A generation spanning story of an elderly man
and his adventures traveling by RV in America during late 60s with his
second dying wife.
This is the first chapter from a copyrighted manuscript
Leos Wife Vickie
Robert Stanger and Amanda Massa
Leos wife Vickie
was a thoroughly religious person, who attended church weekly. Vickie
was simple in her taste for clothes. She was naïve, without airs.
An unsophisticated, neat and thorough housekeeper. She was even in temperament
though outspoken when she needed. Vicky was very honest in word and deed.
However, she had a touch of kleptomania in her. This trait left Leo utterly
Vickie tried to restrict this persistent neurotic impulse to steal. Without
economic motive, articles that adorned the tables and counters in restaurants
they infrequently dined at disappeared.
When traveling, this desire intensified. Vickie would return home with
a suitcase laden with small bars of soap, toothpicks, hand towels, sometimes
larger towels and all the packets of condiments she could get her hands
In restaurants, Leo imagines the abundance of packets on a table was a
means of not burdening waiters or waitresses with the task of scurrying
about with needless errands to satisfy individual diners for these items.
Leo tried to reason with her that what she was doing was wrong. She would
insist that whatever was on the table was hers. She said she would eventually
pay for her meal and she could do with the remaining items on the table
as she pleased. She did indeed please herself by stashing them into the
cavernous pocketbook she always carried.
It didnt matter that Leo had explained to her that her actions were
an embarrassment to him. Vickie still persisted in her endeavor. After
awhile Leo became accustomed to it and became amused as to the number
of techniques she would employ to abscond with these items.
Vickie had different techniques for different circumstances and wasnt
ashamed to ask him to assist her. Leo became her trusted assistant in
absconding paper napkins, a favorite of hers. Leo was 56" in
height and wore a 10 size, normal width shoe. She would purchase for him
a pair of size 12 shoes and as wide a shoe she could find. She insisted
Leo pack the extra space in his over-size shoes with stolen napkins and
often Leo left restaurants 6 feet tall.
One technique was to ask Leo to sit along the wall or next to a window.
With such a table, she was able to position her cavernous bag between
her and the wall. Practically out of sight from prying eyes, she would
proceed with her handiwork. With a wary eye on other diners, she would
seize each opportunity to slip some item into her bag. If one were to
inspect the act closer you would notice how proficient in her art she
had become. She would locate an object then using her special ability
to sense if anyone was watching, at the opportune moment, snatch the object
with one hand and slip it into her bag without ever taking her eyes off
her eggs. Things that were not pre-packed didnt unnerve her. She
simply innocently wrapped them into napkins and let them lie on the table
for the opportune moment and then made her cobra-like move, snatching
them expertly into her bag.
Whenever Leo and Vickie couldnt be seated next to a wall and had
to sit at an open table towards the center of a dining enclosure, she
used another technique. She would place her cavernous bag on the floor,
open and under her chair. She would wrap her spoils in adequate quantities
in her napkin, innocently drop it to the floor and somehow spill the desired
items into her open bag and snap the bag shut and bring her napkin back
to her lap, emptied. How she did this without spilling items on the floor
Leo never would know.
As the expression goes, "the hand is quicker than the eye",
she proved that to Leo. Leo watched and observed. He scrutinized this
many, many times and to this day Leo never knew how she did it. Leo agonized
that one day she might want to rid herself of him. Leo would wonder, would
he end up into little pieces in her bag and disposed of in this way? Nah!
She loved him too much and needed Leo as a partner sometimes!
Leo thought it was great to sit at dinner at home with a well stocked
table of packets of ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, relishes, sauces, crackers,
pickles and tomatoes. It did not matter that their refrigerator had ample
jars of these items, somehow they tasted better. Needless to say, many
of the incidents in Leos life with Vickie, was somehow always interwoven
with her kleptomania tendency.
Now, Leo sits at his desk, pen in hand, 72 years of age, still full of
life an agonizing over losing Vickie. To Leo, she was one of the most
beautiful persons on earth. She did not possess physical beauty but her
inward beauty was without bounds. Leo realized that as time passes, the
agony he was now experiencing would slowly diminish. He has had this experience
before, since his first wife died from an incurable muscular neurological
disease. In spite of her suffering for 21 years from cancer, he had concluded
that their lives together were filled with many joyous moments. Yet, many
of Leos memories are interwoven with her illness. Vickie accepted
her disease and did not dwell on its negative aspects.
Leo had found that even in tragedy, there can be some humor. Since Leo
had been subjected to 35 consecutive years of some loved one contracting
and dying from an incurable disease this discovery had been the one galvanizing
part of Leos character which keeps him going today.
Leo always admired another part of her character. Vickie was a good listener.
Yet when she head to say something she came right to the point. Unlike
her, Leo could ramble on for an hour and when he would ask her if she
agreed with him or had something to say she would usually nod her head
as a sigh of agreement and said she understood. Naturally, when she did
open her mouth to speak her piece or make a demand, Leo willingly succumbed
and met her every wifely request or demand. Almost always. This made for
a good and successful marriage.
Since Vickie gave so much of herself to others, those whose lives she
touched would describe her as an "angel".
The Note (under hospice care 2 months
before Vickies death)
Unbeknown to Leo, when the nurses came and he had left the house to shop
and run household errands, which previously had been one of the myriad
of tasks performed by Vickie, she would make forays around their small
apartment inspecting her husbands handiwork. This she had to do
with the support of a walker, inspection done with her one remaining sightful
The kitchen was always a mess, pots and dishes strewed around, the garbage
receptacle full to the rim. The floor were unclean and the tops of the
oven and Formica counters in need of a good scrubbing. Leo always intended
to have everything in order, but his nature was to leave everything in
One day Leo came home from shopping and saw a note that June, the hospice
nurse, inadvertently left and should have destroyed. Since Vickie lost
her hearing, communication was relegating to note writing. This is what
the note said, what do you expect, he is only a man. Hes doing
the best he can. Leo couldnt fathom the meaning of note and
when June arrived the next day, He asked her to explain its meaning.
She said, "Vickie got out of bed yesterday, walked around the apartment
then motioned to me to give her a pen and paper. She then wrote me a note
of complaint about you." It read, I dont like the way he is
keeping my kitchen and also I dont like the way he makes the bed.
Leo was thankful she didnt inspect the drawers that held his shorts,
shirts, socks and underwear. If she had done this, she probably would
In healthier times, Vickie would lovingly straighten out the messing condition
of Leos vanity, mumbling something incoherent to him, but he unconcerned,
since he knew she loved straightening out messed up linen closets and
Leos daughter once said, "Vickie can fold a bed sheet and stuff
into an envelope."
Leo had thought no one could possibly guess what was in that envelope.
Vickie, this terminally ill woman, confided in another woman, hurt, yet
not complaining directly to her husband. In her heart she knew he was
doing the best job he could do. Vickie didnt want to hurt Leo so
she confined her complaint to the nurse, who justifiably answered, "He
is only a man."
Could Vickie expect Leo to be another Vickie?
This critical note stirred Leo into action. There is something a man can
learn to do around the house. Cook! Are not the greatest cooks in the
world men? He would show her something, "I will learn to cook".
Leo didnt have to go far for a mentor. His next door neighbor, and
Vickies best friend, Fran, agreed to teach him, and so began another
interesting and adventurous experience in Leos life.
The Male Nurse (Hospice Nurse 2 months before death)
Vickies illness had reached the stage where she weighed about 90
lb. Down from her normal weight of around 150 lb. Her emaciated body could
only remain attractive to her husband. The nurses would bathe her at Leos
request since he thought she would be vain and not allow him to bathe
her. In fact, many a time she would slide into the bathroom and take a
shower. Leo began to stress to her the fact that she could hurt herself
getting in and out of the tub. They didnt have a step-in shower.
Leo remembered how he stubbed his toes getting out of the tub on the bottom
railing of the metal and glass sliding doors they had installed over the
edge of the tub. The pain was excruciating and Leo was fortunate that
he hadnt broken a toe or two. In Vickies weakened condition,
an incident similar to Leos could have been disastrous for her.
She finally agreed to allow Leo to escort her into the bathroom. He would
follow behind her the few feet from her bed. She had been relegated to
using a cane tripod as a walking aid. She would allow Leo to unclothe
her and help her make the big step over to get into the tub. She would
immediately close the shower doors to ensure her privacy. Vickie wouldnt
call Leo when she finished her shower and used the hand rails to get out
of the tub. She still wanted the privacy of toweling herself down and
applying a baby oil to her arms, legs, and other parts of her body.
Another medical problem soon overtook her. She began to experience severe
itching all over her body. Now she allowed Leo to help her with the shower.
She allowed him to briskly rub her back with a soapy cloth to help alleviate
the itching. This was as far as she would let him go. She took care of
the other parts. Vickie also allowed Leo to help her out of the tub and
help in toweling her down. She would allow him to rub her back with baby
oil and give her a massage. She oiled the rest of her body herself.
Leo remembers how he would agonize seeing her naked emaciated body, with
her breasts slowly "melting" away. He had married a woman who
had weighed an entertaining 150 lb.., as tall as him and fully and amply
breasted. To experience this scene many times before her death devastated
Leo. When the nurses or volunteers came, Leo would insist they bathe her.
Over the weekends when they were not in attendance, he wouldnt encourage
her to bathe and she was now too weak to bathe herself.
One morning Leo had answered a knock on their front door and in stepped
a clean cut young man announcing he was a nurse substituting for June,
the regular nurse, who was home recuperating from the flu. "A male
nurse.", Leo thought to himself, this is going to be interesting.
Vickie had gone to male doctors but how will Vickie react to a male nurse?
As he stepped into the bedroom, Leo introduced him to Vickie and explained
since he had not been properly briefed as to Vickies condition.
He asked Leo to enumerate the tasks administered to Vickie by the other
"They take her vital signs," Leo began, "ask her how her
itching was and gave her mouth, nose and sinus a thorough cleaning removing
accumulated blood clots and,"
This was as far as Leo could go since Vickie, who had been listening to
Leo explaining the procedure the other nurses followed, was frantically
giving Leo their accustomed hand signal for a pen and pad to ask him a
question or give him an order. Since she now didnt insert her prostheses
and could not speak clearly without it, note writing became Vickies
means to communicate to Leo.
Johns back was turned towards Vickie and he didnt know that
Vickie had signaled Leo and also unaware of this method of communication.
Leo pardoned himself for interrupting his discourse with John and scored
a pen and writing pad and handed it to Vickie who was in her usual reclining
This is the note she wrote to him, "Is he going to give me a bath?!!"
Leo stifled the laughter within him and whispered into her one operative
ear, "Not on your life! Do you think I want him to see your heavenly
charms? They are for me and me alone!"
Leo noticed her sigh of relief, as she lowered her shoulders into her
chair-lounge and as if nothing had happened he directed himself back to
john, continuing with "and you do not have to bathe her, I did that
myself this morning." Now Leo was assured that she appreciated marrying
him, although of a different faith, because Leo could readily adapt to
any situation. Vickie threw Leo a little kiss. Leo thought, "John!
You dont know what you missed."
The Trees of Yellowstone National Park (On their trip of the US 1967)
When Leo and Vickie arrived in Florida, after being married for 3 years,
Leo notified Vickie that he would like to purchase a camper and tour the
country. Since he was subjected to motion sickness and having gone through
3 nausea and vomiting fishing trips, He would not fly in an airplane.
Therefore, now retired, Leo had the urge to explore their country and
this fear of flying relegated him to see the country by car. Vickie thoroughly
The era of the traveling camper was in its infancy then and Leo proceeded
to buy a piggy-back camper. This consisted of two units. One, an open
pick up truck body and the other an 12 x 6 home unit that
fit into the open body of the truck. If necessary, the home unit could
be separated from the truck and become a stationary home. Four long jacks
would be dropped from the four ends of the home unit and hydraulically
operated to lift the camper itself and then withdraw the truck from under
it. Thus the truck could be used as a car and efficiently explore the
areas around the campsite, unencumbered by the weight of the camper and
saving on gas consumption. This was an ideal and inexpensive way of exploring
and visiting interesting sites in the area.
Also, since this unit was so bulky, it necessitated careful handling and
Leo drove below the speed limit. This enabled him to enjoy the scenery
as well as Vickie, who was their navigator. The camper was efficiently
equipped with sleeping facilities for four, if necessary. One of the sleeping
quarters consisted of the limited space above the driving cab unit of
the truck. You would have to crawl in low to assume reclining sleeping
position. They would have fun climbing over each other each night when
they went to bed. Below this and immediately to the back of the truck
cab was a long stationary seat, stretching across the width of the camper.
It had an accompanying similar seat that operated similar to a "Castro
convertible" when extended it became the sleeping quarters for two
On one side of the camper were the stove and miniature toilet facilities
and on the other side, the refrigerator and some storage facilities. The
Castro type seat, when folded, was used as a seating quarters and a removable
table was stationed in front of it. Therefore this was a very efficient
traveling unit but living space was at a minimum.
At every point of interest, Leo and Vickie would purchase some item as
a souvenir that later would be reviewed with pleasure as reminders of
their voyage. Vickie was not satisfied with only purchasing items, she
had to gather in items that didnt cost anything. This was another
aspect of her kleptomania. So anything that wasnt nailed down found
its way into their camper. Nothing of much worth but items as stones,
samples of earth, volcanic ash, small animals, and so on.
Her kleptomania reached its zenith when they visited Yellowstone National
Park. Leo and Vickie witnessed Old Faithful spouting from its opening
in the ground, pouring upward a high stream of hot water that blossomed
at its height and then plunged to earth. They witness the many other geysers
and warm springs that became the birth of warm mountain streams emanating
from the park. Together they bent and touched the warm waters as it made
its way downstream. Leo noticed that Vickie had a queer gleam in her eyes.
"What was cooking up in her mind now? She wanted a souvenir?",
he wondered. Leo received his answer shortly.
Posted, along the road, which their camper was confined to, in traveling
through the park, were signs stating; "Please do not take anything
from the park. Violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the
Leo wondered what could be taken? A bear? Certainly not. Perhaps a baby
cub, but was she ready to wrestle a Mommy bear to secure her cub? Vickie
would be a match for any bear but could Leo bare the sight of such a match?
No! She didnt have this in mind. Water? Water is free. Kleptomaniacs
do not get a thrill of taking something that is free. Stones? She had
her fill of stones. She had so many that they became an excellent ballast
for their camper. As Leo speculated, they completed their stay in the
park and started to drive along the exit road of the park.
"Stop the car" she yelled and he did. She bounced out of the
cab and went to the back into the living quarters. A few minutes later
she poured out with three large pot like receptacles and a small shovel.
Where in earth did she get them? Leo didnt remember purchasing them
and he had never seen them before.
She then proceeded to the side of the road and began unearthing three
fledgling pine trees.
"You cant do that.", Leo ventured, fully knowing his word
would have no effect.
"Do you want to get arrested?" Leo implored.
Undeterred she unearthed three small pine trees about two feet in height
along accompanying soil and potted them into the three receptacles she
had taken from the camper. She did this very meticulously and professionally.
Where did she learn to be a botanist?, Leo wondered.
Against Leos objections Vickie placed them, somehow, into the very
small confining space they had left inside the camper and covered them
with light blanket.
How can she get away with this? Surely the ranger manning the exit plaza
of the park will inspect the inside of the camper. Would we be placed
in chains and hung form a small pine tree along the exit road as an example
to deter further pilferage of park trees? A few thousand Vickies could
denude our forests overnight. Surely we will be punished in some way!,
As they waited in line and watched the ranger inspect exiting cars in
front of them, Leo suddenly thought of a possible escape. When their turn
came to be inspected he exploded to the ranger who was about to inquire
if they had taken anything from the park. "Arrest this woman,"
Leo implored, "she has stolen three pine trees and they are in the
back of the camper." This was accompanied by blows striking Leos
right leg very forcibly by Vickie. The rangers face revealed his disbelief
and he stood there astonished, didnt move.
"Come on," Leo reiterated, "Arrest this woman. She has
stolen three pine trees and they are back in the camper." Again accompanied
by blows from Vickie, very forcibly, now to Leos right arm.
The ranger exploded into laughter and said "Come on, get the hell
out of here."
Leo and Vickie did indeed get the hell out. Leo felt very proud of himself
that he had the talent to be an actor. "Boy! Can I think fast."
Leo couldnt stop patting himself on the back.
Leo was expecting some thanks from Vickie, some expression of love and
affection, some acknowledgment of how smart and cunning he was. Do you
know what he got from Vickie?
"That was easy, let us go back and get ten more trees."
Nana is Leos first wifes mother, thus his former mother-in-law.
This is the name she asked her first grandchild to call her, it became
the name all the other grandchildren and in-laws used in referring to
her. Of course her children used more endearing names, as "Ma",
"Mother", and occasional "Hey you", when angry at
Since Vickie had known her previously, she had done some housekeeping
for her, Leo could continue his relationship with her but now at a diminished
level. The grandchildren had married and had children of their own and
made their own family forays to Nana. Nana had remarried and if her role
in life was to mourn her departed loved ones, this seemed to be her lot.
In a few years her second husband departed and left her with a comfortable
annuity, lasting ten years. She had signed away her widow rights, ignoring
the advice of her children.
As it was to be, she lost her second child, her only son, and he was buried
in the family plot in New Jersey. Her youngest daughter, Leos former
wife, was buried in his family plot in Long Island. Her remaining child,
her oldest daughter, retired to Florida along with her husband and didnt
ask her mother to come to Florida to live with her. Nana professes the
thought that she preferred to live alone in the same building she had
lived when married, among her friends and relatives.
Leo always had the feeling that she would have gladly uprooted herself
and had gone to live with her daughter if asked. Her shortly departed
husband was affluent and had taken her to Florida every winter in style,
and Leo knew she thoroughly enjoyed herself on those winter sabbaticals.
In Florida she was served upon whereby at home she served her husband
and all. If Leo knows women and he thinks he does, she would have preferred
the former than the latter.
When Vickie and Leo also moved to Florida, to retire, Nana lost another
visiting member or two of her family. When Vickie and Leo first married,
Leos only daughter, Donna, was still an adolescent and Leo felt
duty bound to take them to visit Nana on different occasions. Since Vickie
was not a jealous woman and previously knew Nana their visits to Nana
were comfortable and loving. How did Leo know Vickie was not a jealous
woman? One simple act that she did proved this to him. She had known his
first wife also and had done housekeeping for her.
When Leos first wife became seriously ill, Vickie would come on
weekends to act as a companion to Mae and they became fast friends. Vickies
presence became a blessing to all of them. What did she do? She made composites
of pictures of Mae, Leo, his children and prominently displayed them in
their new home. Leo thought that act was very generous of her, she did
it without consulting him.
Leos daughter subsequently married and remained in Long Island.
Since Vickie had sisters and nieces living in NY and also a few friends,
they would occasionally visit NY to see her family and his family. Many
a time they slept over at Nanas. Nana once asked Leo to drive her
to the gravesites of her first husband, Martin, and her daughter, Mae.
Nana is of the old school of mourners. Instead of silent prayer, she would
be a torrent of tears and prostrate herself on the headstones of departed
beloved. Leo would silently revere the departed. Leo once entertained
the thought, that if he could duplicate this art of spontaneous lament
and tears and add it to his repertoire of emotions he had learned to command
as a business man, he could have been a great actor.
So it was to be, their visits to NY, always included visiting Nana and
taking her on her annual Cry-Fest. One day Nana expressed the desire to
show her appreciation to Leo and Vickie, to buy them lunch.
"Leo, you could even have steak if you want", she insisted.
Leo and Vickie agreed but the problem was that in the past when completing
a foray to the cemeteries, they bought her lunch. Of course then they
had to accede to her desires. Because of dietary restrictions, Nana would
not eat meat away from home and would only eat a toasted cheese sandwich
On this occasion they spent two hours reconnoitering Long Island trying
to find a restaurant that served a cheese sandwich. Hell! Leo knew of
a place, nearby, that two years ago charged him $2.50 for such a sandwich
that Nana said was delicious. Leo could not conceive allowing her to treat
them at this establishment, ordering a similar sandwich and choking on
the last bite, as her check was deposited next to her and she read probably
now an inflated charge of $3.50 for this sandwich.
"What would a steak or two cost, if we ordered one or two?"
She had committed herself to buying them steaks.
Leo has had a problem with Nana in the past. He had thought she was left
with an annuity for life. When Vickie who seemed to know more about Nanas
affairs that he, innocently informed him that Nanas annuity was
only for a ten year period, Leo became quite disturbed. He immediately
went to her home and professed a desire to help her with her finances.
Leo was concerned that she would out-live her annuity. Then what? She
informed him she wouldnt live that long but in case she did, her
three rich stepdaughters would care for her financial needs. Leo already
knew she had received some sum of bonds as payment for signing away her
widow rights and Leo suggested she incorporate these sums with her present
annuity and set up a more economical way of life but she thoroughly rebuffed
him with, "Anybody who tells anybody what they have is a fool."
Her daughters knew of her holdings, why not him?
At the time of this last outing, Nana had outlined her annuity and indeed
the stepdaughters wee aiding her financially but not enough to enable
her to live in the style she formerly was accustomed to. Leo would observe
this because her gifts to the grandchildren were becoming smaller and
less frequent. Therefore, although Leo wished her to have the pleasure
of "buying them lunch" he did not want to tax her financially.
Leo remembered a restaurant near her new domicile and asked if she had
eaten there before. She faintly remembered doing so. They retreated to
Brooklyn and indeed found it to be a delicatessen which conformed to her
dietary beliefs. Nana in the meantime was espousing how her sight was
failing, she could not read, her hearing is bad. She could not watch TV
anymore and hardly could recognize them. With these complaints freshly
in Leos mind they were seated. Vickies eyes lit up. They had
entered an old fashioned delicatessen which had a splendid display on
the table; sauerkraut, coleslaw, a generous dish of sour pickles and sour
tomatoes and above all good old Jewish rye bread, stacked in double tiers
on a wide plate. Vickie immediately went into her act. She ordered Nana
to slide in on the cushioned dual seat and Leo to sit opposite Nana. She
sat on the aisle an placed her cavernous bag on the floor under the seat.
This was an unusual position for her to assume. She preferred a wall seat
with her bag positioned between her and her a wall. Perhaps she had eaten
in a Jewish delicatessen before? Had she refined her art somehow from
The seating quarters were to the rear of the shop away from the hustle
and bustle of the supply counter where take home customers were served
interspersed with sandwich making for lunching customer in the rear. Vickie
had placed herself where she could have an unencumbered sighting of the
waitresses scurry back and forth form the counter to the table with sandwiches.
Immediately she went into action. Pickles and tomatoes were gingerly wrapped
in napkins and when the waitresses retreated to the front counter, she
stuffed them in the bag. Coleslaw and sauerkraut were left alone. She
never expected this, so she had not prepared for them. She had no containers.
She was eyeing a plastic glass but a disapproving shake of Leos
head neutralized this notion. She absconded a sufficient supply of rye
bread and had the audacity to ask a passing waitress, "Please bring
us more bread" and they hadnt even ordered their meal. All
this went about undetected by Nana. She couldnt hear well and her
sight was not too good, it was failing.
Their waitress finally came and Vickie and Leo, instead of ordering steaks,
opted for a hot pastrami club sandwich and Nana ordered her usual melted
cheese sandwich. The sandwiches arrived and were completely too large
for Vickie and Leo to eat. They proceeded to eat just half each. The check
came and Nana and Leo became engrossed in a conversation about the size
of the bill and what has happened to the good old days when they paid
50 cents for a 5 course meal. Leo offered to leave the tip. The cost of
the meal was beyond her means. While Nana and Leo were so engrossed Leo
heard Vickie ask the only visible waitress now in the rear to please have
their remaining half sandwiched wrapped in foil, so they can take them
home. This required the waitress to go to the front counter and as she
strode out of the dining area, Vickie raised from her seat, turned her
back to the table, watching to make certain the waitress would wont
return unexpectedly and with a graceful parabolic sweep of her right arm
plucked the one remaining tomato from its bowl and gently drop it, unwrapped
into her yawning bag which now had been placed on the seat between Nana
and herself. It had taken hours and hours of training in the confines
of their home to perfect this maneuver. Plucked it out-sight unseen. This
creates havoc with the old adage of golf or "Keep your head down
keep your eye on the ball."
Nana, remember, this little old lady who couldnt see and was thoroughly
engrossed in bickering with Leo over the check and sitting along the side
of Vickie, exploded, "Do you see what she did? How did she do that?"
Rumbling with laughter, Leo grabbed the check and stumbled down the stairs
separating the dining area from the front counter area and proceeded to
pay the bill. Leo felt the need to buy a dozen hot knishes to take home
after he noticed a prominent sign over the cash register which read, "Kleptomaniacs
will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
Leo left the establishment full of guilt. But Vickie strode majestically
from the store, with her conquest; balanced by Nana in one arm and her
cavernous bag in the other arm.
They would never arrest a little old lady! Vickie would have placed all
the blame on Nana.
Nana and Vickie
Leo first met Nana simply because he was courting her daughter Mae. Leo,
only once, was exposed to cooking other than Jewish/Russian foods. That
was when Leo went to Maryland University in 1934 for his final pre-medical
year. Leo learned he had to eat foods foreign to him, otherwise he would
starve. Leo found that he had the stomach to eat anything, except things
that would move on his plate. Leo drew the line there. Many times, Leo
ate foods that he didnt recognize but having a good appetite, Leo
would eat first and ask questions later.
Leo returned home after graduation and unable to receive acceptance to
any medical school, he proceeded to court his first wife, Mae, for another
four years. The great depression was now in full bloom and jobs were non-existing.
Whatever work was available was confined to the family trade; painters.
Not the artistic kind. Just house painters.
Mae lived about a mile away and it was no hardship to make the daily trek
to her home. When Leo wooed her he was rewarded with an extra dinner.
At that time, Leo had to eat his supper at home around 5pm. Jewish pride
of feeding their own abounded in his mother. She always insisted Leo should
eat a good supper home, she probably was trying to prove Jewish Russian
cooking was more palatable than Hungarian style. Mae was of Hungarian
descent. There seemed to be some tension between Russian Jews and Hungarian
Jews as Leo observed it, simply that the Russian Jews spoke "Yiddish"
and the Hungarian Jews conversed in Hungarian. Perhaps they thought they
were speaking derogatorily of each other when they met and participated
in the many Jewish cultural events. The Hungarian Jews could converse
in Yiddish but they preferred to speak Hungarian.
Thus Leo was exposed to dual suppers. One at his home around 5pm and another
about 7pm at Maes home. Leo didnt mind for a number of reasons.
One, he had an enormous appetite at that period of his life he was a growing
boy. When he went to work as a painter, working with his father and younger
brother, Leo would take four gigantic roll sandwiches for lunch. He would
consume them around 12 oclock noon washing them down with the usual
quart of cream soda. After his usual 5 oclock dinner, Leo probably
walked off some of the energy derived from his first supper in that long
daily walk to Maes house. Another reason that he looked forward
to his second supper at seven, was that his prospective father-in-law
had a kosher meat market and was an excellent butcher. He would save the
best cuts of meat for his family, and Leo was a "Meat and Potato"
Leo detested most dairy products, cheese and butter were abhorrent to
him. If anyone knows of the Jewish dietary laws, you dont eat meat
and dairy products at the same meal. Leo was in his glory since the second
supper would settle his stomach for his usual snack on the way home after
a night of courting. Leo would stop at his favorite delicatessen around
11 PM and consume a few hot dogs or a pastrami sandwich or two and top
off his last meal by stopping at "Wackers", his favorite ice
cream parlor. Purchasing a quart of butter pecan ice cream and consuming
this in bed and then gently falling asleep accompanied by the music of
joy emanating from his stomach. Secure in the knowledge that he had consumed
enough food, so that he would have enough energy for work the next day
and play too.
Leos mother and prospective mother-in-law had different styles of
cooking. The one item they cooked in such a different way was the matzo
ball, the main ingredient in matzo ball soup. They had this soup at every
supper- it was the pivotal part of the meal. Also, it was the anchor of
a Jewish meal. The more matzo balls one could consume, the more weight
one would put on and the greater your weight, the greater the pull of
gravity and increasing your chances of staying on earth and not blowing
away into space. This sounds ridiculous, but many Jewish people believed
in this theory. Now a matzo ball is just some flour, eggs, salt and spices
mixed together with water, shaped into a round object a bit larger than
a golf ball. Yet it could be made in many ways. Leos mother opted
to make it soft and fluffy, perhaps she was concerned about their dental
health. Leos mother-in-law made it as hard as a rock. Her husband,
Martin, preferred it that way. So Leo had the best of two worlds. He would
eat a soft and fluffy one at his first supper and a hard one at Nanas.
Leos mother-in-law probably wanted to anchor me there, since Leo
was considered a good catch. Leo wanted to be a doctor, the supreme "catch"
for any Jewish girl. Leo always left her home with an erection.
Nanas matzo ball, during her first marriage, had to be cut by the
dull knife. Leo would forget, was it on my left or right the knife goes
on? To this day Leo doesnt know which side it was supposed to be
on. It became a bone of contention that almost broke up his first marriage.
"How stupid can you be?" Mae would shout, "Dont you
know your right from your left?"
"I am ambidextrous," Leo would reply, "it dont matter
The hard matzo ball did improve Leos appearance. It needed constant
chewing to enable him to swallow it. It strengthened his jaw. Leo was
once told he had a weak one. It kept the muscles of his neck strong and
elastic and prevented any sagging of the tissue below his jaw. Therefore,
Leo could keep his head erect and walk around as if he was unconcerned
and it gave Leo an aura of confidence. This he needed, since he was now
entering his third year of courting Mae, confident that in the near future
he would secure a real job and they could marry. This was to happen after
5 years of courting. Where Leo got the strength, he never knew. Perhaps
it was the double suppers and the nightly forays to the delicatessen and
Wackers that did it.
As it was to be, Nana, lost her first husband to cancer and after a number
of years as a widow, she married "Uncle B" an affluent manufacturer.
It was then she met Vickie. Vickie became the light of her life. Vickie
would moonlight and do her housework. Vickies life at that time
was dedicated to making money to aid her daughter financially in her daughters
endeavor to raise her family. On occasion,
she would sleep overnight at Nanas and proceed the next morning
to her regular bookkeeping position. "Uncle B", although an
octogenarian loved Nanas cooking and he had all his teeth in tact,
a remarkable achievement for a man his age. He loved his food exceeding
hot and evidential matzo balls very hard.
Evidently, Leo thought, Vickie must have taken cooking lessons from Nana.
After Leo and Vickie married, he found that she could duplicate Jewish
cooking. Her foods had a kosher flavor. Ham and pork chops tasted like
steak and lamb chops and sometimes like veal. Leo was delighted because
one of the reasons he had married his first wife, Mae, was that he loved
Nanas cooking, except for the hard matzo balls. Somehow Mae could
not duplicate her mothers cooking. Vickie could and Leo was delighted.
On a Thanksgiving Day, Vickie decided to have Nana over to their home
and they invited Leos son and daughter. It was to be a festive occasion
and Vickie would do all of the cooking. Everything went well and the sequence
of food up to the serving of Vickies matzo ball soup was delicious.
Vickie knew how Leo detested hard matzo balls. When she proudly served
the matzo ball soup, anticipating that they would be fluffy, Leo picked
up his soup spoon to cut them into smaller pieces. Was he surprised he
could not do so. Leo then picked up a knife and fork and tried to cut
one in half, unsuccessfully.
In utter desperation Leo plucked one from his plate and declared to all,
"Darn it Vickie, I bet this matzoth ball can bounce, it is so hard."
Leo proceeded from the dining room area to their kitchen which had a wooden
flood and plunged the matzo ball heated into the floor and to surprise
of all it actually bounced over Leos head.
© Robert Stanga and Amanda Massa (revised version June 2004)
FIRST CHAPTERS HERE