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In the Beginning

This is my story…

I was born on a cold day in December (which is probably why I don't like cold weather) in a small town in southern New Jersey, once renowned as the caviar capital of the world. My parents moved there from New York City where my Father was determined to settle down and raise his children in a more nourishing environment. He would also seek employment at a local chemical/gun powder manufacturing company, leaving behind a life as a gambler/tailor/chef. He would eventually spin yarns of stories of those occupations, including but not limited to having delivered a meal to the infamous Al Capone. The small town in New Jersey that my parents came to call home was very progressive for its time (population now approx. 5800) and boasted of major acts appearing at a nightclub located on a major thorofare, many shops and a historically flavored civil war past with a thriving ferryboat business on the Delaware River.

My family traveled rather extensively around the United States visiting relatives and at the ripe age of 3 years old, I was missing for about 2 hours. My Mother was convinced that I had been kidnapped by a stranger who had recently fawned over me and the neighborhood went into action instituting a search. When I was found, at the neighbor’s house next door, my Mother was so relieved of my well being, in spite of instructions of not leaving the house, she deterred from punishment. Little did I know that this would be my first taste of the proverbial 15 minutes of fame. LOL

My formal schooling would run through 1973 and my attendance at the “school of hard knocks” would commence shortly thereafter. During my formal education, I attended the same school as Bruce Willis. My parents, the community and education system provided a well-grounded, tolerant, non-judgmental foundation that would have a huge impact on the person I was to become. Those years were as they should be and one could not imagine a life where neighbors didn’t socialized with neighbors, helped to rear each other’s children and saw no need to lock doors at night. A Summer night was a warm one spent with good friends and family and for dreamers who made it in before the street lights came on. The moon was so large it seemed to envelope the entire Northeastern sky. I used to lay in bed and hear the faint sound of tractor-trailers passing by on the highway. It was almost as if you could hear the earth rotating on its axis. While hide~n~seek in the dark can be fun, one should not attempt it near clothes lines (ouch!) Following my Brothers leaping off the roof of our house and playing tackle football at a nearby field would be my only demonstrative moments of tom boyishness. On a special night, wishing on a shooting star would bring about dreams of glamour and stardom that would remove me from this safe harbor. I was in the 3rd grade in Elementary School when JFK was assassinated and I still have vivid images of the janitor walking in the classroom to inform the teacher of what had happened. The memories of the funeral procession and little John John saluting the casket are indelibly ingrained in the minds of many who saw a brighter more united future for America under his presidency.

In 1964 the Beatles landed on US soil and that explosion has yet to be felt again. American youth always seemed receptive to what at the time was different and these guys had a unique sound and long hair. Remember how we reacted to seeing Elvis for the first time on the Louisana Hayride or the Ed Sullivan Show? Ed refused to let them shoot him from the waist down but young females went completely crazy. Holy-rollers denounced Elvis' style saying it was demonic and he sounded Black. Men for the most part, were angry and probably wanted a piece of Elvis seeing their wives, girlfriends and daughters screaming, crying and sometimes fainting. We didn't care, we drank it up like we hadn't been hydrated in a week! I belonged to a Beatles fan club (Secretary actually) that met monthly and was completely enthralled with Paul McCartney. Yes, I was a screaming, certifiable Beatles maniac. During one trip to visit family in Philadelphia, my parents, my Step-sister Gloria and myself dined at Bookbinders restaurant where the actor Raymond St. Jacques flirted with Gloria right in front of his female dining companion. Men…!! At the age of 16, while visiting relatives in New York and Long Island, I attended a club called King Arthur’s Knights of the Roundtable where I met a jazz musician who would later become very successful in his genre, while I sipped on a Shirley Temple. That musician was George Benson and I’m not certain if I still have his autograph but I know I smiled a lot, thanks to my cousin and his friend, Connie. My older Sister Deborah allowed me to tag along with her friends from time to time and we attended a concert at the Trenton War Memorial where an unknown act performed. I don’t know about them but I surely had no idea that this group was on their road to stardom in the rock world. While, I don’t remember a lot of that evening because the air was thick with the smell of the burning dried cannabis plant, that group became known as Fleetwood Mac. My Sister once asked me if I “turned on”. My reply was…turn on what? I dated an older guy who my parents would sincerely have not approved of and he once told me he had a “roach” in his car ashtray. Never thought I could bail out of a vehicle that fast! LOL You get the picture, I wasn’t the hippest teenager but I grew up fast enough. I grew up with some Italian friends, whereas I learned to make various Italian dishes. My Father's culinary cuisine background also taught me a great deal about cooking. He was known throughout the family and neighborhood for his Sweet Potato Pies. Everyone believed that he could have made a fortune selling those pies. I watched him on holidays making those delicious creations and I ultimately developed his style and reproduced his recipe. If he were alive today, he'd be proud of what he had taught me. The climate changed in the year of 1971 when a race riot broke out in High School. White people were on one side while Black people were on the other and yet some of us remained in the middle. For some, this life altering experience would change them forever. The hardest part was not only seeing innocent people hurt just because of the color of their skin but having to endure a mandatory curfew imposed by the local officials due to the vandalism and looting and police canines in corridors of the school. Ironically enough, I would later work with one of those Canine Officers. Just below the surface of some of the kids, laid a bubbling caldron of hatred. It was total nonsense that a wedge could be driven between a lot of the ones who played together, studied together and hung out at each others houses. And now we're suppose to dislike each other because of what two total idiots did? It was totally ludicrous! My Sister had moved to Cheyenne, WY and oddly enough ended up marrying a guy out there who is a nice Irish guy from New Jersey. I missed her deeply. She also left behind a green Pinto that my Brother and I shared. I was a Junior in High School and the only one of my friends who had a car.

At one time the states were divided between the north and the south. But our forefathers envisioned our country being "one nation under God", as it should be. I cannot imagine a country made up of all of one race of people. It took all of us to make this country the great country that it is. It's one thing to be proud of one's southern heritage, just as I'm certain northerners are proud of theirs but those who see the confederate flag as a symbol of bigotry and a representation of slavery and are proud of that, I can say only one thing. It's no wonder bigotry is spawned by ignorance.

I have no present issues at home right now but walk with me into the future for a while. The year was 1981 and I was a somewhat naive 25 year old girl who decided to buy my current home. I had not intended to buy at the time but the deal was too good to pass up. Before the seller and I could go to settlement, he stopped by my job late one night and handed me the keys. He was visibly shaken and had tears in his eyes. He went on to say that he and his family had received calls that night from people threatening to burn the house down with him and his family in it. He said he couldn't believe that the house had been on the market for months and no one expressed an interest until they found out he was selling the house to a woman of color. He said a number of offers then came in but he insisted he had a buyer in me. He said he was scared enough to think that the jerks might carry out their threats and he was taking no chances. They would be staying with family until they relocated and I could begin moving in whenever I wanted to. I stopped by the house the next day to start cleaning, etc. and sure enough someone had broken in the night before and did some vandalizing. The next time I saw him was at settlement.

Well, this little brown jalapeno was pissed! There were protests during which the police got involved, etc. and a number of organizations intervened on my behalf. I made my position very clear that I did not scare easily and I was not going anywhere. It was unbelievable that this was happening in 1981 in NJ! There always will be a class division in which those who have sometimes look down on those who have not. But this was like some weird reversal of sorts because some of those people that used to be here had nothing. I went to school with some of these people's relatives, ate together, slept over together, worked together and they were trying to tell me I was not good enough to live amongst them. There were comments like, there goes the neighborhood, I bet there'll be a lot of trash and loud parties. This is an average small town neighborhood.

For the first couple of weeks, while I worked shift my Mother would come here and stay with my dog when I was working. One of my neighbors who was not a part of the gang, told me to watch my dog at all times when he was out because if they poisoned his dog they wouldn't hesitate to do the same to mine. So, I started fixing up the exterior of my house and one of the neighbors came over to me and said I shouldn't be doing that because my house would make the rest look bad. Oh well...! Then I had my housewarming party with a lot of cop friends in attendance, some on duty so the street was littered with cop cars. And I guess that was their wake-up call that I was not to be messed with.

The neighborhood has changed now and most people care about how their property looks and a lot of us watch out for each other. On the one side of me, my neighbor cuts my front grass because of my allergies it practically kills me to do it. On the other side of me, my neighbor and I take care of each others pets when we’re gone among other things and directly across the street is a single lady who when bad weather is predicted we make sure that each other is going to be okay. Things have indeed changed and it’s hard to believe that my mortgage will be paid off in 4 years. I could pay it off sooner but I’m having way too much fun doing other things!

I graduated from High School, the war in Vietnam was about to end and my Father bought me my first '66 Mustang. I embarked on a journey to Plainfield and New Brunswick NJ. No, it wasn't hiking around Europe but for a girl from a small town, it was a start. Interestingly enough, someone would years later send this to me and while I can't remember who did, I know they're from New Jersey and it's very funny:

You Know You're from South Jersey, if....

You've had arguments over cheesesteak quality.
When it snows more then an inch, you call it a blizzard
You've actually found the Echelon Mall
You have Lyme's Disease
You don't understand why there aren't more 24 hour dinners elsewhere in the country.
You know what a WAWA is and know the location of at least 15 of them.
You go to Delaware to buy smokes
Even though there's a new Wal-Mart in your town, you still go to the Berlin Farmers Market for cheap stuff.
You know that Camden is not a good place to be after dark.
You can name all the flavors of salt water taffy.
Your car is covered in yellowish-green dust in April and May.
You eat a restaurants that have locations I, II, III, IV, V.
You get excited when you see Chopper 6, and you can hum the Action News song.
You know how to successfully handle a traffic circle.
You've counted the number of strip joints on the Black Horse Pike.
The Franklin Institute was the hot spot for class trips when you were a kid.
You know what cedar water is.
You know where to get the best bagel.
Donald Trump is mentioned at least daily in your local paper.
You say "water" weird.
You have almost fallen asleep on the Express Way.
You can point to at least 2 Nuclear Plants.
You know that ACME is an actual store, not just a Warner Bros. creation.
You have packed up the family on a Sunday and went to Cowtown Rodeo.
You take day trips to New York City.
You have mandatory recycling, enforced by Law.
You don't have to go to Red Lobster to get fresh seafood.
You know how to pronounce "Buena" on Route 40.
You've made a meal out of Tastycakes, Herrs BBQ Potato Chips and Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer.
You remember when Rowan was Glassboro State and The College of NJ was Trenton State.
You remember Boss 97 and Eagle 106.
You know New Years is all about the Mummers.
You know down the road, in the middle of no where, is an Egyptian restaurant and a custard stand with a miniature golf course.
You can go bowling at 1:30am with automatic scoring.
Since your town was founded before 1776, all the restaurants, taverns and shops have a "ye", "olde", and "colonial" in their names.
One time a seagull pooped all over your head.
You once said "It smells like Philadelphia in here"
You swam in the ocean after the hypodermic needle scare.
You know that it can be 70 degrees in January.
There's a fruit and vegetable stand down the road.
The word "YO" is a part of your vocabulary, and you use it often.
You get put on water restriction in the winter months

I had opted not to take a job as a Secretary at the local chemical plant or to go to college but to test my wings instead. I had taken College Prep in High School and Secretarial Courses, was an A, B student and scored one of the highest SAT scores of anyone that year. I never liked shorthand though I took classes in it, so I developed my own form of shorthand and to this day, still serves me well in a number of situations. I applied as a Secretary at a Union Carbide company in Bound Brook, NJ and fully not expected to get hired due to my lack of work experience. Much to my surprise, I was hired and the personnel manager told me he liked my ambition, my test results and the fact that the company had a quota to fill. I had mixed feelings about that but I struggled through a pounding headache for the first two weeks, while I managed to accomplish some good work for 22 Engineers in the Engineering Dept. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer bunch of guys to work for and I did some modeling for the company newsletter. The photographer who asked me to be a part of the company newsletter, told me he one day wanted to try and capture my spirit. I'd hoped that was all he wanted to capture. I became really close with a young Engineer who happened to be the Nephew of the Vice President of the company. Perhaps a little too close is more of an accurate description because before we knew it, he was transferred to a Union Carbide in Charleston, SC and it was…bye…take care…write when you can. At any rate, he was a little too crazy for the stuffed shirts. Right before I left, I had been given a raise that was more than a woman who had worked in the department for ten years. Initially I stayed with an Aunt and Uncle during the time I spent there. The cost of living there was and still is very high but I looked around for an apartment that I could afford. The cheapest thing I could find was one room efficiency with a concrete floor and that was really expensive. Later, I was invited to stay with some friends who were very kind-hearted people. In addition to my Mother's ailments, she suffered from 'empty nest syndrome' so my car knew every crack on the NJ Turnpike from traveling back and forth on the weekends. That would at least give her some pleasure with her youngest child having flown the coupe.

Not Quite Private Benjamin

After almost a year there and a huge bonus, I moved back home to help take care of my ailing Mother. Once there, I enlisted in the Army Reserves and moved to Delaware for two years. I was 21 years of age at the time, very fly and my day planner was constantly full. One of the happening clubs at the time was called the Brandywine Club in Chaddsford, PA. You had to be a member in order to get in. A girlfriend and I were dressed to the nines one evening and went to the club. We were chatting near one of the bars when I felt someone put their arms around my waist from behind and he said, "I've been looking for you all night". I turned around to see this greek God in a black pin-striped suit with a white cashmere coat. His hair was dark brown and he had the most gorgeous green eyes I have ever seen in my life. The Italian suit he had on so complimented his heritage. I knew his name from others who had seen him before and even they could not adequately describe his beauty. The man appeared to have stepped right out of GQ magazine and he completely swept me off my feet. We went to my place that night and he insisted I drive his Lincoln, to which I obliged. We dated for a short while before it was time to move on. Have you ever dated a mannequin? LOL I sometimes wonder what happened to him and if he learned that there's a lot more to life than looks and being connected. (*sigh* he was pretty) The middle 70's were pretty wild with lots of partying. I dated the owner of a nightclub and disco was all the rage. For the life of me, how I danced the Hustle in 3” spiked heels and 4” platform shoes, I will never know. One of the coolest things that happened to me at the time, was one night a band had been hired to play at the club and the lead singer came over to me and said, “Mr._______ told us you are a very important person and told me to ask you if there were any particular songs you wanted us to play”. One of the un-coolest things that happened was I believed that Mr. ________ liked men as much as he liked women. That was truly something that was not mentioned when my Mother told me there would be days like this. I experimented with a lot of things, including things I never saw myself doing. My philosophy at the time was I'd try almost anything once. During the time I lived there, I had a number of friends and made a lot of acquaintances. It was a lot of fun most of the time and there are memories that will live in me forever. I also discovered how being in spotlight felt. The problem was, that spotlight will find you even when you're trying to go unnoticed. It's very important to make money and as much as you can. Money's not everything but knowing the bills are paid and that you won't have to bust your hump for the rest of your life is very important. Just the thought of not having to work is a dream for now, but definitely a reality. I like being in control of my own future, making my own decisions and not being dictated to. If I decided to fly to Paris tomorrow, I could.

Now, remember that tom boyishness that I mentioned previously? It was nowhere to be found when I needed it the most in the Army Reserves. I was all girl by every sense of the word. What did they mean when they said I had to fall out into formation at 5:30Am with no makeup on? Nonetheless, I learned to dig a foxhole, shoot an M16 rifle, break it down and put it back together again. Hiking up a mountain in Anniston, AL in November was not my idea of fun but thank God, the Captain had the good sense to order us back to base. I surely did not want my next taste of fame to be that in a story that was about a number of us soldiers being found frozen to death. My unit was comprised of some misfits who were tom boyish, some who were femme fatales and others who fell somewhere in between. There was a young Hispanic lady from Brooklyn, NY who had a difficult time in remembering not to say a curse word when she made a mistake. I remember her well and thanks to all of the push-ups we all had to do on her behalf, I suspect none of us forgot her for quite some time. The Drill Sergeant who presided over our unit had told us that never had she had a unit that scored the highest overall in competition by the time Basic Training was over. When the scores were tallied, she wept with joy and pride in her winning unit. Graduation Day arrived and on a base with only one male Drill Sergeant, I found that mentioning that only male in the questionnaire that was handed out, no matter how innocent, was not a good thing to do. The embarrassment of being called out of formation and taken to the Captain’s office where a couple of Lieutenants and a Sergeant awaited an explanation of what I had written, was a hard lesson to learn when it comes to the perception of others.

I then hired a moving company and moved back home once again as my Mother’s condition worsened and watched her as she went from being an engaging vital member of the family to a sedate spectator without even conversation to offer. Things had also gotten out of hand in Delaware and while I made a lucrative living, I needed to re-plant my feet on the soil of the foundation from whence I came. In other words, I needed to get my head back on straight and leave the wild life of often waking to find people crashed on my floor. My Aunt, her Sister, refused to allow her to slip further into the abyss and rescued her while my Father and I managed the household. To digress, one of the highlights of 1977 was seeing Elvis perform 2 months before his death. He was grossly overweight and in poor health but I was an Elvis freak and all that mattered was I was getting to see him. My friend and I snuck our way down to the side of the stage and he threw a sweat-soaked scarf in the audience. Two girls grabbed it and began to fight right in front of us. It was a mess! He threw another scarf in the audience and I caught it but I guess the look on my face was one that said, don’t even think about it. That scarf remained intact until I got home. I can tell you though; I still have a promotional button I bought at that concert. In 1978, I went to work at an insurance company and quickly found out what that game was all about. Insurance is a necessity but it’s what the insured doesn’t know is what’s amazing. In 1979, I went to work at the local Police Dept. and celebrated my 26th anniversary on March 5th. I’m counting the few years I have left before I retire and burn my mortgage. It’s going to be a grand party!!

In 1990, my otherwise healthy Father passed away. One of the hardest things ever to be to witness the effects Alzheimer’s disease has on a person. I was devastated to say the least. I was Daddy’s little girl and there was nothing that I wanted that he didn’t get for me. There were many days after he worked a double shift when I was young that he would have to take my Mother or myself to the hospital without any sleep. Yet, he never grumbled, not once. He was a jack of trades and helped a lot of people. He also used to tell us kids that he could not tell us not to do this or that because odds were he’d probably done it himself and we’d just have to find out for ourselves. In that same year would be my first trip to Cheyenne. My Sister and Brother-in -law and I drove from Jersey to Wyoming in their Broncho. They actually did most of the driving and it took us 34hrs. to get there. We stopped in Washington, DC to do some sight-seeing and visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. If you've ever been there, you know how emotionally serene it is. Thousands and thousands of names on the wall led to some who were from my area and I traced the name of one who I had known as a young girl. We also stopped at an antique car and train museum. The antique train cars out back were rich with history; in which one had been ridden by Theodore Roosevelt and were luxurious for their time. No one was permitted inside the cars to retain the original furnishings but I managed to snap a photo from the window. After returning home from my trip to Cheyenne and after I had the film developed, what appears to be the ghost of a young girl can be seen in one of the train cars. There were no mannequins inside of any of them and you can even see the dress she was wearing. At some point, I would still like to have the photo analyzed.

Except for the loss of other family members who played a key role in my life, I would not experience such devastation again until 1996. That was the year that my Mother died. My Mother had been in and out of the hospital so frequently that all of the nurses and doctors knew her. On the day she died, I received word that she had been taken to the hospital with respiratory problems. I was prepared for her to be discharged after a while and had taken her medication and clothing to the hospital with me. She died before I could get there and it is something that still haunts me to this day. I always tried as hard as I could to be there for both her and my Father but when she needed me the most, I wasn't there. There were times when I was taking care of my parents that words could not describe how tired I was. My Sister-in-law was the next to arrive at the hospital that day and while I don't remember it because of the state I was in, she told me that one of the first things I said to her was, who will I take care of now. It was the darkest times I had ever experienced and I didn’t think I wanted to take much more of life and was ready to give up and throw in the towel. I climbed into a black hole of desperation and didn’t care if I ever climbed out. My Mother lived for her kids. She spent many a sleepless night nursing me when I was ill and she was the kind of Mother every child should have. She was up every morning to make breakfast before Dad went off to work and we went off to school. Both of my parents were the best there were and seeing that we turned out okay shows that they did a hell of a job. To this day, there are times when I still wish I could go to the phone and call her and tell her what happened today. My Sister, realizing that something had to be done that I needed to be rescued, persuaded me to come to Cheyenne during Frontier Days. With the exception of having been exposed to the music of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, I was about as far from country music as anyone could get. My Sister told me that Garth Brooks was appearing there that week but they had swapped their tickets for another performer having seen him before. I’d heard about Garth, I had even caught of glimpse of him performing on TV one night while surfing the channels but other than that, that was it. I was not impressed with what I knew about country music and for me country music carried a stigma of racial prejudice from non-educated, ignorant hillbillies. I would soon find out otherwise and how far country music had come and how far it would take me.

Off to Cheyenne I flew, not expecting anything other than the comforting arms of my Sister and Brother-in-law and a lot of reminiscing, which was just what I needed. The day before Garth was to perform at the fairgrounds and my Sister regretting the fact that they had swapped their tickets, she perused the newspaper for tickets for sale, while Garth CD’s played in the background. Listening to the words of “The Dance”, “If Tomorrow Never Comes” had tears streaming down my face but when “Rodeo” came on and “We Shall Be Free”, I shot up out of my seat like a rocket. Something, someone had grabbed me by the shoulders yanking me upwards saying listen to this guy; he’s a storyteller and a good one at that! That someone was my Father. As sure as I am sitting here writing this, I’m telling you it was him. Dad always liked a good storyteller and perhaps it was because he was one of the best I knew. Many nights he regaled us kids and our friends with stories that kept us mesmerized and always, always gave us something to think about. I mean, at the age of 10 I can remember a group of us sitting around with him while he engaged us in conversation about the possibility of intelligent life on other planets along with the prospects of life after death. Or teaching us the true meaning of gambling, for example. His philosophy was that if you’re going to play, be prepared to lose. My Mother on the other hand, did not appreciate his taking our lunch money when we lost a hand in cards but that was the lesson learned. If you lose your lunch money, you may have to take your lunch all next week.

I could not believe what I was hearing. This was not the country music I knew. The $18. tickets were selling for upwards of $175. a piece and it did not appear that I would be seeing this guy perform live. The next morning after my Sister and Brother-in-law had left for work, the phone rang. It was my Sister who said, “you know Garth is playing at the fairgrounds tonight and we’re going!!!” I screamed so loud but I still didn’t know why. Later that night I found out why as I watched this guy run back and forth across the stage and on top of 2 tractor-trailers parked on each side of the stage while playing and singing. I was completely in awe and when I got back home I knew I had to find out everything there was to find out about this guy and consume everything I could get my hands on! Every CD, every promo, every book, magazine, video, etc. I had to have. There was a reason things happened the way they did and my life would forever be changed in a way I could never have imagined. My Mother always wanted me to be happy and she tried every way possible to show her appreciation for my having taken care of her and my Father for many years. I felt it was the least I could do for all they had done for me. But my belief is that when my Mother got to heaven and met up with my Father, she said, “God you called us home but there’s one thing I need you to do and I want you to make her happier than she’s ever been.” Thanks Mom, this ride has just begun!

The Edge of Insanity

When I returned home, I found a reason to get up every morning. In doing so, I also found the courage to undertake many tasks that I didn't know I could do. When I would start to feel a little down, I would pop a Garth CD in the stereo and pick up some tools to begin do-it-yourself home projects. I learned to do a variety of things, including electrical wiring and I must have done it right because my house still stands.

In the Spring of 1997, it was announced that Garth would perform a free concert in Central Park in NY and a major production feat commenced. I knew I had to go even if I had to crawl. I mentioned the concert to a fellow worker and he was anxious to go. So on the night before the concert we headed to NY and checked into a Manhattan hotel. (you can read the rest of that adventure and others on my Garth website above.) Suffice it to say, it was a phenominally historic event and a huge ratings boon for HBO and inspite of what some reports conveyed, the NYFD listed the attendance of over 900,000. That event would eventually lead me to the Garth fans internet community(some really good friends), otherwise known as Garthnutts and to this day I am still in contact with some. I used to read messages placed on the boards at Planet Garth and in the Garth digest known as the Garthbox. A number of them told of meeting Garth and how much of a sincere, sweet, down to earth person he was. I envied every moment and always hoped I too would meet him someday but could not fathom how it might happen. I was told that "you just gotta believe" and that's exactly what I did.

**The names of some whose lives have crossed paths with mine have been omitted to protect the guilty as well as the innocent. ;)