother’s second floor and find albums of Nat Cole 78s. And by “albums”, I mean these books that looked like photo albums with paper sleeves holding a single cut on each side of the vinyl.

To my recollection, they weren’t being played anymore. My household, a few blocks away, had moved over to that newish technology, the LP, with a dozen songs playing at 33 RPM, or 45 rpm singles. I don’t recall my grandma having any player at all.

I have no idea what happened to the collection, and since I never HEARD them, I don’t recall the tracks, but it seems that most of them were on Capitol Records.

Here’s a list of Nat King Cole songs on 78s. Absent my mother’s feedback, I guess I’ll link to some of my favorites from the period, with no guarantees that I haven’t snatched a re-recording, rather than the originals; there were quite a lot of them.

Hit That Jive Jack (1942)

Straighten Up And Fly Right (1944)

Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good To You (1944)

Sweet Lorraine (1944)

It’s Only A Paper Moon (1944)

The Frim Fram Sauce (1945)

(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66 (1946)

(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons (1946)

The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You) (1946)

Makin’ Whoopee (1947)

I’m Thru With Love (1950) – the year my parents got married

Mona Lisa (1950)

Too Young (1951)

Unforgettable (1951)

Send for Me (1957) – this may exist in both 78 and 45

I remember when he died in February 1965 from lung cancer, his ever-present cigarettes being the cause. My mom didn’t make a big deal of it, as I recall, but I suspected that his passing privately wounded her.

My mom, Trudy Green, who died 2/2/2011, would have been 91 today.

Trudy, the hinge between Les and Gert

Gert’s tales could be irritating.

March 12, 1950: Bride Trudy between Les (left, behind her) and Gert (to the right, dark hat); Deana is to Gert’s right
My working theory about relationships among three adult is that, when there’s one person who has a relationship with the other two but that the other two don’t have a natural relationship with each other, it spells trouble.

I’ve been there, getting along with two guys at the coffeehouse we lived at c. 1975, but they inexplicably hated each other. I mean throwing chairs at one another. I was the hinge in the middle, trying to make peace, generally unsuccesfully.

A better example is when I lived with my sister Leslie and her then-husband Eric in the summer of 1977 in Jamaica, Queens, NYC. Leslie was the hinge, trying to keep peace between her spouse and her sibling.

Unfortunately, I know my mother, Trudy, spent years being the hinge in the relationship between her mother Gert and her husband Les, probably since Les and Trudy got married in 1950.

It was fairly clear that Les did not particularly like Gert. One time when we were having Sunday dinner at our house, someone asked Gert if she wanted any peas. She said, “A couple.” Les spooned exactly two peas onto her plate.

Even now, decades later, I experience a mix of mortified embarrassment, amazement at his passive aggression, and a mild amusement over his literalism.

Male ego

I have to think a lot of that animosity came from Les’ male ego. He was living in a house, 5 Gaines Street in Binghamton, owned by his mother-in-law, where he was paying, as far as I know, no rent, just the utilities, since the house was paid off. His mother and stepfather lived upstairs and paid minimal amount of rent to cover the taxes.

To be fair to my father, though, Gert’s tales, some designed to scare her grandchildren into submission, could be irritating. Her sister Deana, who unfortunately died in 1966, was often my ally, and at least one one occasion said to Gert, “Leave the boy alone!”

My dad was SO thrilled when he and my mother bought a house at 29 Ackley Avenue in nearby Johnson City in 1972, when I was off at New Paltz. I even lent them some money for the down payment from the money I had been saving for college, since my Regents scholarship covered my first-year tuition.

Les and Trudy and baby sister Marcia moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974. As Gert was alone and aging in Binghamton, it was clear she could no longer live on her own. Leslie and I “kidnapped” her and took her down to Charlotte by train in January 1975, where she had a room in Trudy and LES’ house until she died on Super Bowl Sunday 1982.

Hail, Daniel Dickinson, pride of our fair Binghamton

Was I an overly sensitive kid?

mom, in first row, near the center, white tights, black shoes
I began writing about how I had started kindergarten in early February 1958 at Daniel S. Dickinson school in the First Ward of Binghamton, NY, named after a 19th-century politician, located at the intersection of Dickinson Street and the curved Starr Avenue.

But then I came across, on one of those Binghamton-specific Facebook sites, this peculiar newspaper article, slamming the neighborhood that I grew up in, while holding up my school as an oasis from whatever scourge existed on the streets. And it wasn’t my experience, for the most part. What I ended up writing, will be in four parts, each titled from a line from my first alma mater.

If my mom didn’t work, at McLean’s department store downtown, first as an elevator operator and then as a bookkeeper, the trajectory of my life would have been quite different. Since we lived at 5 Gaines Street, between Front St and Oak St, I probably would have gone to Oak Street school for K-6.

Instead, the school district used my maternal grandma’s address at 13 Maple Street, between Prospect St and Cypress St, only a few short blocks away, as our address. That’s where my sisters and I went to lunch each day.

If I had gone to Oak Street, I might have met Karen and Carol and Bill, who I’ve in touch with in 2018, or Bernie or Lois, who I’ve seen in recent years, at some later date. Probably we would have been together in junior high, also at DSD, or certainly at Binghamton Central High School. As it is, February 2018 marks 60 years of friendship, which is very rare indeed.

Starting school in February, as well as September was, as I now understand, a peculiar system that almost no other district used. The kids who were turning five in the winter would begin school then. This is why I STILL remember some of their birth months.

I started kindergarten in Miss Cady’s class with Carol, Bill and David T. (December birthdays), Lois, Irene, and Bernie (February), Karen (like me, in March), and Diane (April) and some other kids, including Mary (April) and David D.

Roger singing, Trinity AME Zion Church, age 6

We had clocks that had Roman numerals; I recall the four was shown as IIII rather than IV. My rug for taking a nap on was yellow, which I passed on to my sister Leslie, a year and a half later. One time, I clearly remember waking up at 11:45 when everyone else had gone home for lunch one time.

I have no recollection of what I actually DID in kindergarten. When I went to Karen’s mother’s wake in 2012, Karen’s sister told me how I complained on a local kids’ TV show that Karen snapped my suspenders. I had no recollection.

We had eight teachers between first and fourth grade, in large part because some of teachers went on maternity leave. One in first grade, was Mrs. Goodrich, and one In fourth, was Miss Erickson, maybe? Mrs Waters, in third grade, I remember, came back and taught Leslie.

In second grade, we danced the Minuet in G. I think Karen danced with Bill, and Lois danced with Bernie. I know I danced with Carol.

Also in second grade, some sixth graders forced me to fight a kid named Danny, who was my sister Leslie’s classmates, so about a year and a half younger than I was. We were supposed to make it look good, lest they beat us both up. I inadvertently hit him in the nose and drew blood. I felt awful, but the older kids were thrilled.

I joined the Cub Scouts in third grade. Ray, who ended up in my class in second grade was, in the pack, as was David D. Ray’s mom was our den mother. When Ray married Pam in 1976, I got to escort Ray’s mom to her seat.

Was I an overly sensitive kid? One time, some kids on the playground were playing “keep away” with my hat. I got mad and went home. Legend has it, though I don’t specifically remember, that I hopped a ride on a Crowley’s milk truck. Did that really happen?

More soon.

Everything reminds me, when it isn’t it

f you have dementia, you may have difficulty with language, behavior, thinking, judgment, and memory.

After my mother died, I thought that the hospital people might want to check out her brain, dissect it for science or something. No, they were good.

The reason I thought about this was, according to the baby sister, the rapid change in my mother’s personality over the last six months of her life.

I came across this Daily Kos story about health care and politics, when this paragraph jumped out at me and pretty much slapped me across the face:

“Now, my uncle hasn’t been well for awhile. He’s suffered from an incredibly early onset of Pick’s Disease; which, if you’re not familiar with it, is like Alzheimer’s, but worse. Much worse. For instance, one of the ways you can differentiate between Pick’s Disease and Alzheimer’s is that with Pick’s people get incredibly hostile – argumentative, vulgar, violent – towards family members first and most aggressively, behavior they won’t exhibit or inflict on people they’re not familiar with.”

She wasn’t that young, 83 when she died, but she became really hostile to those she knew best. Yet she was seemingly a perfect angel to strangers, or those at her adult day care, e.g.

Of course, it doesn’t REALLY matter exactly what she died with – she died FROM the stroke. And she really doesn’t fit the full profile:

Pick’s disease is a rare condition that causes progressive and irreversible dementia. This disease is one of many types of dementias known as frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Frontotemporal dementia is the result of a brain condition known as frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). If you have dementia, your brain doesn’t function normally. As a result, you may have difficulty with language, behavior, thinking, judgment, and memory. Like patients with other types of dementia, you may experience drastic personality changes.”

Whatever that caused the changes, I feel badly for my sister and her daughter. And, I suppose my mother too, although who knows how self-aware she was about processing things.

Seven years since Mom died. Still sucks.

Sonny and Gertie: what might have been

Sonny I always thought of as a generic nickname for any lad

My mother’s remaining cousin on her mother’s side, Fran, always refers to my mother as Gertie. Mom was named after HER mother, which I find endlessly fascinating.

Mom didn’t become Trudy until some point after marrying my father, Les. She pretty much hated the moniker Gertie, though long-time relatives were forgiven when they slipped into the old nickname.

Well, that guy with my mother in this undated photo, though clearly from the 1940s, isn’t Les. His name is Sonny. I don’t know a thing about him, including what his last name is. I don’t even know if Sonny is his given name or HIS nickname.

There were, in the day, a lot of nicknames for boys who formally bore their father’s names. Rather than being a diminutive of the name – Richard and Richie or William and Billy – they were sometimes dubbed Chip (as in a “chip off the old block“) or Bud (the next generation) or the initial of the father followed by J – Arthur Jr would be AJ.

Sonny, though, I always thought of as a generic nickname for any lad: “Hey, sonny, could I buy a newspaper from you?” But there are some Sonnys out there.

Gertie’s boyfriend Sonny, my mom told her kids many more times than once, would have been our father if Les Green weren’t so darn charming. This usually happened when she was irritated with our father, though she never said this in his presence.

This statement, even then, I thought was a really odd construction. If we had been Sonny’s kids, we wouldn’t have been…us. We’d have different DNA. We’d look different and sound different, and if we had been raised by Sonny, think differently.

I guess the fact that Les Green was “never a bore” is to the benefit of my sisters and me. No offense to you, Sonny, though. You look like a decent guy, even with that peculiar name.

Oh, today would have been my mom’s 90th birthday. Happy birthday, GertieTrudy.