Another North Camden Memory – Gift from the nuns

Dear Readers,

The other day I bought rye bread, the special little rye bread used for appetizers for cocktail parties. I ate it this morning for breakfast with Irish butter and I thought of the nuns in the convent behind our childhood home in North Camden in the fifties.

We lived in a tiny row house and the back of the house faced the backs of the beautiful big three-storied houses on State Street.  Directly behind us was a convent, but I don’t remember the order of the nuns.

We weren’t Catholic, but we feared and respected the sisters.  I remember them in their tall black habits with starched white “bibs”.  Everyone knew they were way above the mortals in our neighborhood.

The nuns could see into our kitchen and when they stood at their kitchen window, they watched Billy and me wash and dry the dishes.  My brother and I didn’t know we were being watched until the nuns told my mother.  They said how nicely we behaved with each other and how they enjoyed seeing us do the dishes together. My mother basked in this unexpected compliment, but I worried if they’d seen us misbehaving.  We were elementary school kids after all.

They didn’t see the occasional smack we gave each other with the damp dish towel or sopping dish rag?  How we took breaks to fish out a maraschino cherry from the jar in the fridge?  How we acted when we squabbled about who was the better dishwasher?

If you want to know the answer to the dishwasher competition, my younger brother was better.  Much more thorough. I always ended up with one of two specks of pink Dreft on my dishes.  That bit of powdered detergent didn’t last there long.  Bill would see it and toss the dish back into the soapy water, chanting, “REJECT!  REJECT!  REJECT!”

Maybe the sisters saw our shenanigans and they remembered doing dishes as kids with siblings.

They occasionally called my mother to come to talk over their high wooden gray fence.  One summer day they reached over with a package of expensive cookies and a loaf of cocktail rye bread slices.  Someone had given them bakery goods and they decided to share with us. My mother was excited.

We looked at the tiny brown slices in awe and my mother told us that people used with cream cheese or cucumbers for cocktail parties.  Our family never had cocktail parties–only barbecues with lots of Schmidts of Philadelphia.  No cocktails.

We sat at our kitchen table and buttered the slices. They were good.  A rich person’s treat, I thought.

I’d forgotten about them until the other day when I purchased them from Wegman’s.   Why did I buy them? No, not for a cocktail party, but just for fun, in honor of those nice Catholic sisters on State Street.

 

 

Thanks for reading.

Marguerite (Wunsch) Ferra, Cramer Hill resident

Moved from North Camden to Cramer Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope my dad is on the beaches in Heaven on his birthday

Dear Readers,

My dad’s birthday is today.  Happy Birthday, Daddy.  I miss you every day.

My father didn’t make it to ninety-eight to celebrate today in his Camden home, He lived only to eighty-three.  I have to squinch back the tears.

I’m sharing a happy photo of my dad, Bill Wunsch, Jr., with three of his favorite beautiful people…Cass Lewis, the wife of his best friend, Ed;  Marguerite Wunsch, my mom;  Marie Wunsch, his sister.  There they are–under the boardwalk at Wildwood, New Jersey–back in the fifties.

What sweet Wildwood vacations my dad and our family shared with the Ed and Cass Lewis and their two sons, Eddie and Bobby! Sometimes other Wunsch family members came with us, my Aunt Marie or my grandfather, Charles Wunsch.  My dad got up at six a.m. to cook breakfast for my grandfather while the rest of us slept.  My mom said she was on vacation–that was too early for her to cook! My aunt stayed up late with us kids and she taught us to sing, “Found a Peanut.”  How can I remember that?

My brother, Billy, and I played on the beach with the two Lewis boys.  The chatting adults kept an eye on us as we dug in the hot sand and sometimes under the boardwalk in the wet, cold sand.  In spite of our families’ caution, one summer Bobby Lewis and I got lost on the beach. When the fathers found us standing on a stranger’s towel to keep our feet from burning, our dad’s faces burned with anger and relief.  They had told us to stay near the red and white beach umbrella.  We did, but we had walked to the wrong red and white umbrella!

Sometimes those vacations coincided with Dad’s birthday.  I remember my mom gave him new swim trunks for his birthday one year and he opened the tissue paper wrapped gift. We all watched him open it in that living room of the tiny rented cottage across from the Wildwood train station.  Dad didn’t care much about clothing so I remember him not jumping up and down with joy.  Perhaps he would have enjoyed wearing his old trunks for the rest of his life.  He probably would have liked a six-pack instead.

Dad loved that annual week at the shore.  He worked all year in hard jobs so that week off with family and friends meant the world to him.  I’m sure that Mom and he were proud to give us kids a real vacation–a rented cottage, beach and boardwalk.  I’m grateful for those memories.

So many good memories.  I was blessed. Thanks, Dad and Mom.

So, Happy Birthday, Daddy!  I hope you are having a beer and a hot dog on the beach somewhere up in Heaven with Mom, your friends and all loved ones who have passed on.  Love you so much…


Thanks to Ed/Bob Lewis for the photo.  Priceless.  Thank you.

Marguerite (Wunsch) Ferra

Cramer Hill resident

 

 

 

 

pastelitos…oh, the hot greasy joy…and emergency drills…

Dear Friends,

Sometimes I almost forget that I was an elementary ESL teacher in Camden City Public Schools for more than nineteen years. Three and a half years of retirement…  It’s very good.  To say, the least.  Ha ha.  Sorry for laughing, but it’s just so good.

When my husband brought home two pastelitos de pollo, fried turnovers with chicken, early this morning, my mind jumped to the little store across from my former school.  I bought these delicious and probably unhealthy snacks for lunch on days that I didn’t bring a sandwich from home.

I opened the newspaper at my dining room table and I bit into the first hot pastelito, the delicious grease ran down my chin and I remembered eating this treat at the classroom table that served as my desk.

However, the newspaper articles about the shootings of school children brought me back to a much less fond memory–those days of drills where another teacher or I would herd the third-graders into a corner during an emergency drill.  I “knew” it was a practice.  But, when I heard the principal’s voice calling out a code over the loudspeaker and saying, “There is a shooter in the building,” it was enough to make me wet my pants.  I didn’t, though.  Almost.

Some kids were cool and quiet–they figured it was a drill. Some let a tear roll from their eyes.   And, there was always one or two who kept whispering, “I’m not allowed to sit on the floor and get my uniform dirty.”

I’d put my finger to my lips and look grimly authoritarian, yet comforting.  Not easy. They had to be silent.  The heck with a dusty seat of the pants or uniform skirt…

In all seriousness, I’d thank God when the drill was over and I knew for super sure that it was a drill.

I had shoved most memories of teaching to the back of my mind after I retired.

The pastelito and newspaper yanked out those memories, one happy, one frightening.

 

Love to all my readers,

Marguerite (Wunsch) Ferra

Cramer Hill resident and former Camden City Public Schools ESL teacher

 

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Who should be celebrated on my birthday?

Dear Readers,

Today is my birthday.  I woke up and realized I was no longer sixty-seven.  I’m sixty-eight.  Officially a grown-up.  Probably a senior citizen?  Happy Birthday to me.

A friend of mine recently said that a birthday should celebrate the mother.  How can you take credit for being born? Your mom carried you and gave birth to you.  Ouch.

One year I did give my mom a card on my birthday and she loved it.  She loved cards.  She loved to receive them and to send them.  I do, too.  A funny kind of legacy.

My mother died on November 2, 2017.  She was ninety-three.  She won’t be here to celebrate.  She loved birthdays.  Especially the ice cream and cake…  Even in her last months of life when she wasn’t doing so well, she loved cake.  Me, too.  Another legacy.

She was an intelligent and feisty woman.  She managed her family, the budget and her house with a no kidding around competence. She had a soft and sentimental side that she tried to keep hidden.  However tough she could be, she was a mush on birthdays.

No matter our financial circumstances, we always had a dinner of our choice, cake and ice cream, a carefully chosen and sentimental card and the best gift possible.  We didn’t do dishes on our birthday.

We always said thank you, too.

I wonder, Mom, maybe you’re celebrating my birthday on a big cloud with Dad?

I hope you’re having a big piece of chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream with Dad.  You couldn’t eat your beloved chocolate when you got older so I hope you’re having a lot of chocolate in heaven.

I know Dad is saying, “Just a little piece of cake.”

You’re saying, “Cut me a big piece.”

Thanks, Mom, today for giving me life.  It’s been a good one so far.

 

 

***Photo         Wildwood, New Jersey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A happy ending to my day

September 6, 2017

Dear Readers,

I started out worrying terribly about people in the wrath of Hurricane Irma.  I forced myself to do something productive.  Set two goals, I told myself.

I’d study German and then I’d sort through a bag of papers.

My German textbook didn’t look inviting so I decided to put on a German-language movie and, at least, listen to the German voices while I sorted.  Since I knew I’d only understand only a dozen words, I would put on the English subtitles.  Netflix offered plenty of movies, but not many looked cheerful enough for this rainy Cramer Hill day.

I spied the 2015 Swiss film version of Heidi, based on the children’s book by Johanna Spryi.  The title brought me back to an illustrated version of the book that I’d loved and read many times as a kid in North Camden.   I remembered Mrs. Helen Faust, John S. Read Elementary, Grade Four,  gave me the sequel, Heidi Grows Up, on the last day of school because I had been the best speller in the class.  I hugged it that hardback book and floated home with it. (Thanks, Mrs. Faust. God bless generous, loving, thoughtful teachers.)

Fifty-seven years later, here I was, still in Camden, although in Cramer Hill, watching feisty Heidi, her aunt, her grandfather, her friends Peter and Klara appear on my TV, so familiar, long lost friends found again.

Amazingly enough, I have visited Switzerland many times because I have good friends there and so I have been blessed enough to have been to the Alps and the beautiful Swiss countryside.  Today I was experiencing Switzerland again.

I had to put down the bag of papers, half-way sorted, and let myself be drawn into the story of an orphaned child who loves the mountains  and those around her.  Those old receipts, ads and catalogs could be sorted tomorrow.

This movie made my day.  And, I even did recognize a dozen words in German.

Much love to all readers,

Marguerite (Wunsch) Ferra, Cramer Hill resident

 

PS  If you like, please follow my blog. Comments are welcome.

A happy ending to my day

September 6, 2017

Dear Readers,

I started out worrying terribly about people in the wrath of Hurricane Irma.  I forced myself to do something productive.  Set two goals, I told myself.

I’d study German and then I’d sort through a bag of papers.

My German textbook didn’t look inviting so I decided to put on a German-language movie and, at least, listen to the German voices while I sorted.  Since I knew I’d only understand only a dozen words, I would put on the English subtitles.  Netflix offered plenty of movies, but not many looked cheerful enough for this rainy Cramer Hill day.

I spied the 2015 Swiss film version of Heidi, based on the children’s book by Johanna Spryi.  The title brought me back to an illustrated version of the book that I’d loved and read many times as a kid in North Camden.   I remembered Mrs. Helen Faust, John S. Read Elementary, Grade Four,  gave me the sequel, Heidi Grows Up, on the last day of school because I had been the best speller in the class.  I hugged it that hardback book and floated home with it. (Thanks, Mrs. Faust. God bless generous, loving, thoughtful teachers.)

Fifty-seven years later, here I was, still in Camden, although in Cramer Hill, watching feisty Heidi, her aunt, her grandfather, her friends Peter and Klara appear on my TV, so familiar, long lost friends found again.

Amazingly enough, I have visited Switzerland many times because I have good friends there and so I have been blessed enough to have been to the Alps and the beautiful Swiss countryside.  Today I was experiencing Switzerland again.

I had to put down the bag of papers, half-way sorted, and let myself be drawn into the story of an orphaned child who loves the mountains  and those around her.  Those old receipts, ads and catalogs could be sorted tomorrow.

This movie made my day.  And, I even did recognize a dozen words in German.

Much love to all readers,

Marguerite (Wunsch) Ferra, Cramer Hill resident

 

PS  If you like, please follow my blog. Comments are welcome.