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The 21st Century

Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters
Lifestyles 1
Lifestyles 2


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

Leo’s Wife Vickie
Robert Stanger and Amanda Massa

Leo’s 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 confused.
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 on.
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 didn’t 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 wasn’t ashamed to ask him to assist her. Leo became her trusted assistant in absconding paper napkins, a favorite of hers. Leo was 5’6" 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 didn’t 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 couldn’t 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 Leo’s 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 Leo’s memories are interwoven with her illness. Vickie accepted her disease and did not dwell on it’s 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 Leo’s 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 Vickie’s 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 husband’s handiwork. This she had to do with the support of a walker, inspection done with her one remaining sightful eye.
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 a mess.

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. He’s doing the best he can.’ Leo couldn’t 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 don’t like the way he is keeping my kitchen and also I don’t like the way he makes the bed.
Leo was thankful she didn’t inspect the drawers that held his shorts, shirts, socks and underwear. If she had done this, she probably would have collapsed.
In healthier times, Vickie would lovingly straighten out the messing condition of Leo’s vanity, mumbling something incoherent to him, but he unconcerned, since he knew she loved straightening out messed up linen closets and drawers.
Leo’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t have to go far for a mentor. His next door neighbor, and Vickie’s best friend, Fran, agreed to teach him, and so began another interesting and adventurous experience in Leo’s life.

The Male Nurse (Hospice Nurse 2 months before death)

Vickie’s 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 Leo’s 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 didn’t 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 hadn’t broken a toe or two. In Vickie’s weakened condition, an incident similar to Leo’s 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 wouldn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 Vickie’s condition. He asked Leo to enumerate the tasks administered to Vickie by the other nurses.
"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 didn’t insert her prostheses and could not speak clearly without it, note writing became Vickie’s means to communicate to Leo.
John’s back was turned towards Vickie and he didn’t 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 chair.
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 don’t 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 agreed.
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 other travelers.
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 didn’t cost anything. This was another aspect of her kleptomania. So anything that wasn’t 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 law."
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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 can’t 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 Leo’s 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!’, Leo thought.
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 Leo’s right leg very forcibly by Vickie. The rangers face revealed his disbelief and he stood there astonished, didn’t 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 Leo’s 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 couldn’t 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 Leo’s first wife’s 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 her.
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, Leo’s 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 didn’t 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, Leo’s 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 Leo’s first wife became seriously ill, Vickie would come on weekends to act as a companion to Mae and they became fast friends. Vickie’s 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.
Leo’s 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 Nana’s. 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 and coffee.
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?" Leo thought.
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 Nana’s affairs that he, innocently informed him that Nana’s 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 wouldn’t 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 Leo’s mind they were seated. Vickie’s 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 experience?
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 Leo’s 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 hadn’t even ordered their meal. All this went about undetected by Nana. She couldn’t 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 won’t 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t 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 Mae’s home. Leo didn’t 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 o’clock noon washing them down with the usual quart of cream soda. After his usual 5 o’clock dinner, Leo probably walked off some of the energy derived from his first supper in that long daily walk to Mae’s 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" man.
Leo detested most dairy products, cheese and butter were abhorrent to him. If anyone knows of the Jewish dietary laws, you don’t 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.
Leo’s 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. Leo’s mother opted to make it soft and fluffy, perhaps she was concerned about their dental health. Leo’s 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 Nana’s. Leo’s 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.
Nana’s 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 doesn’t 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, "Don’t you know your right from your left?"
"I am ambidextrous," Leo would reply, "it don’t matter to me!"
The hard matzo ball did improve Leo’s 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. Vickie’s life at that time was dedicated to making money to aid her daughter financially in her daughter’s endeavor to raise her family. On occasion,
she would sleep overnight at Nana’s and proceed the next morning to her regular bookkeeping position. "Uncle B", although an octogenarian loved Nana’s 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 Nana’s 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 Leo’s 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 Vickie’s 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 Leo’s head.
© Robert Stanga and Amanda Massa (revised version June 2004)


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