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Judith Conway reads at Stories from Brooklyn and Beyond Showcase

Life Story Club Contributor

December 12, 2020

Judith Ann (Matiz) Conway is one of 13 children of a hard-working Mom from Puerto Rico and a Dad who is from the Philippine Islands. She was born in Annapolis, Maryland, and came to New York as a teenager to work and help her parents and her siblings. She lives in beautiful Bay Ridge Brooklyn, New York. She retired from Beth Israel Medical Center and the New York Department of Mental Health (now Mental Hygiene). She spends most of her time helping, and socializing with friends, neighbors, and assisting at her parish, Our Lady of Angels. She says, “We’re all aging as gracefully as we can.” And let me also say that Judith is such a positive presence in our weekly workshops. She greets everyone with a warm and welcoming smile and spreads nothing but kindness in our group. Please welcome Judith!

During all of these weeks that we have shared as cherished memories, when so many times, I mentioned poverty growing up in this household of 13 children. I never mentioned the richness of my life story, which, through my parents’ acts of love, my dad, I said he wrapped our gifts in newspapers. It was brown paper.

My mom, who always said she added love to her delicious cooking. My beloved aunt Virginia Titi, who showed us unconditional love. The reflections, family gatherings, life experiences, so many happy and sometimes wistful memories. The traditions also beautiful as memorable, so memorable, so profound.

I would like to thank our gifted facilitator Linnea, a warm, exceptional, easygoing, fun, and caring person, and all of the wonderful co-presenters and members who have enriched my perspective. As I traveled with them in thought and heart, they opened doors to me and told me of places and adventures they had gone all over the world, creating so many life memories. With gratitude, Judith.

Memorable Stays With Family at Hotels

Life Story Club Contributor

December 3, 2020

I remember when my brothers and sisters were young, I had an opportunity to take them on a bus trip from New York to Montreal. I took two sisters, two friends, and a niece, and we got on the bus in Manhattan with all of the hustle and bustle of the bus station that we were in. And I think we took a Greyhound, I can’t remember, or Trailways. It was about an eight-hour trip and before we got to Montreal, they stopped us at the Canadian border.

And of course, I had the five or six children with me. And I was in my 20s, and I was told to come off the bus. So when I got off, they opened the bottom of the bus and looked through all the luggage because we were at the border and my sister, I remember them pressing their noses and looking scared out the window because these were customs inspectors that were inspecting at the border. And they were wondering why a young woman was taking all these children.

So I explained to them it was family and friends and that we were gonna stay at the Hotel Laurentian in Montreal. And it was a wonderful, wonderful trip. I had liked the hotels in Canada. I stayed at the St Michael’s Hotel in Toronto, also very beautiful and very nice views from the high floors. But with hotels, my most comfortable, I think, would be in my hometown, Annapolis, renting a suite at the Hampton in Annapolis during the summer so the children in my family could use the pool and we could have barbecues.

They have all the tables and things set up. But that’s really been most memorable for me because I get to see 50 or 60 of my more than 150 family members who live or come to the area. And that has been wonderful to see the children as they grow and to cook and to see them in the pool. So it’s been nice. I remember when I went to Hearst Castle, I stopped at Madonna Inn. I think it was near the Madonna Inn. I think it was right outside of Santa Barbara or just before it.

And it was San Luis Obispo, that’s where it was. And Madonna Inn had all these baby dolls that were in the rooms and in the lobby, and hundreds of baby dolls. And as a child, I loved baby dolls, but never really had them. There were so many children. I would get a bouncing ball for Christmas, which my brother would wrap, the same brother. And then he’d bounce it and say, “I wonder what this is?” I’d get the same present every year. But I always wanted a baby doll and never had it. But I’ve had wonderful trips, as I said mostly to Hampton Inns, which I really love. And it’s been nice memories.

Memories of My Loving Pets

Life Story Club Contributor

November 12, 2020

There were actually three. One of them, when I was four and half, I don’t know how I remembered my first dog, Betsy, who was pregnant at the time and followed my family to church. And we lived in a very, very rural area. And when they came from church, I said “Where’s Betsy?” They said that something had happened but they didn’t tell me. But years later, they said that a man who had been drinking took a broken bottle and killed the dog. So they didn’t tell me that at that age, I guess. But they just told me that she was in the hospital but they didn’t tell me she had died that day. That was my first dog, Betsy.

And then, the second story was a dog we had named Spotty, a mongrel, a mixed breed. And he was the love of our family’s life. And he was just a wonderful, wonderful dog. When Joanne was talking, I loved Joanne’s memories and the way she expresses them. And when Serena was talking about her dog that she loved so much, that she had to put to sleep, our Spotty, which my Daddy called Spot Nose because he had a white spot at the entrance of his nose. And Daddy was Filipino so he called him Spot Nose, instead of Spotty.

So they told us that Spotty had to go for surgery. We asked him, we were children, what was wrong. They said he has cancer. They’re gonna fix it. So they took him down to the vet to have surgery. And that evening, my mother came home and said that he didn’t make it. And we were screaming. I remember we were screaming and running up and down the yard screaming, “Spotty.” To this day, I remember him. He was such a wonderful dog. He had like a mixed brown, like tan and white color, with a long tail that went up in the air. And he was the delight of our family.

And a few animals in our yard… my mother had roosters. When we came from school… the roosters grow some kind of a thing on the side of their ankle, and they could hurt you with that. So we would come off and skid off the bus from school and then the rooster would chase us while walking down the street and kick us behind our knees, in that soft area behind the knees, and they would just do it every day of the school year. My mother never got rid of them. She just said, “Well they didn’t mean it.”

As for my adult life, I had two cats. One was a Persian, one was a calico. His name was Wilson and the other one was named Jodie. And I had them when I lived in Greenwich Village. I sublet an apartment and I couldn’t have the animals so I took them to Maryland, one to my brother, one to my mom. But I also had a dog named Yoko. And I gave him to a football player with the Baltimore Ravens because I wasn’t able to keep him. That was very sad. And then I had another dog named Eric the Red, a beautiful Irish Setter that was given to me as a puppy. When I took him to Maryland to visit family, my dad loved him so much I gave him to my dad. So that was my three adult animals, oh, four, two cats and two dogs.

Memorable Traditions Celebrated With the Family

Life Story Club Contributor

November 19, 2020

In the last few months, I’ve experienced what I called a miracle day. 100,000 miracles. But so many things have happened to friends and family in the last four months or so, and yet there’s always the gratitude that someone has gotten well, that someone has found a home, that people have recovered from whatever major illnesses they have, that people that have lost others…

So I’m grateful and full of gratitude for all of the things in my life each day. And I feel that when we mentioned the talk about the family tradition, I always remember that my sister, Ginger, I called her Gingerbread. She would always have with her husband at the farm, the annual Halloween get-together where the whole family would dress up, including my mother.

And we had a wonderful time with shows, and we would sing and dance, and people would not recognize us because we would have such wonderful homemade costumes. But this was a family tradition. They’re no longer at the farm and Gingerbread is in heaven now. But those memories, especially with this past Halloween, are always with me for a beautiful tradition.

My mother, she was always dressed up as a witch to receive the children. She would get about 100 children. And we were so poor, they thought the house was decorated. But that’s how it looked all year. One time she didn’t even drink, but she dressed as a Budweiser beer. She was really creative, and she would put an old girdle on and a slip over it. And she really was a lot of fun for all the neighborhood, and for all of us children. We were so many, but she always dressed up every year.

And this was something that happened every single year. In a gigantic barn on the farm where my sister lived. And we really looked forward to it even dunking for apples in big tubs, the old fashioned tubs. And my brother Ramon, who we call Raymond Armando, would always take the coarse, the little things, the spindles off the apples. And when I would dunk, there would be nothing for me to get up and grab the apple with, and he would laugh. He’d do this to me all the time. Yeah.

Sometimes my older brother, Chris, would dress up and lie outside in the yard. And we would think it was, like, just one of the things they created, and he would jump up and scare us up. He would do that, especially in the dark. But so, we would have lots of food because everybody cooked, or they bought things if they couldn’t cook.

And it was just a wonderful, wonderful celebration actually of the night before All Saints’ Day. You know, so it was really, really exciting to have my eight sisters and four brothers, mom, and dad, everybody there at the parties every year. You see, Dad died in 1968, so he wasn’t there for the majority of the parties. But we always did remember all the fun we had when he was alive.

An “I Told You So” Moment

Life Story Club Contributor

November 12, 2020

When the TWA Flight 800 crashed in July, I think it was 1998, I was talking to some co-workers, and telling them that after reading some of the newspaper articles I felt that maybe there was a vapor lock in the fuel tank. And that’s why the plane exploded. But at that time everybody was talking about fact that there had been some kind of a missile or some other kinda problem with the plane. So, everybody was teasing me and laughing, “Oh, how silly she is that she thought it was that.” So after a few months when it came to our attention that it was a vapor lock, they pretended not to remember that I kept bugging them about my theory. So that was my I told you so story.

I knew it was the vapor lock because it was to leave JFK in New York City at that time. And it was really, really boiling hot that day. And they kept them on the ground before leaving about an hour later. One of the saddest stories of the people on the plane was a woman who’s daughter wanted her to go to Paris. And the woman had already canceled the one trip. She was afraid to fly. And she didn’t want to go. She was on that plane. And it was really, really sad that everyone died. But it was her story about being afraid to go on the plane. That was so sad, like a premonition.

And I worked for the city of New York at the time. And I lived in Brooklyn. And that’s where they had the memorial services at an Episcopal church in Brooklyn Heights. So I was honored to attend that to represent the mayor and my office. So it was really nice for me to be able to see not the family members but the people that lived in that neighborhood who knew some of those people on the plane.

But back then I knew about the vapor lock because I must have read that in one of the articles that they publish initially, either “The Times” or “The Washington Post” which I read at the time. But I don’t know. I don’t remember knowing that word before I read it. And that’s what I thought it was because of the heat in that part of the fuel tank and the spark that ignited that explosion.

Christmas Traditions, and the Wooden Star

Life Story Club Contributor

October 29, 2020

A custom tradition from my hometown really had to do again with my dad, my favorite person. Every year, he would begin to decorate the Christmas tree pretty early. He would decorate a very, very tall fir tree in our front yard. We were very poor so it just…all he did was make everything more beautiful when he would decorate this tree with all these lights. And he made a homemade star, he used a block of wood and he carved out a star shape and then he put the Christmas bulbs in there and attached it to the electricity. That was the first thing he did right after thanksgiving.

But just before Christmas, he would go off on his own into the woods. We lived in Annapolis, Maryland, and he would go off into the woods and he never let us go with him because he was going to search for and cut down a Christmas tree. So we didn’t know where he went. We were afraid to follow him because he was very strict, but he would come home hours later with always the most beautiful tree. So he would decorate everything for us. And then he would wrap our presents in newspaper because he didn’t have wrapping paper. So we get like a ball or a candy bar or something like that because there were so many children he really couldn’t afford, but it was a wonderful tradition of him going off that day with an axe to get that tree and to come back every year as that custom to bring the tree home. And we’d be so happy that he got another beautiful tree.

You know, he used bubble lights, the bubble lights in the 1950s were very popular and I guess they were expensive. So he would buy two or three sets during the year when they were on sale. When he would use the bubble lights, beautiful Christmas bulbs we had gotten from different family members throughout the years. One had my brother Cristobal’s name on it with the year 1934 that he was born and they still have that Christmas bowl. So it was beautiful trees.

The star that my dad carved, my sister has it now in her yard, the wooden star, we called it. Yeah. He finished the Christmas tree in the house with the icicles one at a time. So there were hundreds of icicles, but he didn’t just throw them in a clump. We said, “Daddy just throw them.” Then he said, “No, everything had to be beautiful.” Really nice. We watched him and sat near him, but he did everything. We would hand him things. He’d say, you know, hand me this or that. But it was mainly him wrapping the lighted bulbs around and everything straight and clipping everything so that it was upright. You know, he was very, very handy. My dad only went to second grade and my mother went to first grade, but they’re probably the most creative people I’ve ever met. They’re smart in their hearts.

When he put up those Christmas decorations, we had a few traditions. Like playing music and mom cooking different meals related to Christmas and smelling sweet potatoes and sometimes orange flavors that they would put in different foods, which I’m not a good…I’m not a big orange flavor person. I love oranges, but not orange-flavored foods. And it would be wonderful, you know and then my sister’s husband every year, he brought us one box of those large peppermint sticks. So we each got one, there were 12 and a box. And at the time there were 12 children, which later became 13.

Movie Theatre Experience at Home

Life Story Club Contributor

October 15, 2020

Not so much a campfire setting, but in our parent’s back yard, because they had 13 children, as I mentioned last week. So we would do the sticks and marshmallows. Daddy would build a small pit fire for us, and we would sit around there and tell stories all night. And then we’d watch horror movies, you know, with Bela Lugosi and Dracula the rest of the night. So we had a Friday night you know …. wonderful, wonderful time with my mom and dad.

We set up the living room like a theater with the chairs. We did taffy and we pulled that through the rooms. And my brother said, “Don’t get the cat hair on the taffy.” It was a lot of fun.

Some of the stories I remember that I would tell were … my brother and my sisters would tell stories about our childhood and what happened when we went to the movies together.

Solo Camping Experience

Life Story Club Contributor

October 15, 2020

I remember the first time that I went camping alone, with the Hillary tent that slept four, and I thought I could put it up myself. So that evening, I had to wait until the people came in that knew how to do the tents, and then a gentleman helped me put my tent up. But I never knew it took more than one person to put up a tent.

When I was camping alone, I didn’t know how to do the cooking on the portable stove I had brought. It rained and my feet were hanging out of the tent, wet, so it was a really bad experience. And then years later, we camped in Annapolis, Maryland, my hometown, in my sister’s backyard. It rained again so my tent had about 2 inches of water that I slept in all night. My mother thought it was so funny because she slept in the house. I’m not a camper. I liked it, but I didn’t like sleeping outside. It was cold, even though the first time I went was in July and the second time we did that was in September, in Maryland, and it was already cold. But I think that Joanne and Chris are great troopers, the way they’ve done this since they were little girls.

But what inspired me to go camping alone was my friends told me that it would be okay because other campers and families would be there, and it was just an adventure on my part but not a very well planned one. And it was my first time I had ever been camping in Upstate New York, yes, in the Catskill Mountains that was. It really was gorgeous there. The actual grounds that we were at had a lot of lovely trees, and nice families were there. But the comfort level for me was not good.

There were no other problems I came across while camping … no other. It was just the intermittent problems of not being able to cook properly. I brought all the food I needed. I did have all my supplies and my first aid kit and all that. So I drove up there, I think it was about 95 miles or something, maybe a little more from Brooklyn, and I thought I would do better than I did. Thought I did my research too before I went, especially when I went to buy the Hillary, beautiful, beautiful tent that it was really lovely. I thought I had planned well, too. And I like three comforters with no pea also. P-e-a.

While camping I also saw some starry nights when I was out. In fact the first night, it was really beautiful. It was the second night that it rained so hard, but it was beautiful stars up there. As you know, Upstate New York is not like Brooklyn, where we only have one or two stars and the North Star once in a while. It was beautiful that way. Thank you for reminding me of that.

I also did some hiking as well. I actually did. I did hike the second day before the rain that evening and found different trails, and I really do enjoy that. And I went on two hikes, one by myself, because it was marked and one with a guide and that was really nice too. But I like, as we spoke last week, the quiet and solitude and trees. And I love moss and stuff like that. And there’s a lot of that there, oh yes.

Some of the stand-out sights that I saw … I think driving, seeing the different farms and hills and valleys as I drove up there and then coming down towards Ellenville, New York and it was just beautiful. It was really nice. And while on that trip I also stopped by some places on my way to the campsite. Oh yes, a famous diner on the way up there. I don’t know if it was called Romeos or something like that, but everyone said to stop there. And I think I took a side trip and went to Tuxedo, New York, and I saw the Red Apple Diner, Red Apple Rest, they called it years ago. But it was really nice. And that was on the way home. It was called Red Apple Rest, it was quite an old diner. And I even had eaten at a diner once that was brought in from another state. They transported it back to New York. Then I had never been, I think in Indiana, they had a diner transported from New York to Indiana … gigantic diner. I love diners. I’m so happy you mentioned that. I really love diner eating.

Moments of Peace

Life Story Club Contributor

October 8, 2020

I equate peace with quietness. Watching a Turner Classic Movie with no telephones ringing. Enjoying a peaceful walk in the park, looking at different, beautiful things.

I live in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, near the Verrazzano. And I was gonna comment that Chris, one of our fellow students, has a beautiful background in her picture, which made me bring up memories. Going back to Brooklyn, I used to live in Bay Ridge, right near the Verrazzano Bridge. And a lot of places to go there, to find peace for sure. And lying in bed, and just resting and relaxing. I like that because again, it’s quiet.

Loving Memories of My Father

Life Story Club Contributor

October 8, 2020

The act of love that I wrote – it was a picture I sent of my dad which you can share, of course – is on that he was such a wonderful, wonderful father in terms of his love, which he did not display. He was a very strict man, but his work ethic and his care for his 13 children, of which I’m number 5, was really the greatest act of love that I have ever experienced.

He was Filipino, and we lived in Annapolis, Maryland. That was his last port of call in the U.S. Navy. But my dad represented to me, all the accomplishments I’ve had in my life, including retirement.

He really didn’t smile or let us kiss him because their custom was for us to kiss the hand of the older person, not touch or kiss their face. So he really was very, very strict but he always managed to let me help him, like with painting or carpentry, and I would hold his ladder. And he was so hard-working. He would leave at 5:30 in the morning and come home 5:30 at night and have to walk 2 miles each way to the bus. So that’s how he demonstrated his love, by taking care of all of us. And also by being so hard-working, and his work ethic, yes.

I feel that I share those qualities with my dad. It was very important for me to follow his guidance, so I have all of my work life. He’s in heaven now, but I used to like to talk to him about different things from “The Washington Post.” That’s how he learned English, by reading “The Washington Post.” And I also liked to talk to him about his background in the Philippines, and what he did with the tourists that came to the Philippines in those years, jumping off of the side of like a hill into deep waters to get coral, and a quarter for each time he got a piece of coral for people.

But a lot of things that he told me stuck in my heart because he was a great family member, even though his family lived in another country. His parents were killed during World War II by the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. So he was not a happy person but he demonstrated the love. He demonstrated it by his efforts, not so much by being loving, you know, or touching. He didn’t do that.

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