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Life Story Club Contributor

April 29, 2021

Hello, I was trying to figure out how to start the story. It’s, you know, a seltzer story. It’s a sweet, street smart story, of seltzer-on-the-side in Brooklyn. Once upon a time won’t work, and a kingdom far, far, away…no. I know, not too long ago, it was definitely after the dinosaurs and we had cars and electricity, but we still had seltzer and milk delivered. And it was the first day of summer, and we wanted to celebrate. So, we played all the games we could think of, we did jump rope and hopscotch, and we finally discovered in the backyard an old Spalding ball. We said, “All right, let’s play stickball.” So, we grabbed the stick from the yard, and we got our ball, and we went out in the street and played. Well, the Spalding was in pretty crummy shape from…it busted not too long after that.

It was the late afternoon, there were six of us cousins sitting on the stoop a little sad, a little bored, definitely hot and tired, and we couldn’t figure out what else to do. And lo and behold, because I’m the smartest of the six cousins, I noticed ta-da…the seltzer man. He wasn’t wearing a cape, he just had his cap, but it was a glorious sight. As he tried to straddle and step through us on the step, he delivered bottles of seltzer. This was a time when my Nanny, my tiny grandmother, used to have milk delivered in glass bottles, and we would get seltzer, and a special treat was Fox’s Best Chocolate Syrup. The three great ingredients for egg creams. We thought, “All right, celebrate, the party begins.” So, we run in the house, and we ask our moms who are finishing up talking with my Nanny in the kitchen, “Ooh, you scream, I scream, we all want some egg creams.” I said, “Please, please, please,” and they all said in unison, “No, you will ruin your appetite.” What a letdown.

And then they swooped out of the house with their purses, and Nanny went too, and they went shopping. And my Zia Guiseppia [SP], who has no children and was up on the third-floor managed brownstone, was in charge of watching six cousins. It was no easy task, I tell you, but she thought if she would just squeeze us on the couch in the living room and turn on the TV, it would be the best babysitter ever. And then she ran click-click-click first floor, click-click-click second floor, click-click-click third floor, and opened her door and then closed it. And the second after she closed it, we all looked at each other, “Ohh,” you know, it’s like the angel and the devil on each side trying to figure out what we should do? So, back in the day we didn’t have too many channels on the TV, and get this, you had to get up and turn the channel. We said forget that, and within seconds, I’m sure it was seconds, we ran into the hallway where the seltzer bottles are. They have squirt handles, how beautiful is that? So, we reasoned, “Well, we’ll just squirt each other once or twice, there’ll still be seltzer in the bottle, who’s going to know?” But squirting seltzer bottles is like having one potato chip, you can’t do it. So, before you know it, we were spraying each other back and forth, and back and forth, we had a grand time. Before you know it, half of the seltzer was gone. The hallway looked like we were hanging out in the old Navy Yard, there was seltzer on the stairs, and seltzer on the banister, and seltzer dripping from the walls.

Just then we heard another door open and close, boom, and we thought, “Oh, this is it. We’re busted, we’re going to be pushing up those daisies before you know it.” And lo and behold, it was my Zio Daniello, my uncle Danny. He took off his cap, saw what lay before him, he looked at us, we looked at him, he looked at us again, and I swear I thought I saw a twinkle in his eye. And before you knew it, he grabbed one of the seltzer bottles and he was no amateur, let me tell you, he was a pro, he probably won a gold medal in the Olympics for this event. He hit us between the eyes, sprayed in the ear, and that just annoying spot in the back of your neck so it drips down. We were having so much fun Zio Daniello didn’t hear it, but us kids did because we had street smarts. We heard the door slam upstairs and that click-click-click third, going down the third flight of stairs. Even before she met, the start of the second stairs, all of us scrambled. Badda-bing, Badda-boom, we were out in the yard. We figured, “Oh, this is a good thing, hang out in the sun, just act cool, let our clothes dry.” And we left poor Uncle Danny, Zio Daniello, in the hallway with the stream of seltzer everywhere, and the seltzer bottles were empty.

We heard the loudest scream in the world when the clicking stopped of the heels. We heard, “Danny, what are you doing?” We thought, “Oh no, we shouldn’t have left him there, will he survive?” And as little kids, we just peeked around the corner from the back door, and what did we see? Uncle Danny’s just grinned. He didn’t say anything, he had the best brightest little grin on his face. Here’s a grown man thinking, “I’m gonna charm my way out of this, I’m just going to grin and look cute.” And he has done that to the day he has died, and it’s always saved him. Then he just whistled away down the hallway into the kitchen to get something to drink, because obviously, he couldn’t have egg creams, and poor Zia Giuseppia had to mop up the mess.

And you know what? Today, I have egg creams I can make for you, I have some chocolate syrup, Mama always makes me get Fox’s Best Chocolate Syrup, we have seltzer, and we have milk. You want to come over for some egg creams? I would love you to do that. And this is this, and that is that. The end. A great seltzer-on-the-side summer celebration.

April 29, 2021 Hello, I was trying to figure out how to start the story. It's, you know, a seltzer story. It's a sweet, street smart story, of seltzer-on-the-side in Brooklyn. Once upon a t...

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Alaska Casey reads at Stories from Brooklyn and Beyond Showcase

Life Story Club Contributor

December 12, 2020

Alaska is a 25-year-old published model, community educator, and writer. They serve as the Director of Impact Artist Education at NYC based non-profit Entertainment for Change and have a passion for performing arts. In their free time, they enjoy spoken word poetry, travel, and learning. So Alaska’s mother is named Theresa. Theresa, can you give us a wave? Theresa has been participating in the Life Story Club for the past few weeks now and asked if Alaska could share their absolutely wonderful story with us. Alaska, please take it away!

This one is about my grandmother. “Nanny, did you ever go out with any guys besides grandpa? I mean, when you were younger.” I have to project to be heard above the noise of the airport. I stab a chunk of watermelon with my fork and lean forward. How have I never asked her this before? She smiles under her tea mug. “I did. Yeah, a few.” “So why, grandpa? What made you choose him?” I meet her eyes with mine and hold the stare, so she knows that I’m really asking. “Well…” There’s a pause. She swirls her milky tea with a spoon, and for a few moments, there’s nothing but airport noise and the rhythmic clink of metal and ceramic. She looks down at her hands. “He was tall.” She says slowly. The fact that this is the first good quality of my grandfather’s that she can produce after 56 years of marriage is not lost on me.

“He was funny. He made people laugh sometimes, and we used to go dancing.” She closes her eyes the way she does when she’s remembering something. And finally, her face softens into a smile. Sometimes he made people laugh, not her but other people. Sometimes. “We used to dance at this joint in Brooklyn. It was run by a couple of Norwegian guys Pete knew in the Navy. And well, I liked it so much, I invited my sisters to come to. We’d get dressed up nice, all of us. Us four girls: Darby, Rosie, Lucy, me.” She pauses to count her siblings on her fingers to make sure she’s getting it right. She pops a grape in her mouth, a small smile dancing at the corners of her lips as she mutters almost to herself. “I loved to dance.”

Apparently, so did her daughter. My mother met my father at a dance joint in New York City. Funny how these things happen. I take a slow sip of water to wash down the words rising in my throat because I don’t have the heart to remind her what I asked about. She hasn’t forgotten. She leans back in her seat, silent, and remembering. I do that too sometimes, remember him. The way the sunlight dappled the floors, I sat into his feet, painting the years into rainbows on the backs of seashells sold to the man himself at the grandpa rate of 50 cents a piece. The way he would look at me with all in his smile. One little girl, one tiny finger.

My grandfather wrapped tightly around it memories of hugs, laughter. Lunch is out. His gravelly voice describing his faith in me, my intelligence, and my future. The crisp rolled up bills to soften what would pass his discipline. My heartbeats like a child does to remember him, but all I know of my grandmother’s memories are narrated by my mother. So I let her words flood in today. I want to remember like Nanny this time.

He never really took her anywhere. I mean, no trips, no vacations, Nanny loved to travel, but she wasn’t allowed. Unless it was camping, of course. She hated camping, but we went every month until I was in college. My mind’s photo album opens to old photos of my mother and her siblings in the backseat of a huge RV, of my grandmother young and tired. Dutifully bent over a hot grill, arms covered with mosquito bites when she hates bugs. The tent is cold, and she is profoundly unhappy.

Grandpa rolls up the window on his son’s face as punishment for sticking his head out of the van window, and my grandmother screams for him to stop. A napkin falls to the floor. Somewhere in the terminal, a flight to Haiti has been delayed. She had to be able to account for every penny that she ever spent. Every service, every bill. The day I finally told us that it was us, running up the water bill, I thought he couldn’t punish her for something that wasn’t her fault.

He told me that he hadn’t wanted kids anyway. I studied the lines around my grandmother’s mouth. She’s as striking as she was at age 35. A classic Italian beauty, her Raven features blur and how fast she’s moving in this memory. In her hand are crumpled receipts, the transgressions of her children, and she is alone. Moving room to room, his voice kicking down doors before he ever raises his hand. This is how she escapes him. An immigrant like her father, a stranger in her own home. She lowers her head and moves silently, with apology. Seeking asylum in the shadows of her own home, her coat pockets stuffed with bills that she cannot pay without him. She wants her kids enough for the both of them and the walls are shaking again.

My words tumble into each other. This was a clumsy mistake I should never have asked. But here in the terminal, here he is. Entering my memory with a ladder, ready to climb into the attic for a godforsaken computer mouse in the middle of the night. Also that I could finish the last level of a Barbie game, and yet behind my grandmother’s eyes, the final memory veiled and powdered as the years wind back. Head bowed on her wedding day, a Catholic, humbled before God and her husband. My beautiful grandmother, a vision in white, and my grandfather, tall and sometimes funny. Wearing his military dress blues to commemorate his most successful conquest.

She floats down the aisle like a woman who has not yet smelled a Secretary’s perfume on her husband’s lapel. Her eyes shine with the kind of hope that doesn’t yet know that it will stop by years to check-in, only to find the entire place has been boarded up. Today, he has a sense of humor. Today, he is tall and in the Navy, and she has porcelain skin and a future. The 1950s say that my grandfather is a good man, and in this moment, their hearts flutter with hope that that is the truth. “You got a lot of questions, kid.” I’m called back to the present by Nanny changing the subject. She’s remembering herself now, not just the past, and the conversation is covered in cobwebs.

She pulls the kind of face one might make if offered a root canal without anesthesia, and another heaping spoonful of sugar goes into her tea. I’m just curious. Reeling actually. The movie is over, and the complexity of humans strikes me as grossly painful. I want to kick my chair over and run until my chest is heaving for the right reasons, but she cuts me off. “You’re nosy, like your mother.”

My mother protects you. I almost say. Since she was old enough to stand, she has always protected you. My chest aches to remind her, but instead, I twist the burn into a hollow smile that doesn’t quite reach my eyes, and my mouth softens around the words, “So she got it from you then huh? Must run in the family.” I stick out my tongue playfully and nudge her leg under the table. My mother’s fire burns from the same source. This, I know. “What me?” She laughs and kicks me back. “No sir. I mind my own business.”

December 12, 2020 Alaska is a 25-year-old published model, community educator, and writer. They serve as the Director of Impact Artist Education at NYC based non-profit Entertainment for ...

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Discovering the Flora and Fauna of Florida

Life Story Club Contributor

November 5, 2020

I wasn’t really focusing on the past. I was focusing on dealing with all the things that are going on today, current events, just finding some me time. I’ve never really done that. My husband’s always threatening me to take some time off for myself. But I’ve always played the good Catholic girl of, you know, be the mom, be the wife, be the good daughter, and working full-time. Now I’m disabled, I’m retired.

However, my mom has Alzheimer’s, unfortunately. So this is good therapy for me, is the art. So I go out and take pictures, go for walks. Florida has a lot of beautiful preserves, and throughout the seasons these are some of the photos that I’ve taken. And sometimes I go with my son, and we talk, or we’re just quiet. Sometimes I go with my friend. She was a Master Gardener, God rest her soul. She passed away this January.

She would be able to identify every single thing that we’d come across. Or I’d send her a picture and say “Can I eat this?” And she’d text me back, “Don’t you dare. Just kidding. It’s good for the birds, but not for you.” It’s such and such she would say in the Latin term.

But there’s something about complete silence, you just hear the birds or the branches and the breezes and seeing the fish jump up in the air to catch the flies, and the water, it’s very settling, very peaceful. It can be very healing. And so even if it’s for just a few-minute walk, it really decompresses the day.

So I’ve been playing around with photography. There’s something that my library has, it used to be called Linda. And there’s a gentleman on there that does cell phone photography. So I’ve been following that a little bit. And then I take some art classes, acrylics and watercolor, and all of that fun stuff.

You know when I think to the past, I was looking at it, “What makes you happy now?” In the past I would say, “My family trips we used to have or the funny stories,” but I’m doing that separately for the children. I told them I would make little journals, art journals for them because I didn’t do the traditional baby book thing since I was working.

I always saved a lot of their artwork. I have the photos. And then I’ll just put in there little fun stories and memories we had with them when they were growing up. But for me right now, the picture I have right up there it’s sea grapes, you see the little beads and pioneers, and the Indians used to make sea grape jelly.

But I like fractal geometry, the shapes of nature, and how they work. And I like the shades. And I guess some people love doing the landscape by just focusing on, “Oh, that’s an interesting shape,” or “That’s an interesting shade,” or something like that. So I play around with it.

And I’m just starting out, but it’s a hobby. It’s my me time, as I’d call it, to go out and just take pictures. I’ve been very, very spoiled by the beautiful weather, the flora, the fauna of Florida. So it’s basically, what I find is my new hobby and what makes me so happy.

November 5, 2020 I wasn't really focusing on the past. I was focusing on dealing with all the things that are going on today, current events, just finding some me time. I've never real...

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Memorable Experiences in Paris and Florence

Life Story Club Contributor

December 3, 2020

When my mother was, want to say 75, she’s an artist, my mom. And we said, “Let’s go to Paris.” And then since we were so close to Belgium, why not go to Belgium and eat at least 10 pounds of chocolate each? So we did stay at a small, little boutique hotel in the, and I might be mispronouncing it wrong, but the 8th arrondissement which is the artist district in the upper district. And it was a wonderful little neighborhood. You could hear opera singing going on in one apartment. You pass by to get to our little boutique hotel, you could see a gentleman repairing violins. But we had so much fun in Paris.

We were always laughing. No matter what map my sister and I consulted if the Notre-Dame was … you made a right, we would automatically make a left. Five miles walking later, we realized what we did and we turned around again. But I think I included in there a picture of the elevator. It was the smallest, little elevator on the planet. And there’s the four of us squeezing into this elevator. I’ve never seen an elevator this small. It took us so many trips to go up to the fourth floor and back with our luggage using this incredibly small elevator. But it was a beautiful boutique hotel. It had breakfast which was unusual in the hotel, in the wine cellar. So you didn’t have to run out to the boulangerie and get your bread and get your cafe. You just walked right down. And being Italians, we do have this great capacity to procrastinate. So it was perfect that they had the breakfast down there as well.

The hotel in Florence, we’re talking about a disaster or whatever. I went with my cousin, Liz. She was 20. I was 19. So of course, you had to blow dry her hair, or cure your hair before you go down to dinner. And we had the converter. But obviously, we used too many things at once. And we blew out the electricity on the fifth floor of the Florence hotel. I will not tell you what hotel that is in case they still want to hold us liable for that. But it ended up working out well because we ended up getting a better room on the sixth floor.

But as soon as all the lights went out the first thing I heard was my name. My two aunts yelling at me thinking it must’ve been my fault. I was like, “Well really. I’m insulted.” But anyway, that’s when we went to Northern Italy, all the way down through Rome. And then Pompei, Napoli which starts getting southern. But all of my great travels, my memories come from all the craziness or the Caprio cyclone effect that has been caused by my family wherever we have gone. For me, it’s always been a joy doing family vacations and staying at small places.

December 3, 2020 When my mother was, want to say 75, she's an artist, my mom. And we said, "Let's go to Paris." And then since we were so close to Belgium, why not go to Belgium and ea...

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Moments I’m Grateful for

Life Story Club Contributor

November 19, 2020

I’m thankful for my family, furless and furry. And before I forgot, I wanted to mention there was this great gratitude book called, “Thanks a Thousand.” I don’t know if you’ve heard about it. But it’s about a gentleman that really enjoyed his cup of coffee. So, he thought he’d go around the world and thank everyone who was involved in him being able to enjoy his cup of coffee. And it just symbolizes how you can be grateful for just the little things that other people do not have. Grateful for a roof over your head. Thankful for clean water, electricity, you can stay warm, you can cool off, all of those things that around….thankful to be able to get an education that other people don’t have.

And even so in the event of November, thankful that I can vote. And hopefully, that will count. And just the memories of when the kids were young, and how we so very much wanted a family. And it was a long journey to get there, that we did a lot of things with the kids. And one of them was Halloween and dressing up. And so, my husband has done everything from dressing up like a nun calling himself, Sister Mary Jeff. I dressed up as the Queen of England, and made costumes for the kids, the spider pirate from “James and the Giant Peach.”

So, I was a flapper. And my little girl was into American history, and “Little House on the Prairie,” and my son, an astronaut. You know, made those costumes or picked up things at thrift shops and put them together. But what I do appreciate a lot about the family is something to laugh, to appreciate things. And laughing is good medicine even in hard times. And I start the day off with three gratitudes, and I end the day thanking the Lord for another day. And I’ll pray if I have friends or family in need. And I find it very calming.

In the past, we had gratitude jars. You get those mason jars. We did that one with Kwanzaa because my son is biracial. We did that. And I told everybody, “When you’re grateful for something, put it in the jar. And then a year from now, pull out some of those things and see how, yes 2020 been a roller coaster ride, but if you pull some things out you might find, ‘Oh, there is a ray of sunshine right here, and a ray of sunshine right there.'”

I’m very grateful to have my pets around. I am disabled. I don’t get around that much. That is Mr. Barron Colepepper, Lord of the Joust. When I was working, I left my son and my husband to think of a name for the dog. That is the last time I will ever let them do that because his name it says Barron Colepepper, Lord of the Joust. But he was a trip. He was a Labrador, and he loved visiting the neighborhood no matter how high we built the fence. And he’s famous for always going for swims in our council woman’s pool and playing with the kids. Right now we have five rescue dogs and being home-disabled, I have found that it’s very comforting, very therapeutic. You’re not alone.

And I used to work in a library. Teachers would get lots of thank yous during the holidays, but library service was just taken for granted. But then we always had parents or two, or an elderly patron that you didn’t realize you really helped them out or did something special, and they would send a card. I remember one mom made this most delicious, outrageous flan, and I’m sure it was calorie-free. But it was delicious. But just little gestures like that meant a lot to the staff.

November 19, 2020 I'm thankful for my family, furless and furry. And before I forgot, I wanted to mention there was this great gratitude book called, "Thanks a Thousand." I don't know ...

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A Tradition of Paying It Forward

Life Story Club Contributor

October 29, 2020

I remember my mom is number eight of nine children. Italian-American, first-generation. And the other woman had mentioned how even though her parents didn’t finish school, they were very smart. And the same thing goes for my Uncle Danny. He left at fourth grade during The Depression because no one was hiring immigrants. And he worked in Brooklyn. And he did whatever what was necessary. There were farms back then. So there was a farmer’s market. He helped with them. If they had fruit that was starting to rot that they couldn’t sell or vegetables, they would give it to them. And he would shine shoes.

He remembers going to the kitchen. In fact, my daughter, who is very involved with the history fair, one year they were talking about…the theme was old world versus new world. And so she did it on the family. Italian immigration and how my mom didn’t graduate from high school either. But when I was in high school she says, “Okay. That’s it. I’m gonna get my GED.” And she did, and she went on to college. And we all three of us, and my cousin, we all went to the same university which is funny, Adelphi University in Garden City.

So, I’m very proud of my mom as well. They were all hard workers and good soul. I think that’s where I learned to pay it forward. To help others. That kinda thing. Because my mom always talked about how a lot of the neighbors helped each other during The Depression. And there was one time a gypsy family came by, knocking on the door, asking for some food. And some of the neighbors were, like, suspicious or superstitious of gypsies. So, they would just slam the door on her, but not my Italian grandmother. She thought it was a sin to let a child go hungry. So, she gave whatever she had. And then, she just put water into the minestrone soup for the rest of the family to eat.

October 29, 2020 I remember my mom is number eight of nine children. Italian-American, first-generation. And the other woman had mentioned how even though her parents didn't finish sch...

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