Friday, December 30, 2016

Meanwhile, from the fallout shelter… not much has changed


Earlier today, I was in the laundry room of my ‘new’ (old, it’s old) apartment building, when an older woman entered, wheeling one of those personal shopping carts.  I couldn’t help but notice it had a case of Del Monte canned fruit cocktail on the bottom, with a stack of Hungry Jack Mashed Potatoes boxes on top.  That’s a lot of mashed potatoes!

I should’ve just minded my own business (and I had no intention of saying anything) but she said hello, so I returned the greeting and added “stocking up for the winter?”  She looked down at her cart then said “Well either that or… you know.”

My neighbor’s storage locker in the basement is stocked for a nuclear winter

I said “Er… no I’m sorry, I don’t.”  For all I know, she was talking about a tornado, zombie apocalypse or the Rapture.  Then it hit me and I added “oh, you mean like if Russia dropped the big one?”  She said “Well, we don’t have President Kennedy to stop them now.  My husband always said we should keep our basement stocked and this is probably the closest thing we have to a fallout shelter.”  

Wow.  I think she was half-teasing me, but I still haven’t heard the phrase “fallout shelter” since I was 6 or 7 years old and asked my dad what those yellow & black signs were on a couple of the buildings uptown. 

US Fallout shelter signI wonder if any of these metal signs are still there, like on the courthouse or local Moose lodge

I haven’t gotten out much & still don’t have a lot to share yet after being back in my old hometown after nearly 30 years.  I’m still wrestling with the TMJ, and aside from some quick trips to Giant Eagle (the supermarket down the hill from me) or my sister Shawn’s house, I’ve been mostly indoors nursing a sore, swollen jaw and wondering when (or if) it will be over & I can have a relatively normal life again.  I confess I was a lot more optimistic when I first moved here… ah, I’m still hopeful.

There have been some nice moments—a couple weeks ago, I enjoyed an afternoon reminiscing & catching up with an old friend from high school (Karen Huffman, my ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ classmate) who was in town visiting her mom for the holidays.  We hadn’t seen each other in 35 years.  We met up for lunch at a very nice Mexican restaurant on High Street, which was formerly known as ‘The Waynesburg Restaurant’. 

My grandmother baked pies & waitressed there for many, many years.

Grandma Morris at the Wbg Restaurant

Grandma (in the back, far left) circa 1963; how the restaurant looks today

Well, speaking of Grandma I’ve seen that not ALL things have changed.  In 1968-69 when I was in the second & third grade, I attended school at North Ward Elementary.  At the time, my grandmother was living in a trailer with powder-blue trim that was right along the way. 

I often went there for lunch, or hung out with Grandma after school.  There was an Econo-Wash laundromat that sat directly across her mobile home, and sometimes we’d walk over to get a bottle of Orange Crush pop and play pinball.

The school is gone, it was torn down in 1975; but the Econo-Wash still stands, along with Grandma’s old powder-blue trailer!

powder blue

Saturday, December 17, 2016

It sure would be nice to see a little Christmas magic right about now

This is me waving a magic wand, Christmas morning, 1972.  I’ve shared this story a few too many times with family & other loved ones, but I’m guessing I’ll probably go to my grave saying this was the best Christmas I ever had.

It actually began several weeks earlier, the day after my 11th birthday.  I was with my mom at SA Meyers Jewelry where she was picking up a wristwatch she’d had repaired, when I spotted a pair of musical note cuff-links in the display case and told her she should get them for Dad for Christmas.  (He was a musician on the weekends.) 

Mom said “No, YOU should.”

music note cufflinksI looked at the price tag and my jaw dropped.  “I can’t afford these, they’re $7.99!”  She said “Yes you can.  You get $1.50 weekly allowance, if you put them on layaway today and make a dollar payment every week, you could have them paid off by Christmas.” 

To be honest, I withered a little inside—that money was already budgeted for candy & comic books!  But at the same time I felt nervous & excited at the idea of getting my Dad something so dressy and mature for Christmas, so I said I’d do it.

(And for the next seven Mondays, my mom drove me to town after school where I made my dollar payment.  I picked them up exactly one week before Christmas.) 

That Friday before Christmas, no sooner had we gotten to school we were handed red boxes of Redstone candy and told we were being sent straight home; it was snowing pretty heavily, and the forecast said a couple feet of the good stuff was heading our way.

Can this Christmas get any better? 

When our bus pulled up to the red-dog road leading to our old farmhouse, we saw Dad pulling into the driveway with Grandma Morris in the passenger seat.  Now I was thrilled to have Grandma spending Christmas with us this year more than anyone, but that wasn’t until Monday and it was still Friday morning.  As we ran to hug her, Dad said “I figured we’ll be snowed in by Christmas, so I talked your grandma into spending a couple extra days with us.”     

Christmas just got even better.  Smile   


My sisters Donda-Lin & Shawn, and Grandma Morris on the couch

So of course it was a wonderful weekend, blustery and cold, the snow piled high in blue drifts with no signs of stopping. 

But inside was warm and cheerful and noisy with three adults and five kids (our youngest sister Courtney wouldn’t be here for another 3 years yet), the livingroom smelling of pine tree and old decorations, our kitchen table & every inch of counter space filled with platters of cookies and fudge, bowls of fruit and nuts and boxes of assorted chocolates.  This year had Grandma’s fresh baked bread and pies as well.

I was very excited with the gifts I’d gotten that Christmas morning—a snazzy red bathrobe, a magic set from Grandma, an ant farm and my “big gift”—a metal desk & chair, it’s drawers filled with drawing paper, pencils & markers.   What I enjoyed most though, was my gift to Dad—as he opened the small round jewelry box containing the cuff-links, Mom told him how I was the one who saw them, and made weekly payments.  When he said “Doug they’re beautiful” and hugged me, I busted out crying! 

I can only remember my dad hugging me a couple times in my life, and this was one of them.

I suppose I treasure these memories like I do, and hold onto them so tight, because I never really made new ones of my own.  I’ve gotten a lot older, but can’t help but feel like I never made a real effort to grow up.  For reasons even I can’t explain, I never pursued getting married or having kids of my own… some years I feel some regret over that. 

I suppose this year is one of them.  

A few weeks ago, my TMJ (jaw disorder) returned with a vengeance.  I walk around my half empty apartment in Waynesburg (why did I move, ugh) with these small white patches on my jowls from a portable TENS unit that zaps electrical impulses into my jaw muscles.  Some days the pain isn’t too severe and I can chat with my neighbors and talk on the phone some and pretend I’m half normal. 

Then there are days like yesterday & today, where all you can do is sit & stare, and wonder.  (Not a very cheery message, I know!)  I have to believe I’m going to recover from this, be my old self again and make some new holiday memories.  Until then, for what it’s worth… 

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A whole lot of lovin’ is what she’ll be bringing… c’mon Doug, get happy

I finished this memoir a couple hours ago and was smacking my lips like I’d just finished a tasty meal.  Shirley Jones autobiography hit the bookstores in 2013, but as much as I loved my second-favorite tv mom I couldn’t bring myself to pay $15.99 for another celebrity autobiography—even if she did play a very happy part in my childhood as Shirley Partridge on The Partridge Family.  Nope, wasn’t gonna happen.

And then the reviews came in, and fans cried foul over Shirley’s raunchy sexcapades.  Wait, what?  No!  I’m still not forking over all that dough!

Cut to the present, and the day after the Presidential election I went on looking for something to take my mind off things and Shirley’s book popped up with a reduced price of $7.99.  And for a 55 year old “70s kid” like myself, who lived for Friday night television and the Brady Bunch & Partridge Family, Shirley Jones: A Memoir does not disappoint.

She starts out innocently enough, a small town girl from Charleroi, PA (about 30-40 miles from me) who dreamed of being a veterinarian.  But she liked to sing too, and was told by her church’s choir director she had a good voice so her beloved dad drove her to Pittsburgh weekly for singing lessons. 

 Her singing teacher convinced Shirley to enter a local pageant to win a 2 year scholarship to the Pittsburgh Playhouse; she did, and won the title of ‘Miss Pittsburgh’ in 1952

Then in New York one weekend visiting the former Pittsburgh Playhouse director, he invites her to sing on the empty stage of the theater he’s with, and who overhears her song?  The casting director for Rodgers & Hammerstein, who informs her that Richard Rodgers is right next door, would she sing for him?  She does, he likes what he hears & sees, and casts her in his new show Oklahoma! 

A star is born.


 Shirley in Oklahoma!  "Being a Broadway star would be nice, but I wanted to be a vet.” 

Her rise to fame in Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals isn’t anything new you can’t read on Wikipedia, but I knew things were going to get interesting when she writes of meeting the sauve & debonair Jack Cassidy and was warned by her agent Selma he was a skirt chaser—and married:

She meant so well, Selma did.  She just didnt know that I was—and always would be—the kind of girl who would always do exactly the opposite of what she was asked, a headstrong girl who flew in the face of advice and went against convention, with her eyes fixed on the next adventure!

Shirley then tells us that even though she’s always known she was very sexual, it wasn’t until her early twenties when she met Jack that she lost her virginity (and then some).  On their honeymoon, when Shirley teases him about all the women he’s been with, he nonchalantly adds that he’s been with men too—including famed composer Cole Porter. 

Hey, a struggling actor’s gotta do whatever it takes—especially if you’re a sex-addict like Jack Cassidy.

 Married from 1956 to 1974, Shirley says Jack was an absentee father to their three sons Shaun, Patrick & Ryan.  He cheated on her constantly, once left her for Yvonne Craig (Batgirl), got her to participate in a threesome (she details who did what to whom) & made her life a living hell.  She adds “Jack will always be the greatest love of my life”

Shirley’s film career waned in the 1960s, but she claims it didn’t bother her at all as she loved being a stay-at-home mom to her 3 boys and stepson David Cassidy.  She also tells us that David was well-endowed, so much that his brothers called him “Donk” and Jack once commented “Where did you get that thing?” 

(You can’t help but wonder how this became known, let alone a topic for discussion.)  Shirley sheepishly admits that things might’ve been a little too open when her son Patrick came downstairs one morning while she was fixing pancakes and excitedly told her he just had his first orgasm.  All she could think to say was “That’s nice, dear.”

We then get to the 1970s, when Shirley lets Hollywood know she’d like a television series.  (It was virtually unheard of then, a Broadway performer & movie star wanting to do tv.)  She happily accepted the role of mom on The Partridge Family.  She adds that a year prior, she’d been offered the role of Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch, but turned it down as she didn’t want to play another bored, smiling housewife.  (How did I not know this?) 

But the idea of being television’s “first single working mother” on a show about a musical family excited her.  “Originally, I thought I was the one who would be singing the songs, but when David’s star took off, I didn’t mind at all.”

 Shirley shares a lot of Partridge lore that we’ve heard over the years.  (Susan Dey’s crush on David, his many female conquests, etc.)  She adds that when the ‘first Chris’ (bottom left) was let go after the first season for behavioral issues and replaced with Brian Forster for the remainder of the series, “we didn’t receive a single letter of inquiry or complaint”

She also writes of favorite guest stars (a very professional 11 year old Jodie Foster, Louis Gossett Jr, Rob Reiner as ‘Snake’) and guest stars she didn’t like--a drugged up Richard Pryor, Dick Clark of American Bandstand & Ray Bolger (the scarecrow from ‘Wizard of Oz’) who played her dad—and was a real diva.

What really surprised me though was her favorite episode, ‘Whale Song’—because she finally got her own solo.  Sorry Shirley, but this has to be the least favorite song of the series!  You can watch it here.

Shirley writes that Dave Madden (who played their agent Reuben Kincaid) was closest to Danny Bonaduce, but teased him constantly.  Dave once asked Danny if he knew why the two of them were even on the show.  “For laughs” Danny answered.  Dave said “No, it’s because we’re so ugly… look at Susan Dey, David Cassidy, Shirley Jones.  They’re the beautiful people.  They need us uglies to balance things out.” 

After the end of The Partridge Family (and Shirley’s marriage to Jack Cassidy) in 1974, she met & married Marty Ingels in 1977—much to all her son’s dismay.  Hmm, they don’t look so distraught to me…

Shirley ends her book by telling us that she & Marty are still very happily married; sadly, this book was published in 2013 and Marty Ingels died in 2015.

There’s a lot I’m leaving out of course, but here’s two things that kind of surprised me.  For one, towards the end of the book Shirley explains the importance of “self love” and not only when she does this (daily) but how she does it as well! 

Just when you thought you’ve seen and read it all...  Eye rolling smile

And finally, an amusing story Shirley shares from 1979, when she was given another television series Shirley.  She wasn’t expecting success on the scale of The Partridge Family, but was excited about being on weekly television again.  Famed producer Fred Silverman owned the show, and as filming began he excitedly told her on a daily basis how great she was and how thrilled the network was with what they were seeing—so she was surprised when she drove to the studio one morning and the guard at the gate told her to go home, her show had been canceled.  No calls, no nothing—I found out I was fired from a studio guard.

Soon after, Marty & I were having dinner at the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel when all of a sudden I noticed Fred Silverman having dinner in one of the booths with three women.  I turned to Marty and said “That asshole!  I’m going to go over there and tell him exactly what I think!”  Marty turned chalk-white and said “Please Shirley, please don’t do that.”   But that’s exactly what I did!  And for once in all my years of marriage, I finally got to be the crazy person!

It was her only swear-word in the entire book.  Love you, Shirley!