Dear Readers,

Did you know that the billionaire author of the Harry Potter books got her idea to write about a young wizard on a four-ride (delayed) train ride? When my daughter and son-in-law asked me to go to Washington DC to watch the baby while they attended a wedding, I thought, “I’ll take the train. Perhaps what worked for J. K. Rowling will work for me.”

I booked my trip, senior fare, business class. This weekend was my summer vacation so I decided that I could splurge on the extra twenty-five dollars to have enough leg room in business class. The Philly-DC ride is only two hours so I’d only get half of the creative thinking time needed by J.K.R. so why not maximize the time by being comfy? Business class is always somewhat quieter, too.

The “kids” were taking me home in the car so I wouldn’t have another train ride for a little while. I would take advantage of every minute in business class.

My husband, Carlos, drove me to the NJ Transit Cherry Hill station that is behind the Shop-Rite to catch the 5:42 a.m. Yes, 5:42 a.m. We got up at 4:30 a.m. from our beds in Cramer Hill to make sure that I wouldn’t miss it and I didn’t. The senior fare was $1.50. What a bargain! Sometimes it’s almost worth getting old. Almost.

That train to Philly was quiet. Passengers looked stunned that they were out of bed that early. At least, I was.

When I arrived at 30th Street Station, I felt vacation-y. You know that tired, but excited, anticipatory feeling? The woman at the tickets told me that I could catch the very next train. Business class. No extra cost. There were seats. I would not have to wait until the 8:40 a.m. train. Well, okey-dokey. I’d have more time to breakfast in Union Square, my favorite train station.

My fellow passengers and I descended into the ground via the escalator, down to the platform. We waited. And waited. And waited.

I thought about money and J. K. Rowling. Who wouldn’t like to become a billionaire? However, I did read that sometimes Ms. Rowling isn’t a full billionaire because she gives so much money to charity. That’s a problem that I wouldn’t mind.  Think of the headlines, “CAMDEN WOMAN NO LONGER BILLIONAIRE BECAUSE SHE GIVES SO MUCH TO CHARITY!”

Female passengers kept touching their hair-dos because it was warm and humid down there. The humidity overcame hair spray. ( I did notice that the men weren’t touching their heads.Most of the men were bald.  But, looking prosperous!) Luckily, I hadn’t done anything fancy—my hair-do had been the 4:30 a.m. wash and brush special.

Where was the train? I was getting bored. I tried to create a story while I surveyed the others who were waiting impatiently, but politely. People folded newspapers and tucked them under their arms, tapped feet and complained that the train was late.

A train employee strutted through groups of disgruntled passengers and shouted out, “Don’t kill the messenger. I’m only the messenger. You have to board another train because your train had a problem.”

We trooped upstairs and  looked at each other in despair, but, in a few minutes, we trooped back down to board the ACELA. The fast train. The nicest train. The most expensive train! At no extra cost and with an even earlier arrival into DC!

Oops! Less time for me to be J. K. Rowling. I knew that I would have to make the most of every minute on the train. I wasn’t going to have four hours, not even two full hours to get an idea for something to write. At least, twenty minutes less. I had to focus, focus, focus while on the train. No looking out the window, no chatting with other passengers, no thinking about possible frizzy hair.

I blissed in the ACELA silence of people working on laptops or staring into cell phones. The perfect atmosphere to get an idea.  I wondered if J. K. Rowling and I could be BFFs.

But, I felt myself blinking uncontrollably.

The next thing I knew a voice came over the speaker, “Last stop. Washington, DC.”

Take time and pet the cat

Dear Readers,

I must admit that I didn’t watch the Republican debate on TV the other other night so I thought I’d check out the highlights in the newspaper.  However, I spread the New York TImes (my weekend treat) on the table and Bello jumped on the debaters’ photos.

At about eight months old, Bello staggered around my Cramer Hill neighborhood, sick and limping.  He was all bones.  Now he’s a healthy, good-looking, beloved cat who dares to jump on my newspaper.  We’ve had him for a few years now and he enjoys a life of nice cat food, treats, medical care, two cat “sisters” and two human servants, my husband and me.

We always say he’s our most grateful Cramer Hill rescue cat.  Just think!   Our handsome boy saved me from reading about political debate, he reminded me how much he loves to be with me and he urged me to take time not to smell the roses or to read about politicians, but to take time to pet the cat.

After he raised his head for me to pet, he decided to roll over and let me rub his belly–the ultimate in cat trust.  I petted him until our dog, Finn, pranced into the room, and then he sat up and eyed his canine friend.

How could I have ever thought that cats were not as lovely as dogs?  They are, they are really lovely pets.  Pets mean extra work and they mean additional expense, but the love that can be shared between humans and pets is priceless.  I love you, Bello!

Have you ever rescued an animal and adopted it?  The shelters have many dogs and cats who need a home.  You don’t have to wait for one to walk down your back driveway and into your heart. Check out a shelter!

Love to all readers,

Marguerite (Wunsch) Ferra

Retired teacher in Cramer Hill

Funny things are everywhere?

From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.

Dr. Seuss

Dear Readers,

I have to disagree with Dr. Seuss. Funny things are not everywhere, but I wish they were. Think of the news.  Who wants to watch it before you sleep or when you wake up? Oh no. TV news stations stick in a few cheery stories to relieve the horror, but not enough to make me say that funny things are everywhere.

I woke up at 4:30 this morning—that was not funny—my dog hit me with his paw and nudged my head with his—saying he had to go out, why at that early hour? I tried to sleep after he came back in, no luck so I contemplated going downstairs for a piece of cake, but I don’t keep sweets in the house because I might eat cake at 4:30 a.m. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I looked at Facebook instead of throwing in a load of laundry, mopping the kitchen floor or paying bills. Who wouldn’t?

Funny things do appear on Facebook, I must admit.  It’s my go-to source for a laugh.

I saw a cartoon post saying something like why do people post wedding photos, but not divorce photos? I thought, “Certainly divorce photos wouldn’t be for celebration, not usually.”

However, I laughed when I read someone’s comment, When your ex says, ‘You’ll never find anyone like me.’ Well, that’s the point.”

 It’s not happy funny, but sort of funny if you’ve been divorced and heard that line….”You’ll never find anyone like me.”   That’s right.  Lucky me.

Facebook kitten, puppy and baby videos do make me laugh. Innocent, happy funny. I don’t care at all if they’re corny. Did you see the one this morning with two dogs carrying a long branch together? The branch manager and assistant branch manager?

In the early morning fog of my brain, thinking of funny, something from long ago pops up. In church at the end of the service, a new acolyte was trying to put out the last candle in the candelabra This tall boy kept trying and trying, trying to wield that long-handled candle snuffer.  From my pew,  I imagined how painful this was for him, knowing that the entire congregation was watching and hoping he could put it out so that the service would be over and they could rush home to lunch and football on TV.

He placed the candle snuffer on the remaining flame over and over again, but that little bit of fire wouldn’t go out. I agonized with him.

An older church member stood up about to try to help, but the altar boy figured out what to do. He stood on his toes and blew out the flame. Everyone laughed kindly.  Sympathy, appreciation and relief funny.

Sigh. It’s too late to try to go back to sleep. Rise and shine and I’m thinking that I should write a funny book. Someone advised that you should write the book that you want to read.  Hmm.

Anyway, funny… I do love funny stuff. Do you have any funny books to recommend? Any funny little stories to share?

Love to my readers from Cramer Hill and everywhere,

Marguerite (Wunsch) Ferra—writing from Cramer Hill and hoping for a funny (in the best way) day!

Morning dangers in Cramer Hill resident’s home

Dear Readers,

Some ex-Camdenites follow Facebook websites to reminisce, others to offer history and many to mourn that Camden is “not what it used to be.”  It’s not what it used to be.  But, it’s weird to think that everyone who lives here is constant peril.

I live in Cramer Hill–this is what happened here this morning. Assess my level of danger if you will.   I got up late and I had breakfast while my husband tried to get me to taste kefir.  His exact words, “I invite you to enjoy kefir because it’s supposed to be good for you.”   The bottle proclaimed, “1% LOWFAT CULTURED MILK.”  I do not like milk.

Because I’m so slick, I said, “I invite you to enjoy broccoli, mushrooms and cucumbers.”  He laughed because he doesn’t like any of them.

We did a few chores and then my husband left to do an errand.

I was alone in the house here in Camden.  Things did happen.  A young man knocked at the door and my dog barked ferociously at him.  What did this stranger want?  “I’m selling cakes for my church.”

Uh, no thanks.  I pulled the dog away.  After all, the young guy was only selling cakes and not chocolate-covered raisins.  (Inside joke–my dog had gotten very sick with them recently.)

That harrowing adventure over, I poured myself a Coca-cola (the soft drink, not the bad coke) and had opened the New York Times Book Review that arrives at my house on Saturday mornings.  I thought it frightening because I found two dark memoirs (at least) that I will order–another blow to my pocketbook. In case you’re interested:   Bastards by Mary Anna King–the story of a young girl in South Jersey who watches her parents give away her siblings for adoption and then she is sent away at seven… and then Whipping Boy, The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully–the story of a man who tracks down his childhood bully and reunites with him via social media.

The danger continued as I found one more book to order:  Death in Brittany by Jean-Luc Bannalec, a whodunit set in France.  I love books set in France. I studied French in college and I feel justified that I studied it when I recognize French words thrown in books–Merci beaucoup!  Ou sont les toilettes?  Ooh la la!

I was saved from penury by our big sweetie Camden cat, Bello, who jumped on the table and spread out on the book review and, valiantly,  he would not budge.  Bello to the rescue!  My bank account thanks him.

Now my Camden morning is over.  Who knows what might happen next?  Whoa….   Here’s what is happening–up to the minute news!  My dog runs to pick up his favorite toy from Halloween, an orange and black braid.  I guess he wants to be ready to smack any intruder with it?

Okay, okay.  I know there are bad things happening in Camden, but, NOT EVERY DAY…  Sometimes it’s just plain peaceful.

Love to all my readers,

Marguerite Ferra, Cramer Hill resident

Part Two: Finn survives Raisinettes…whew!

Dear Readers,

If you read yesterday’s blog, you learned that my dog, Finn, ate about eighty-ninety Raisinettes.  POISON for dogs–chocolate and raisins on Friday night.  However, after a call to Poison Control, four visits to emergency hospitals, tons of maternal guilt, no sleep, lots of anxiety and lots of money, we now know he is going to be fine–his many blood tests reveal that his levels for kidney and pancreas are fine. We are one happy Cramer Hill family!

Finn seemed to be improving early evening yesterday and we brought him home feeling relieved.  Our one-year-old canine son slept immediately.  About five a.m. he crawled to my face and asked to snuggle under the light cotton quilt.  “Of course,” and I lifted up the quilt.  I petted him sleepily.

All at once he stood up and threw up…ALERT–-it’s not going to be pretty—he threw up on the quilt, the pillow, my shirt, my neck and—believe it or not, my face and my hair.

My husband took him outside and then reported that the dog was perky.  Nonperky me was taking a bath and was shampooing my hair like crazy.  I worried that he was starting to have kidney problems. Vomiting is a bad sign in this poisonous chocolate/raisin situation. (I had researched this online.)

We threw on clothing and drove to the Mount Laurel Emergency Animal Hospital.  Concerned, they ran two important tests and we waited for the results.  My husband took Finn outside during part of the waiting time and Carlos reported that he had to bring Finn back inside the hospital because Finn saw goose poop and was too, too interested in it.  “It must look like Raisinettes,” I said, wearily raising my now clean eyebrows.

The vet said that Finn’s levels were good.  Our boy could have had damage to kidneys and pancreas.   Whew.  However, he has gastritis and he has  been stressed.  Now Finn is enjoying a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice.

He’s tired, but regaining his wild and crazy self.  He chased our cat, Bello, already–Bello had committed the ultimate sin of washing his paws in Finn’s water bowl.  Finn barked at a bird.  He went crazy with joy when my husband returned from an errand.

A happy ending…  but the morale of this story is please, please, please—never leave chocolates or raisins near a dog.  Nor grapes!  Nor garlic, nor onions, nor avocados, nor alcohol!  If you have a dog, look up foods that are poisonous to dogs.

Thanks to all who expressed concern for him.  We love our dogs, don’t we?

Love from

Marguerite Ferra, very tired and relieved dog owner/dog mom in Cramer Hill

BEWARE—— Raisinettes can lead to canine emergency

Dear Readers,


On Friday night about eight, I sat on the bed with my laptop and a bag of dark chocolate Raisinettes with maybe a palmfull left. Our dog, Finn, wasn’t in the bedroom.  I got up to remind my husband who was in his office that we had planned to spruce up the house on Saturday morning.  After a minute or two of conversation, I returned to find Finn on the bed with the bag of Raisinettes.  There were only a few left.  He raised his eyes guiltily.

I freaked out.  Chocolate is bad for dog and raisins worse.  I knew our vet was closed.  I called the ASPCA Poison Control and they answered promptly after getting my credit card number.  We followed their advice–my husband drove to Walgreen’s to buy the three-percent hydrogen peroxide.

Finn took it and  ALERT…it’s going to be gross….vomited and we counted the times (two) and the number of Raisinettes (seventy) and reported by to Poison Control.  They advised us to take him to an emergency hospital immediately.  He vomited again  (twelve more)…

Off we went to the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital in the dark and we drove past it twice.   Finn freaked out and barked at everyone in the hospital.  The number of emergency patients grew and grew.  We waited and waited in an area away from other patients since Finn’s barking didn’t help other pets and their owners.

We almost cried, too, when we saw a young couple come in with their big beautiful dog and they had to leave crying without their dog.  We didn’t know what happened, but the dog seemed to be only a few years old. I saw staff run fast to the back and some hours later, they apologized for our wait and wore sad faces.

The TV on the wall showed the same NBC special over and over–about life in various American prisons.  We ended up watching that nasty show for hours.

The doctor gave him sedatives.  Finn received fluids.  They took a blood test to make sure he wasn’t going into kidney failure. They injected him with something to counteract the sedative.  He wasn’t happy, poor boy.

We drove away at daylight and were scheduled to go back in the afternoon.

Too tired to face Philadelphia traffic, we took Finn to the Mount Laurel Animal Emergency Hospital that afternoon. (Saturday!) He again received fluids and a blood test, but was calm at this hospital, no sedatives needed.  We left Mount Laurel for Camden and couldn’t decide if we were more tired or more hungry. Since we couldn’t sleep in the car, we stopped at a McDonald’s drive-through.

Finn is scheduled for another blood test at six p.m. today at Mount Laurel to check his kidney levels.  (I forget the right word–but they must make sure that the raisins didn’t affect his kidneys.)  He’s exhausted and we’re exhausted, too.   However, our boy was lucky to get excellent medical care, no matter how scary or awkward it was for him.

We hope that this test will be normal (the others were in the normal range, but they must test for a few days) and that this little nightmare will be over.

So, please, beware of chocolate and raisins if you have a dog.  I feel guilty about my moment of carelessness and I’m thankful that he will be okay (hopefully, please, dear God) because we love him so much.

Marguerite Ferra, writing guiltily and tired from Cramer Hill

45 years ago? Cramer Hill girl gets on plane

No! It Can’t Be Forty-Five Years Ago!

Dear Readers,

I can’t remember where my keys are, but I remember July 10th is the anniversary of my first plane ride, my first trip to Europe and my first time to live abroad. I found out how terrible my French was! I had the time of my life—a naïve Cramer Hill girl in Europe with the hugest suitcase packed with new clothing, billion-page French-English dictionary and letter paper.

About twenty French students from Rutgers University, Camden, traveled with Madame Alminde and her husband and little son, Russell.  (If you read this somehow, Madame Alminde, I hope that I didn’t give you any gray hair.)  With them, I saw the Alps!  Swiss lakes!  Bluest skies!   Switzerland!  Italy!  France!

I thought that I’d return to Europe often, never thinking that the U.S. dollar wouldn’t always be spectacular, never thinking that life would get responsible, never thinking that I’d get older and never imagining that even summer weeks abroad weren’t going to happen again.  Who would believe that I’d be sixty-five and not wear mini-skirts and not have long hair?

Those six weeks in Lausanne, Switzerland in the Hotel Alpha-Palmiers with my roommates, Sue, Linda and Bonnie, remain among favorite memories. Then, there was a week in France—definitely another favorite memory when I traveled a bit with a French friend.

Sue and I took a day off from our studies at the University of Lausanne to fly to Rome—what jet-setters we were!  (Think–the USD was fabulous then.)   Trudy, Linda and Zana took sidetrips, too, perhaps to Venice? It was a time when the world (at least, I thought so) was safe and all people were good.

The music! of 1970! The Simon and Garfunkel hit, El Condor Pasa, makes me think of the beautiful voice of my roommate, Linda, and how she sang it as we walked to our hotel from a night in a little café. The Beatles’ song, Good Night, brings back an evening in a little disco down the street where we danced innocently with our American and international friends.

I couldn’t imagine then what a pure and lovely time that was and would never be duplicated. We had time to enjoy every moment with friends with no distractions. No one was checking a cell phone or talking on a cell phone. I don’t think that I used a phone once. Letters, however, were important, though. Paper and pen! Stamps and envelopes! Retro, right?

We met kids from all over the world and one of our Swiss friends, Bruno, and his lovely girlfriend, Ruth, have remained my friends. They married and had two daughters. They’ve visited me here in Camden, New Jersey and we’ve stayed with them in Widen, Switzerland. (Widen is nicer—by far!)   We’ve traveled with them here in the USA and Canada so our daughters know each other. We exchange photos of our grandchildren.

Our friend, Stanley Straiges, was on that trip and he was a wonderful part of that summer. He passed away about twenty years ago. I can’t neglect mentioning his name because he made those weeks even more fun with his ready smile and sense of humor.  Like many of us, he became a teacher and he was beloved in his schools in Camden.  The best friend that anyone could want… Miss you, Stan.

I don’t have one of my own photos to post—I had everything in slides. I should go down to the basement and see if I can find one of those slide carousels to see if the slides have survived the decades.  Again, retro…

How blessed I was to have that opportunity. I took a student loan to have that trip and it was the best money that I ever spent. I wish every Camden kid could have that experience.

I don’t know how much French I learned, but I made memories that remain after forty-five years.  Here I am, smiling and smiling, just thinking about that sortie out of Camden and to Lausanne.

AND!!!!!!! Happy Birthday, Linda. How cool it was that we made that trip on your 20th birthday.

Love from Cramer Hill

Enjoying my memories and thinking of dear friends today

Marguerite Wunsch Ferra

Happy rescue animals in Cramer Hill, Finn and Bello

Dear Readers,

This morning I watched our one-year-old, Finn Sint Maarten Ferra, reach his head to my husband to ask him to be combed longer.  I couldn’t help smiling how “spoiled” our dog is and how happy he is.  Carlos combed every inch of his wirywhite coat that’s punctuated with big splotches of black and small spots of beige on his face — Finn was loving it.  Who was happiest, Carlos, the dog or me?

Finn was once a feral puppy on the island of Sint Maarten.  Now?  He’s a prince, Fresh Prince of Cramer Hill.

Bello, our largest cat, sat and watched from his place on my newspaper on the kitchen table. He rolled over to ask me to rub his belly.  He wasn’t always “bello”—poor boy could have been named “Feo” (ugly) because when we rescued from our Cramer Hill driveway one summer, he was long, filthy, sick and a skeleton covered with hair.  Now after medical care and lots of love, he is beautiful like his name.

Bello came back to life, but he wasn’t as gentle and sweet as I had hoped.   It’s not easy to change from big street boy to big house boy–he had been aggressive to the other two cats. It took years for him to let his sweetness emerge.  I worried how he would accept Finn when we adopted our puppy last October.  Finn and Bello had their moments, but now sniff each other and bat each other playfully.  He knows Finn is afraid of the smooth tile floor in the bathroom so he often lies there and smirks at the dog who stares at him from the hallway, hoping to play.  They often nap together.

Now Finn has gone upstairs to lie on the queen bed.  Getting combed is exhausting.  Bello is sleeping on the newspaper without worrying that I might want to read it.  He’s that secure.  “She can read it when I get up,” he thinks.

Ah, to be these two spoiled pets!

Love from Marguerite Ferra, Cramer Hill, who also has two other cats–stories for another blog

How do you feel when you get a card in the mail? Not from the bill collector!

Dear Readers,

In my post-retirement bliss, I am going through drawers and finding greeting cards and notes that I saved.  They still bring a smile to my face and they make me wince thinking of the cards and notes that I’ve thrown away over the years when trying to declutter.  Believe me, by the time you’re sixty-five and you’ve taught school, you’ve received lots of cards and notes.  Now I wish that I’d saved every one.

Then, hey!  Someone else was thinking about cards.  I enjoyed Bruce Jay Smith’s Facebook post in Camden, NJ — Yours and Mine that showed  greeting cards sent and received in Camden in 1938 and he mentioned how it felt to choose a card from that best expressed how he felt.  I recognized that feeling. Thanks, Bruce. His post inspired this blog and it made me think–yes, e-mail cards and Facebook greetings are fun, but it is lovely to get a real card.

I can’t forget the card that my Wiggins College Preparatory Lab School ESL elementary students sent me when I spent a month home with double pneumonia.  I felt like a wet rag. I could barely crawl up the steps to the bathroom.  It hurt to breathe.  I wondered if I was dying.  Books, newspapers, food, the Internet, not even the medicine, nothing seemed to relieve my misery for a minute.  However, the big flowery card with their little signatures made me feel like a human, a loved one! I looked at that card three or four times a day until I went back to work.

Holiday cards!  I love them, too.  All of them. The religious and the secular.  The Madonna and child Christmas cards, the snowman winter season cards,  the menorah Hanukah cards, the mushy red heart Valentine’s Day cards, the flowery Easter cards, the heartfelt Mother’s Day cards, the sporty Father’s Day cards, cards with cornucopias spilling with fruits and vegetables at Thanksgiving–you name it.  I love to send them and I love to receive them.  People grumble about the cost of stamps, but I don’t care because I want someone to have the joy of going to the mailbox and find a handwritten envelope with a card that’s been especially chosen and sent for that person.

So many cards, so little time to buy and send them all!

And notes..  I so regret all the notes that I chucked from school kids.  I kept only a few.  A few friends still send cards with notes and I treasure them.  I regret that I haven’t kept them all.

Hmm.  I’m inspiring myself to send cards this week to surprise friends that I haven’t seen for a long time, but still keep close to my heart.  Do you know someone that you’d like to surprise with a greeting card?  Sentimental, encouraging, funny?  Oh, the funny cards–they’re stupendous.  You’ll have a lot of fun looking at the cards in the humorous section!

Do you keep all your cards and notes?  Was there a card or a note that you received that you’ll never forget?  Let me know.

Love from Marguerite Ferra, Cramer Hill

thinking about the newspaper…from Cramer Hill

July 3, 2015

Dear Readers,

It’s a sweet morning in Cramer Hill.  Birds are singing and are making a racket.. Everyone in my neighborhood is off to work or in the house doing chores. No one is cutting grass yet.

My husband went out for a bit and I’m home alone with Finn, my Sint Maarten dog. I had to throw his plastic hot dog in a roll for about twenty minutes, but he’s about a year old and lively. I have to indulge my funny boy even on this peaceful morning.

I get the weekend New York Times delivered and, oh boy, it’s here!

I love to slide the paper from its plastic wrap and to check the front page headlines. Sometimes, I regret looking at the headlines, but today’s front page is fairly cheerful.    At least, I’m only going to check out the cheerful news: young people on the A train headed to the beach for the Independence Day weekend, the new book by Harper Lee coming out, Katy Perry, two nuns and a developer walk into a real estate deal…   I’ll ignore the rest.

How about you? Do you like to open a real newspaper? Hold it out wide? Hear the sound as you turn the pages or fold it?   Mmmmmm.   Delicious.

My parents loved reading the paper and they did the crossword puzzles. I didn’t realize that they were teaching us that reading the paper and playing with words provide enjoyment. They never said it and probably never realized it.

Reading a newspaper makes me recall getting the Sunday papers for my mom and dad.   After Sunday School and services at State Street Methodist Church, my brother, Bill, and I walked to Frank’s Pharmacy at 5th and York Streets in North Camden. We bought the fat Philadelphia Bulletin and Philadelphia Inquirer. Twenty cents each for the papers. Five cents each for candy.. Oh, the joy! Hershey Bar? Good ‘N Plenty? Bonomo Taffy? This was the fifties, in case you think I’m kidding.

After we changed our clothing, we’d dive into the pages and pages of comics—Prince Valiant, Dagwood, Snoopy. And, Dick Tracy, Lil Abner, Family Circle.

Did you have a favorite? How about Little Nancy?

I liked the magazines included in the Sunday papers and as a little girl read articles intended for adults. Some were light entertainment pieces and others serious.   I can’t forget the time that I was lying on the itchy wool rug in our living room and reading about Adolf Eichmann and the atrocities of the Holocaust. I had to be about ten years old and I felt sick with horror on that summer day.

Sunday papers made for leisurely Sundays with homemade ice tea, both in North Camden and Cramer Hill.  I didn’t know how lovely they were.

The morning is flying by so I better say good-bye now and grab my opportunity to read the paper.

Thanks to my readers who comment. It’s great to hear from you. You can follow my blog if you wish. There’s a little place to press that says FOLLOW.

Have a great day!

Love from Cramer Hill….

Marguerite Ferra

A Camden man remembered…Happy Birthday, Dad…

Dear Readers,

I kept thinking all month, “I have to get Dad a birthday card,” but then I remembered that he was gone. He always liked cards with a boat or a fisherman or a lighthouse. He loved the Jersey shore.

Today is his birthday and he would have been ninety-five if he had lived twelve more years.

My dad, Bill Wunsch, Sr., was a Camden guy. He was born here, went to school here, married here, worked mostly here, raised three kids here and died here.

He served in the CCC’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps where he fought forest fires in Montana. Then, he again served his country in World War II, laid cable for radar in New Guinea jungle. He came back home to North Camden with his hair blond from the sun and his skin yellow from malaria, my mother told us.

Dad worked at Magnetic Metals in Cramer Hill and he retired from there. He worked in annealing and then in shipping. He left early for work, about an extra half hour, because he never wanted to be late. My mom did the same when she worked for Bell Telephone.

My mom is ninety, ninety-one in September. She’s napping in the next room of this brick split-level row house that they bought, brand-new, in Cramer Hill in 1961 How proud my dad and mom were! We left our tiny row house in North Camden for the big time.

No one here has mentioned Dad’s birthday. Maybe they forgot or they just don’t want to mention it and upset my mother. She took good care of him when he got Alzheimer’s—he called it “Old-Timers.” He used to say, “I can’t remember that—you know that I’ve got that “Old-Timers.”

Sometimes I remember the evening he was at my house next door, petting my cats who always ran to him and jumped in his lap. My Rottweiler-Shepherd, Cookie, tried to get on the sofa, too, and nudge off cats to sit on his lap. “They all love me so much, I think, that they’re jealous,” he said and grinned.

He also told me that night, out of the blue, and he was a man who didn’t say much about feelings, that he loved my mom and didn’t want her to die. He added that he didn’t want to die, either. He died three weeks later in the hospital.

Aw, Dad. I miss you. Happy Birthday! Maybe you’re fishing in heaven.

The working life/retirement/surprises from a Cramer Hill “girl”

Dear Readers,

When I first retired, I thought that I’d be so lazy, so justly lazy, so righteously lazy. Can you imagine—unplanned days? No specific time to wake up? Hardest part of the day to decide how many minutes to browse Facebook?  And, I was lazy. I reveled in L-A-Z-Y! Ahhhh! Why not? I’d been working since fourteen when Woolworth’s employed me as a counter girl at their place at 26th and Federal Streets in East Camden.

1964…old enough for working papers…I thought that I’d died and gone to heaven. Minimum wage ($1.65 an hour) AND tips. Discount on everything in the store AND a free lunch or dinner if you worked enough hours that day or night. I wince thinking about how many deluxe cheeseburgers with fries and root beer floats I consumed.

The turquoise polyester waitress uniform, thick white waitress shoes and “blonde” hairnet must have been an attractive outfit, but I didn’t care. I gave twelve dollars to my mom and the rest was all for me. On payday, I bought a little toy for my brother, Kenny, and something for my cousins, Annie and Vera. I had money to buy that thick Seventeen magazine once a month and a little cake of Maybelline mascara. What fun to be extravagant!

On Friday nights I trudged home alone across the 27th Street Bridge that divided East Camden from Cramer Hill, feet throbbing in my chocolate syrup stained waitress shoes, uniform smelling of grill grease and hair free of that nasty hair net.   No danger. Although once I saw the man who walked backwards, Theodore, and I ran the rest of the way home. (He didn’t even see me, nor would he have bothered me.)

I didn’t work every night, but I was no slacker. My neighbors loved their bingo and I babysat for many kids in the Anthony Park Townhouses where I lived. No time to get in trouble, but not a lot of leisure time…

I worked until I was sixty-four. Fifty years of working. Let me clarify that I didn’t work forever at Woolworth’s. That store isn’t even there anymore. I ended up teaching English as a Second Language.

Now I am retired–it’s been a year–and retirement seemed heavenly. I had so many plans for myself, some practical, some that now seem ridiculous. But, life intervenes and now I’m busy again. I poured out some of those bucket list wishes into the backyard drain.

My mom lives next door with my brothers and she is ninety. It only makes sense that I need to help more and more. Duh. I didn’t expect my mother to get “old.” She was driving five years ago and she, not long ago, was insisting on doing my brothers’ laundry, reading the Courier-Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Wall Street Journal and sometimes USA TODAY. But, surprise! now Mom is really “old.”   No more driving to the malls, no more folding my brothers’ jeans, reading only one newspaper a day…  Now we take care of her every need, but she’s happy to be in her home with family.

Bam! More life happened. Two months ago, my daughter, Kim, and her husband, Lon, had a baby girl. Aw. Surprise! Youngster me is a grandmother!

What can I say? I’m in love, a sappy, silly, slobbering grandmother. I have to see little Nora as much as I can. Being a grandmother is a kind of joy that others professed and I secretly wondered at their excess of happiness.

Now I get it. I’m like Frank Barone on the TV show, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND—I love that baby smell, the one that Frank called “the fountain of youth.” I can’t stay away from that beautiful baby. Who needs to lie in bed with a Kindle, eat fig bars and drink coffee? Let me get in the car and go see my girl! She’s smiling and almost rolling over. She’s a grandmother magnet.

Life is whizzing by again. Those lazy days at the beginning of my retirement are but a dream. However, I know that I’m blessed and I am so happy that I’ll never have to wear a turquoise waitress uniform, waitress shoes or a hairnet again.

Unless life wants to surprise me again?

Remembering Rose from sewing class–Veterans Memorial Junior High School

Dear Readers,

Frankly, I hadn’t seen Rose since graduation, but I remembered her well and liked her Facebook posts–family photos, support for the police and military and funny cartoons.  We wished each other Happy Birthday on Facebook and knew each other as adults through Facebook.  Some months ago, someone put up a photo of Rose with two friends–perhaps taken during our days at Woodrow Wilson High.  What a lovely girl with a shy, sweet smile and beautiful, long-lashed eyes and she spoke with a low voice–I think that she sang as an alto in Girls Chorus in junior high.

I’m sorting through the billions of faint and assorted memories of sixty-five years and one that comes up is Rose joking in sewing class at Veterans Memorial Junior High in Cramer Hill.  There were never enough machines that worked so the girls waiting for machines would do homework, chat or play hangman.  I remember waiting with Rose and a few other girls and laughing at her jokes. We enjoyed her dry sense of humor–what we laughed about, I can’t remember.  However, I remember her as a girl greatly liked by friends.

Rest in peace, Rose.  Sincere condolences to your family and all who loved you.

Marguerite Ferra, Veterans Memorial Junior High and Woodrow Wilson High, Camden, NJ

Did you sing, “Oo ee oo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang!” Witch Doctor song 1958

Dear Readers,

When you try to make a baby laugh, do you sing?  I forgot that I had sung the witch doctor song, “Oo ee oo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang!” to my daughter long ago. But, when I sang it to my two-month-old granddaughter the other day, my daughter chimed in.  I knew she had to learn the song from me because…..where else?  “Oo ee oo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang”  came from my childhood in North Camden.

Kim and I sang it to Nora and my son-in-law laughed. Sometimes those fun moments pop up out of nowhere.

I looked up the song on YouTube and Wikipedia..  This funny, speeded-up song came out in 1958 which seemed right because I remember listening to it in a neighbor’s living room on Grant Street in North Camden when I was eight.  The teen-age girl who owned the record played it several times for her brother and sisters and I memorized the words on one of those aimless summer nights where kids hung out with neighbor kids.

Funny what you remember and unwittingly pass down.  Maybe Nora will sing , “Oo ee oo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang!” to a baby one day?

Do you know this song?

Home in Cramer Hill with Finn

Dear Readers,

My plan to go out with my daughter and granddaughter changed this a.m. and so I’m home in Cramer Hill with Finn and the cats.  Why, I’ll write my blog, I thought. Perfect block of writing time has popped up.

Oh no.  Not if Finn and his tennis ball are here.

Okay, okay.  I toss the ball a million times and he catches it about half a million times.  When it rolls under my chair, Finn looks at it sadly and then he looks at me sadly.  Hint, hint.  He wants me to get it.  Okay, okay.  What could be happier than a young dog catching a tennis ball or making his mom retrieve it?

He tires of the game. Time to go out, Mom.  Okay, okay.  I snap on his leash and we go out front to our tiny row house front yard with the grass that needs more water.  Finn promptly lies down and looks at me as if to say, “Why don’t you lie on the grass and roll around for a while, too?”

I feel tempted to roll around on the grass with him.  It IS spring, after all.  It might be fun. A strong breeze blows today’s pollen explosion and I cough and I sneeze.  Hmm.  Better not.  I turn down Finn’s request and we walk down my street for a bit of exercise and for Finn to do his thing.

We get back to our front yard and Finn plops down.  Okay, okay.  I sit on the step and soak up some rays and probably a lot of pollen.  I hear three or four different bird calls and I regret that I can’t recognize them.  I’d fantasized studying birds in my retirement, but that fantasy went the way of auditing classes at Rutgers, three-day-reading-in-bed-marathons and becoming a perfect sixty-five-year-old woman.  A ninety-year-old mom and a six-week-old granddaughter are taking precedence.  I do recognize a hawk swooping through the Cramer Hill skies, though, and I observe sparrows and a robin hopping around on the grass.  It’s a start.  Birds 101?

Finn and I are back in the kitchen.  He’s taking a well-earned nap from the tennis ball, lying on the grass and taking a walk.  I should write my blog–oops, I did!

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

One of those Camden days that I’ll never forget!

Dear Readers,

Yesterday I burst with pride when Frantz Lozier received his diploma at Rutgers Camden, my alma mater.  I met Frantz when he came to “the refugee office” at Catholic Community Services about twenty years ago and he was only five.  I asked if I could take Frantz and his friend, Souvenir, to lunch and we bonded over hoagies.  They spoke Haitian Creole and I spoke a bit of French and we managed happily.

It’s been a blessing that I have been able to follow the lives of many of my students and to share in their success stories.

How wonderful that Marc Henry Monace, another childhood friend of Frantz, drove from North Carolina to witness his friend’s graduation!  Marc Henry and Frantz drove me back to my daughter’s home to say hello. The three of them , Kim, Frantz and Marc Henry, had spent many years together in church and in the GLEAM program.  They admired my granddaughter and regretted having to leave before their old friend, Kim’s husband,  Lon, got back from work.

Ah, to be with the kids that you love!  All grown-up and doing well!  Cheers to Camden kids.

First spring of retirement, my granddaughter and do you want to write, too?

Dear Readers,

Oops, I almost wrote “Dear Retirement,”—seriously.  I guess that’s what is on my mind this cold spring day in Cramer Hill.

It’s my first spring as a retiree.  How very, very, very nice to miss all the frantic school teacher spring of testing, testing and more testing and paperwork, paperwork and more  paperwork.  I do miss the kids, but…

Perhaps retirement will become old hat to me next year.  But, so far, it’s a year of “firsts”—first fall of getting up late, first winter of not driving to work in the snow, first spring of not dreading all the testing in the school.  Can you guess that I feel that all the testing is excessive?


The best first is my granddaughter.  Yesterday she took her first trip to Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Cherry Hill, an establishment that has been kept going financially because of my support.  (Kidding, almost.) Little Nora enjoyed being pushed around the aisles of books by her mom while I enjoyed looking at the books and buying a few.  My favorite one that I bought?  Memoir Writing for Dummies.

No, I don’t know the author, Ryan G. Van Cleave…  It’s just a good book and it’s NOT for dummies.  How can you be a dummy if you want to learn how to do something?  How can you be a dummy if you want to write?  How can you be a dummy if you write?


By the way, dear readers, I facilitate a writing workshop, Woodland Writers, and I have openings.  We have a friendly, generous and interesting group of people.  Look up my website:   Let me know if you are interested.  We have all levels of writing experience and every one’s efforts are valued and appreciated. You would be welcomed!

Haven’t you thought about writing about your grandmother, your trip to the Grand Canyon, your bunion operation, your best friend who lives on Mars or your childhood in Camden?  Or, your childhood anywhere?  Childhood stories are great.

Speaking of firsts, the first time I joined a writing workshop, I was terrified, but figured that I could only improve and I did.  I enjoyed it so much that it became one of the best parts of my life.  I learned that there was nothing to fear, especially in a group that uses the Amherst Writers & Artists philosophy that supports and encourages writers.  No terror involved!  Woodland Writers uses this method of workshop writing and it provides a comfortable experience for all.


So–I’m going to put on some socks  (brr!  and this is May?)  and go to see my granddaughter.  It’s a fine day here in Cramer Hill and it’s especially fine because it’s my first spring of retirement.  Can you believe that I worried that I might be bored?  Ha ha.  Not for a minute.

What? My 1973 Orange AMC Gremlin one of the top ten ugliest?

Dear Readers,

I bet you remember your first car.   Kind of like your first love?

Mine was an orange AMC Gremlin, a ’73, brand-new, a bit over $2,000.  I recall walking around the car lot with people who would become my ex and ex-in-laws and I was  feeling frustrated that everyone, except me, was deciding what should be my first car.  Choosing my first set of wheels was proving no fun.

One person pointed at the orange Gremlin and said, “I never saw a car as ugly as that one.”

Tired of everyone’s input, I bought it.  I didn’t even like bright orange.  I was twenty-three and completely stupid, not just about cars, but certainly about cars.

When I saw this car on a top ten list of ugliest cars on Facebook today, I laughed.  It might have been ugly, but among the ugliest?  That was harsh.   I researched the Gremlin online and, indeed, it appeared on SEVERAL lists of the ugliest cars.  My poor Gremlin.

That homely compact  lasted me a long time and gave me few problems.  I learned to drive all over North Jersey and Central Jersey in it  (Route One!) and I commuted to Princeton University’s Firestone Library in it.  I even had it when I lived in Central Pennsylvania and during the year when there was a gas shortage and I lined up for an hour to get five dollars worth of gasoline.  It proved to be my car during the time that I didn’t live in Camden.

I didn’t think it was super ugly, but kind of sporty in its own way.  I never imagined that forty-two years later that it would pop up on lists of the most ugly.