Yes, I’m still Here

No worries, I’m still here. A busy part of the school year has taken my energy and time.  I have gotten back into my exercising.

This was an important part of our growing up. When I first came to Basking Ridge, Judy noticed that just climbing the stairs took my breath away. So, she encouraged me to ride my bike more and be a part of a soccer team. It took a season or two but she noticed a difference. I could run the field without collapsing. I really enjoyed my bike riding.

Now, 30 years later, I find myself out of breath at the end of every winter. So when the weather is not too cold and not too hot, I get on my bike and go 1-3 miles. in a couple of weeks I can run down the cause way without being too winded. It’s also good exercise for my knees.

Then, at night and in the morning I do a few reps with my 10 lb dumb bell. I started at 5 curls for 3 days then 8 for 3 more days until I now do 10 curls two times a day, plus 8 – 10 push ups and stretching. All of this takes less than 20 min. It’s great.

So, we can all learn from our child hood on how to take care of ourselves in our adulthood. 


New Traditions: What Is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day can be defined as a day established for people to remember significant people or events. We inherit memories of people and events that effect us as individuals, families, and as a country.

Memories can be foggy

Memories can be foggy

As a country we remember the military who sacrificed their lives in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WW 1, WW2, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and of course the most recent war in the Middle East. What we forget are the little “battles” and assignments that military personal still have to do such as “man” the bases we create after a war. There may not be any physical battles in Germany or Australia but ask any military personnel and they will tell you they are fighting to learn how to be better soldiers. They are learning from the soldiers that fought in the previous wars. That is their “inheritance”.

My family showed me the other meaning of this patriotic day. Just remembering significant people. People who have lived before us who meant something to us or to people we love.

Before I went to live with the cousins, the only holidays that I paid attention to were Christmas and Easter. Those were the two holidays I went to visit with my brothers and my other Grandmother and my Dad. This family was different. Almost every holiday meant a family gathering of some sort. Christmas was a two day event, starting at one house for Christmas Eve, then Christmas day was our house for brunch then Eleonore’s house for caroling and dinner. By the time I was 11 I started calling Eleonore, Grandmother and Ed, Grandfather.  I know it seems confusing to an outsider looking in but when you have lived it, it makes sense.

Memorial Day was celebrated in another family gathering. The whole family, Grandmother, Grandfather, Leslie’s family, Nancy’s family, and the 6 of us, all met at the local nursery and picked out plants. They would be planted at the graves of family members. At 11 I thought this was neat. We went to Grandfather’s family’s graves and planted some things. Then we all went to  Grandmother’s parents’ grave (If you have been following the family tree, Anne and John Becker) and planted some flowers there. Afterward, all 15 of us went to a local restaurant for lunch. I liked this new tradition I was learning about. I looked forward to Memorial Day every year from then on. This was our inheritance. To pay respect to the people in our family who came before us and taught us how to pray, live, work, and play.

So, as some may look at Memorial Day as a somber day of remembering our military, or as a day to party, maybe you can look at it differently too. Maybe you can start a new tradition for you and your children. Plant some plants to honor your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, great grandparents, etc…. and show your children that memorial doesn’t always have to be sad. Memorial Day is a day to show respect of the memories of other people, who have come before us to “blaze a trail” of faith, peace, love and hope. That is our inheritance which is valued as priceless.

Life's Eternal Voyage

Life’s Eternal Voyage

Life at 10

In the fall of 1979 my grandmother died. My Grandfather was beside himself with grief. My 2nd cousin Charlie. She came 40 minutes to help everyday. In June, I had just finished 4th grade and my brother was graduating High School. My Grandfathers ulcer was acting up a lot. A few days after my brother’s graduation my grandfather took us out to lunch. That night my grandfather was in a lot of pain. We called Charlie who called the Dr. who told her to get him to a hospital. After getting him there, she took me home to pack a bag for a number of days. I stayed with her for one night. She had called Eleonore and Leslie to come and get me. I was to stay with Leslie’s family until my grandfather got better or Judy’s family came back. I had a good time. They had a pool table and a pin ball machine in their basement. For Sally’s birthday, we went roller skating. I had never been before. That night I was in bed, thanking God for a great day and praying that my grandfather would be better. I was just dozing off when I heard the phone ring and I had the feeling it was Charlie. I was too tired to stay awake. The next day we went to church and Judy’s family was there too. After church we all went back to Leslie’s house. The adults took me in the back yard and told me that my grandfather was gone. I didn’t want to believe it. I kept shaking my head. Judy kept me focused and asked where  or who I wanted to stay with. I knew I had to obey my grandfather and go with Judy. So that’s how it all started. 

As I said before, It must have been a huge challenge for Judy and her family. Taking in a child with unseen problems is always a challenge.  Aunt Judy says I was worth it. 

So, my 10th year on this Earth I had lost my grandfather, moved away from my biological brothers, moved in with 3 boys and parents that had rules and expected you to study and do homework.  I saw a psychologist who said I was surprisingly fine, and the school test givers who just kept testing me.  I was given some clothes by a family friend and there was a t-shirt that summed my life and attitude up, “Keep on Truck’n”. 

And so I have and will with God’s help.


Dad’s Side of the Family

On my Dad’s side of the family there were the Lloyd s and the Gardiners.  The Lloyds came from Wales in the 1600’s and settled in the state of Delaware. In my research I discovered a Frank Lloyd who was a Lawyer, a judge, a high circuit judge. I discovered Agustus (Gus) Lloyd who had a pharmacy in Bound Brook, NJ. Found out my Nana’s parents owned a farm down in Woodbury Heights, NJ. 

As for Papa’s family, that has taken me years to discover. I did find out that Papa’s Father was born out of wedlock and back in the 1800’s  and early 1900’s that was not a good thing. Anyway Papa’s father grew up with his grandparents. Then became part of the military and after marrying they moved around a lot. This is where I found out that my Papa was born in Kentucky.  Not sure how he and my Nana met. I do know that they had my dad and my Uncle Lynn. Yes I do have some 1st cousins. They are the only 1st cousins I have. Wendy was the eldest and the 1st to run off to the west and change religions. Scott was next and then Vicki.

The Gardiner family was not very close. My brothers lived with my Nana but my Uncle Lynn just wasn’t a close man. We saw them at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. 

So, that’s the family history. 

See you tomorrow for the next installment on my life in Basking Ridge.

Family Trees

I would like to make a clear picture of the branches of our 500 year old family tree. Of course you are all welcome to click on “Family Tree” on the menu and then to the Gardiner family tree. 

I learned about my maternal family through my grandmother then later I found out more and more through my cousins. I found out about my Dad’s family a little through my Nana and then the rest on my own. 

Let’s start with my mother’s side of the family. My Grandmother’s parents came to America from Germany in 1875. They married in Newark, NJ. My Great-Grandaddy was a gemmist and Great Grossmama was the daughter of  Pastor Khuenle (pronounced keenly) of the the Presbyterian church in Newark. Meanwhile, my Grandfather’s family who were Jewish, immigrated from Austria, just a couple decades before Hitler was about to have his “fun”.  Nettie and Adolf Sheps had 3 children, Abraham John (my grandfather who went by John A.), Mildred (Aunt Millie), and Louis (Uncle Lou).  So my Grossmama, Rose Wiess, was the youngest of 8 children. There was Aunt Lilly, the opera singer, and Aunt Polly, Aunt Anne, Aunt Motty, and Uncle Fritz. There was a George who died at a young age. Aunt Lily and her husband Will never had children. Aunt Polly never got married. Uncle Fritz married Louise and they had 2 girls; Louise (Wea) and Charlotte (Charlie). Unfortunately, Louise died giving birth to Charlotte. Uncle Fritz remarried a couple years later  then got sick himself and died. Charlie was about 5 and  Wea was 10. The stepmother wanted to go back to Germany but only wanted Charlie. The sisters were split except for holidays and the summer with the stipulation that Charlie was to be returned to the family at 16 years of age. Wea mostly stayed with Aunt Motty , Uncle Frank and their children Frank Jr. and Connie.  

Aunt Anne married John Becker and they had 2 children, Eleonore and John (B). Eleonore had married Ed Croot and had 3 girls, Leslie, Nancy , and Judy. 

Then of course there was my grandmother who married John Sheps and had my Mom, and you know that story. What I may not have mentioned was that my Grandfather, converted from Judism to Christianity and his father disowned him. He lost contact with his family for years. By the time I came along he basically avoided admitting he was Jewish. It was the Bar Mittzvahs and going to the temple for a wedding and going to a deli called Tabachniks that gave me hints that there might be some Jewish heritage.

So, meanwhile on my father’s side, I found out through years of research, that his parents’ families have been in America since the 1600’s or so. There is more to that side of the family and I’ll save that for tomorrow.

What About Dad?

You heard quite a bit about my mother, so I will entertain you with my father.

I had told someone of a dream I had of my father. I dreamt that he was strapping me into a wooden carseat with stickers all over it. I was told it probably was not a dream but a memory. Wow, I thought, one memory of my father before the stroke: priceless.

My dad went to Wooster College in Wooster, Ohio. Then he transferred to Florida State and then wound up at Arizona State University where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. His family never went to the graduation. He eventually went to work for his father who founded and owned a bank in Maplewood, NJ.  He married my mom in 1958 and in 2 years they had my eldest brother whom they later found out was profoundly deaf. Then they had my brother John. Life was good. They had a nice house, good job, great kids etc… 10 years of wedded bliss, more or less.

If I were to think about the math in all this I could tell you that I must have been 2 years old or just turned 3 when Dad put me in that car seat. I was told that it was January 31, 1973 when Dad went to work as usual. At a stop light he just passed out.  On that very same day, on the other side of the family, Judy gave birth to her 3rd child, David. So while my mother’s world was about to fall apart, my cousin’s life was just starting.

I was told that my Dad liked to play with an old Ham radio. That’s how my eldest brother got his nick name “Sparky”. I was told that he also lifted weights and had a bench and weights on the porch. I was told that Dad served in the Korean war, as what , I’m not sure, but it probably had to do with accounting.

The Dad that I knew, was brain damaged from the  stroke. He was always in a chair. He lived in a hospital and could only come home for holidays. When he did, I had to let him sleep in my room and I slept up stairs and John, 12 or 13 at the time,  slept downstairs on the couch, just in case Dad needed help to the bathroom.

John remembers Dad the most before the stroke. So, it was hard on him to see his father so different. Everyday was new to Dad. He remembered immediate family but not his brother or nephews or nieces. When Mom died, John tried to tell him and so did Nana because he would ask, “Where’s your mother?” “Where’s Bunny?”. It broke my heart at 6 when he asked this.

After a couple years, he stopped asking. I watched my Dad. I actually enjoyed the visits because I did not know him any other way.  I was the only one who accepted him fully for who he was right then, without memories of what he once was like. Nurses would tease him about me and say they would take me home with them. It was the only way to get enough fire in him to make him speak loud and clear, “No you won’t. She’s my daughter!” I felt loved and protected by my Daddy at those times. The nurses would get him to talk clearly by asking him about the boys and he would clearly say, “These are my sons.” I listened and learned what they were doing. My Nana once got him to remember his high school German. I had no idea what he said but the message I got was, “There is a part of me still here. Help me to come out.”

The summer before I left for college I tried to see Dad more often. He was only 10 minutes from my home so I really didn’t have an excuse. I would play cards with him and catch him cheating and he would laugh. I would bring him the comics and if he laughed I’d ask him to read it to me and he would . Every now and again I would catch him just staring at me or off in the distance. It was as if I could see what his random thoughts were. God gave me small visions.  He knew his Bunny was gone. He regretted not watching me grow or remembering me growing up. He loved his sons and missed them.  Much sadness and frustration was what I felt when he would do that. It broke my heart.  Knowing that he was talking more and seemed to be in the here and now a little more, I asked him one day, “Dad, if I were to write to you from college, would you write back?” Without hesitation he answered as clearly as any father would, ” I’d sure try.” I was astounded. I held him to it and gave the nurse a box of stationary and told her what had transpired. The little girl in me got excited thinking that maybe my dad could recover.  I went off to College in PA and wrote to my Dad as much as I could. My nephew was born in September and in November I got an envelope with the hospital’s return address on it. I was all excited and confused. I ran back to the Dorm, opened up the envelope to find a note in very rough hand writing. At the bottom of it was another note in clear writing “I just wanted you to know that your father wrote this on his own. I only asked him a couple of questions and he wrote.” — your father’s nurse. I was jumping up and down trying to find anyone who would listen that My father wrote me! It was simply 4 lines, ” Dear Melissa, Thank you for writing to me. I like the name William John Gardiner. I hope you write again soon. Love you, Dad.” Finally, my father was back. I called my brother, the new father, he was happy but skeptical. With my grandmother now gone, my brother was my father’s guardian. It was that spring that my brother was told that he had to find other arrangements for my Dad. He could no longer stay at the Veterans Hospital. After that my father regressed. So I had to accept that the letter was as well as he was ever going to get.

My father died in 1997 a very sick and literally withered man. I understood how my brother felt but only to a fraction. The man I knew as my dad I watched go from a brain damaged man to a withered man. My brother knew him as a strong man, smart and funny who adored his wife and loved his kids and watched as he was changed. I believe none of us had it harder. We each had a different memory of our parents. We hold on to those memories because they are our only inheritance.

Thank you all for allowing me to share my inheritence.

My faithful Education

When I was living with my mother I was very young. I remember going to a preschool. I also remember my mother working for a while there, but I’m not sure what she did. I then remember going to Kindergarten. I had the same teacher that my brother had 8 years before, Mrs. McPhilips. She was so patient and kind. She must have known when my Mom had gotten really sick. One day she handed me a bag full of books. When I got back to my grandparents’ home, we discovered they were bible stories. My grandmother read them to me at bed time and the one i made her repeat was the story about Jesus walking on the water. The illustrations were great. and the message I got as a child was that if I focused on Christ I could do anything. 

I’m not sure when my mother first went into the hospital and we went to stay with our grandparents, waiting for her to get better. I do remember that we were still waiting when my grandparents enrolled me into 1st grade at the only safe school that would take me in the Newark/Irvington/South Orange area in NJ. It was a Catholic School, Our Lady of Sorrows. The teacher somehow knew my grandfather. 

Our Lady of Sorrows was a good experience for me. I made friends, due to all the candy I brought with my lunch and shared. The teachers all knew my story and I guess felt sorry for me. There was a very kind nun who was a religion teacher who would give me a medallion every year around Easter or Christmas and told me to give it to my father and that she was praying for him. I said thank you, went home and added it to the collection.  I figured my father would not even know what it was. 

I don’t remember studying. I remember doing some homework and I especially remember 3rd grade when my grandmother sat with me everyday after school, making me write my times tables over and over until I could recite them to her. But usually, I just passed my classes, and my grandparents would sign the report card without a word. 

By the time I went to go live with my cousins, I had no idea how to study or do reports or anything. How Judy and Michael dealt with me, I’m not sure. They did a lot of work on me. 

This is just a peek at my faithful education. My grandparents believed strongly in education, my great grandparents,  my parents and my cousins all had great faith in education. 

I think it’s interesting how faith and education intertwine. How has it intertwined in your life?