TBT- Those Yummy Airline Meals

Once upon a time, you could go to the airport and say your hellos or goodbyes to your loved ones at the gate. And once upon a time, you would settle yourself into your relatively comfy seats and be given a choice of meals—the chicken, beef, or maybe a pasta dish—all served with accompanying silverware.

We know that has changed, so much so that I was actually surprised when offered a tasty, crunchy little biscotti for breakfast on my one-hour flight to Washington D.C. recently (sorry, no coffee or tea). I remember when we would be offered eggs, pancakes, fruit, or perhaps some kind of breakfast pastries—all at no additional cost. So it was with great amusement that I found an article in one of my father’s old newspapers. It was from the New Jersey Star Ledger on August 11, 1974, which Dad had saved because it covered the news of our new president, Gerald Ford, who had just been sworn in after the resignation of President Nixon.

The headline announced “Airline Meal Preparation—First Class and Coach.”

If you are old enough to have been a passenger on an airline in the early days of commercial flying, you might remember the meals served on board: A box lunch containing a sandwich, some cake or fruit and a thermos of coffee.

Today’s airline meals are a far cry from those humble beginnings. The menu is varied, there is always some selection of items, a delicacy is featured frequently and, at the very least, the meals are nourishing and keep you occupied.

Wow, and now if we want that boxed lunch, it comes with a price. The article went on to mention that “every four weeks within the nine-month cycle, the menus are rotated so that the possibility of food boredom on the part of a regular, weekly passenger is alleviated. If that is not enough, the menu on the Newark to Chicago flight, for instance, will always be different from the menu on the Chicago to Newark flight.”

Back in 1974, airlines even took into account regional differences in tastes, noting that “chicken is popular out of Atlanta, but the New Yorker, who fancies himself more sophisticated, prefers the deli sandwich. That in turn is scorned by the San Franciscan, who likes fish, currently one of the most popular items across the country.”

The desserts were prepared by European-trained chefs, and with three-days notice, they would prepare “a special occasion cake (sponge cake) with flower buds and swirls of icing for on-board presentation.” I am speechless!

This article was specifically written about United Airlines, and today, the only way to get a complementary fairly nice meal is to either fly first class or travel overseas. Otherwise, purchase a meal prior to boarding your flight or buy that boxed meal once served in those early days for free.

Those were the days, my friends!

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Not Lincoln or the Queen- But Still Very Cool

We all have varying motivations for climbing our family tree, and it is not unusual to begin the search after the death of a loved one. Who are we, where did we come from, and what in our genes makes us the person we have become? How much is nature and how much is nurture is a common question.

After my father died, I realized there was so much more to him that I never asked about because I never considered the mortality of him. “Someday I would ask,” was the thought that I kept pushing to the back burner until one day, it was too late.

So I spent a year beginning to learn about genealogy research. I hit the library, read books, and found ancestry.com. Then it dawned on me that while Dad could no longer answer my questions, my mother was still around for me to pump her for answers to questions about her family. So I put the brakes on researching my paternal branches and moved onto my mother’s family.

I wanted to know it all, but I also hoped, deep down, that I would find a president, king, or brilliant inventor hanging from a branch. Don’t kid yourself, genealogists out there! Isn’t there just a small part of you that would love to stumble upon a famous cousin?

It turned out that Mom’s family has a B-list famous leaf—an Irish inventor of a torpedo which was used by the British military in defense of its harbors for many years. He was not an Einstein or Alexander Graham Bell, but he did make a noteworthy contribution. His name was Louis Brennan, from Castlebar in County Mayo Ireland.

As the unofficial family historian after the death of my aunt, I now had possession of a Brennan Bible. There were a few holes in my tree that I was unable to fill until I went to the Castlebar website, where I located the name of a local historian and tour guide named Brian.

Castlebar is a small town, and as such, Louis was a local legend. Brian graciously sent me photos of the Brennan family grave, which contained the remains of the missing members of the Brennan family, and included translations from Gaelic to English. That was not the end of the story by any means.

I learned that while Louis had become a wealthy man as a result of his torpedo, after the government funding for some of his other inventions ceased, he used his own money to invest in future projects. Sadly, he died in 1932 as a result of an accident in Switzerland and was buried in an unmarked grave in London along with his wife and two of his children.

As a result of years of painstaking work by a committee of locals from Castlebar, a new grave and monument marking Louis’ final resting place was planned. The ceremony was set to be presided over by Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Edna Kenny.

Although Louis was the father of three children, he had no grandchildren, so when I reached out to Brian, I became the token relative representing the family.  Many emails and Facebook messages were exchanged, and eventually, I received an invitation in the mail.

Still, I was skeptical. Was the grandeur of the event exaggerated, and was it really going to be attended by both dignitaries and the press? My husband and I had no expectations, deciding, at worse, that we were going on a trip to London. We were instructed where to stay and what to wear, and when we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted with a warm welcome by an eclectic group from Castlebar.

We visited the church and gravesite the day before the ceremony, so we were able to view the plaque on the church wall and the beautiful headstone in private, “before the arrival of the crowds the next day.” I was told that I would be one of five individuals saying a short prayer after the homily by the presiding monsignor. Fortunately, this surprise honor was sprung on me with little time to get nervous. (I had always been of the belief that I would prefer to be eulogized rather than give the eulogy since I feared public speaking of any sort.)

When we arrived at the church the following day, I was delighted to see that a bagpiper was part of the ceremony. Apparently, no details were omitted. No Irish memorial service would be complete without the presence of a bagpiper.

My husband and I were directed to our seats—row 1—along with the Irish Prime Minister, Brigadier General Paul Fry of the Irish Air Corps, and Ireland’s UK ambassador, Daniel Mulhall. It was, to say the least, more than we ever anticipated.

The ceremony included two readings from the Bible, a homily by Monsignor Egan, and a lovely tribute by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. The service concluded with the Lord’s Prayer and singing of the Irish National Anthem, both in Gaelic, followed by the laying of the wreaths on the grave.

While at the gravesite, there were many photographs taken, many of which, included us. We were introduced to Mr. Kenny, and when he learned I was originally from New Jersey, he immediately spoke of The Boss—Bruce Springsteen. That was a conversation to make my family and friends back in New Jersey proud!

Until that day, I thought that the best party I ever attended was New Year’s Eve 2006 in Times Square. However, that celebration has now been eclipsed by the festivities at Flannery’s Bar in Wembley, where the reception after the ceremony was held.

The final surprise of the day was when I was presented with a lovely Louis Brennan Memorial plaque from the Castlebar Memorial Committee, which was handed to me by the Irish Prime Minister. Afterwards, there were many informal speeches, much laughter, tears, and the singing of several Irish songs by everyone in the bar. It was a day I will remember forever. So the moral of the story is that you just never know where your genealogy research will lead you. (For more details and pictures visit An 82 Year Old Wrong Finally Corrected.)

Then I turned to researching Dad’s story.

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Thankful

Today’s blog is reposted from Mommymeanderings.

Seventy-five years ago, our nation celebrated its last peacetime Thanksgiving before becoming involved in the war. Sixteen days later, Japan surprised almost everyone but my father with the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Pearl Harbor- Did Dad Know)

On that Thanksgiving Day in 1941, my mother was just twelve-years old, so her celebration was nothing like that of my father. She sat down with her family to eat a dinner prepared by her mother, while my father, then a twenty-two-year old soldier, was dining in a mess hall at Fort Dix. Dad’s family was on the other side of the world, and he had not been in contact with them for months. He did not even know if his family was dead or alive.

My Russian grandparents and three of their children were at a train station somewhere in the Soviet  Union, which had been their home for over one week. What were they eating that Thanksgiving? Definitely not a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. If they were lucky that day, they feasted on some black bread, perhaps some flavorless soup, and a cup of water.

Since August, they had been walking on muddy roads and living in abandoned farmhouses while enduring months of unrelenting rainstorms followed by snow and temperatures plummeting to below zero. Their goal was to reach a train station where they hoped to board a train to take them further away from the constant bombings overhead and Hitler’s ground troops advancing closer to them each day.

So on this Thanksgiving Day in 2016, just for a moment, I will not be sad about not celebrating with my entire family. I will be happy that my mother is still around to enjoy her turkey dinner, albeit two hundred miles from me. My oldest daughter and her family will be eating a traditional New Orleans dinner, complete with some kind of seafood dressing—not stuffing. My middle daughter will be with some of her in-laws not far from my mother, and my husband and I will be celebrating the holiday this year with our youngest daughter at a barbecue restaurant just one mile from The White House. (Now that will be interesting!) They will all be happy, healthy, and safe, so that is where my focus will be.

And just for that one day, I will not think of what will come of our country on January 20.

thanksgiving-2012

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Big Brother Was and Is Watching

There is much uncertainty in this country regarding what changes will take effect under the new administration. How much is rumor and how many of the ever-changing pre-election campaign promises will happen is yet to be seen. Concerns run the gamut of emotions from climate concerns to immigration reform.

Today, I will speak from the experiences of my father, whose was living in the United States and had not seen his mother for ten years because she was not permitted to leave Russia. While he explored every avenue to bring her home to him via the State Department and embassies all the while sending her care packages and letters from home, he was encouraged to cease communicating with her out of concerns for her safety.

The American Embassy in Moscow has informed the Department that it believes that for reasons of personal safety, Soviet citizens prefer to have no correspondence with their relatives in the United States or with the American Embassy in Moscow. This conclusion is based on the fact that many Soviet citizens have ceased writing to their relatives in the United States and have, furthermore, failed to reply to the Embassy’s letters requesting welfare information for transmittal to their relatives in the United States. In this connection, consideration should be given to the indications that foreign mail and mail from foreign missions to Soviet citizens is censored by the Soviet authorities and that coercive measures are being applied to Soviet citizens to discourage continuance of correspondence with foreigners. (Letter to Department of State October 2, 1951)

My thoughts on the relevance today: Let’s say a Muslim couple comes here from Afghanistan and then has a son who is therefore an American citizen. Then they return to Afghanistan with that son to visit their elderly parents and decide to remain there to care for them. The son returns to America to attend college and wants to communicate with his parents. What would happen then compared to what happened during the Fifties? (Just substitute Muslim with Russian; Afghanistan with the Soviet Union to understand the comparison.)

During my father’s time, he  (a first generation American born of a Russian couple) was discouraged from communicating with his parents (who had returned to Russia in 1931 with their American-born children) by the United States government for fear of reprisals against my grandparents by the Soviet government.

Today, I believe that the safety and privacy concerns are from this side of the ocean as well, with our first-generation American citizens worried about our government overseeing their communications with their loved ones in that “questionable country” across the pond. I believe the fear among these children here is not going away. How much is communication between American children and their families abroad currently being monitored, and will it increase in the future by our government? Now there are laws requiring warrents to open snail mail. Will that protection remain?

What would my father think? History does repeat itself. It’s chilling.

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One-Way Trip- Who Knew?

I never moved during my entire childhood. Actually, that’s technically not true, because my parents moved from a house they had rented to a brand-new house when I was six months old. I just don’t think that counts.

So I lived in the same house, with the exception of my dorm in college, until I got married and moved into my first adulthood home after my marriage. That was not so with my children, who spent most of their childhood in the same home until my husband’s company relocated us to a new state. My oldest was already in college, but the two youngest were already in high school. I know it was difficult, and I knew they hated us. I hope they have forgiven us.

The thing is, like my grandparents, who also moved their children—four of whom were teenagers at the time—it was a very difficult decision. For my kids, the relocation, while certainly extremely upsetting, did not have the tragic outcomes as did the move for my father and his five siblings.

I know that there came a time when my grandfather admitted to my father that the move to Russia, which seemed like a good idea at the time, was a huge mistake. I know that my dad, as an adult, understood that his parents relocated because of circumstances directly related to The Great Depression. My grandparents truly believed that living in Russia would provide jobs, a good education for the children, and security.

Sadly, the December day in 1931 when they boarded the Berengaria en route to their new home in the USSR, they could not have foreseen what kind of man would be leading the country they were moving to, nor could they have predicted a war. They never envisioned that not all of them would return.

Learn what happened to the children in this photo by reading their story in Do Svidanya Dad.

Dads family

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Days of a Refugee

We are all familiar with the Syrian refugee crisis, but do we really know what it’s like to be on the run from a war—not knowing how to keep your family safe or where you will find shelter free from danger? While I am fortunate to live a worry-free existence, I looked to my father’s family, who one day found themselves running from a war in a foreign country in August of 1941. At that time, they had been living in the city of Novgorod, just south of current-day St. Petersburg.

What follows is an excerpt from a chapter in my book detailing five months running from a war.

They knew it was a matter of days before they would hear the sounds of Nazi planes flying overhead, so they began the hasty preparations to leave. On the morning of August 14, they left Novgorod, headed away from the hostilities with their evacuation papers carefully packed away. The city fell to the Germans the next day.

Part of the family left on a boat via the Volkhov River. They took most of the bulky items which could not be transported by train or on foot. This included household items such as linens, dishes, and pots and pans. My grandparents and three aunts intended to walk until they could reach a train station. They piled a wagon with blankets, pillows, and nonperishable food, and carried the rest of their belongings in suitcases or strapped to their backs. They believed they would rendezvous with the rest of the family within a few days. They were sadly mistaken.

The first night, they slept in a barn in a nearby village, eating raw potatoes and cucumbers stolen from a nearby garden. With the constant sounds of planes thundering overhead and bombs exploding nearby, they were fearful their lives would come to an abrupt end if they ventured outside their shelter. They remained hidden there for over two weeks until they felt it was safe to move again.

Each day they continued advancing, staying wherever they could find a place to hide so they would not be in danger. It was difficult to sleep with the roars of the military aircraft rumbling overhead throughout the night. On the twentieth day, a few military men who cared little about my grandparents’ age and weakened state chased them from their current shelter. The soldiers tossed their bundles from the wagon and took the empty cart with them. It was a time of war, and civilians were inconvenient hindrances.

They spent the day trudging along wet, muddy roads in weather that grew more miserable with each passing hour. They traipsed along awkwardly for six miles that day, knowing that soon, the roads would be impassable.

They continued to eat only what they could steal. One day, Russian soldiers confiscated their food and accused them of being spies, but when they examined their evacuation documents, they set them free.

In early September, they found a hideout in a tiny hut in a small village where they remained for two months. They had traveled scarcely twenty-five miles since leaving three weeks earlier. Their goal was to reach a train station.

The primitive unpaved roads could not withstand the downpours, so they could not move until November when the autumn rains stopped. By then, the temperatures, which had been declining each day, were nearing arctic levels. There was a blessing which came with the coldness because the muddy washed-out roads were freezing, enabling them to travel again. They were eager to distance themselves from the fighting since the ground forces were now so close they could hear the gunfire in the stillness of the night.

Although the calendar indicated it was still autumn, the weather signaled the arrival of winter. It started to snow, and the sky was blanketed with thick, gray clouds. Rarely did the sunshine give them any respite from the gloom. It was getting colder each day, with temperatures regularly dipping below zero. In addition to the suffering brought on by their nomadic existence and lack of food, shelter, and warm clothing, the war continued to knock at their door.

On the twelfth of November, they finally reached a train station, and after sixteen days of patiently waiting inside with thousands of other weary travelers, they boarded a train. After spending months slowly plodding along the unpaved roads with thousands of other evacuees, they were grateful for the transportation, no matter how primitive it was.

Some days, they had nothing to eat but black bread and water. Other days, Soviet militia men who managed the food stations along the routes treated them to hot soup and bread.

 No one in the family was physically injured, but my aunt Helen was shell-shocked from the experience. When her sleep was not disturbed by enemy aircraft buzzing overhead or the sounds of bombs and artillery fire exploding nearby, she would awaken screaming from terrifying nightmares that interrupted her sleep with increasing regularity.

On January 16, 1942, they arrived in the city of Kuibyshev—the temporary capital of the Soviet Union—having traveled twenty-three hundred long, grueling miles during the past five months. My aunts called at the American Embassy a few days later and notified the embassy officials about their travels from Novgorod to Kuibyshev. They informed the ambassador in residence that their parents were Soviet citizens, and they were the American citizens who corresponded with them last year.

They were luckier than some of the Syrian refugees because they all survived their journey. While the ensuing months and years did not treat them well and not all of my father’s family survived, for that moment, they felt they were out of danger.

When I read the news and see the photographs of the families, and particularly the children, I think of my father’s family. Something must be done.

Boarding Train

Boarding Train- from “To the Tashkent Station” by Rebeccca Manley

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Another Veteran’s Day

Today is Veteran’s Day, and every year on this day, I think of my dad—a very proud veteran of the Second World War.

Dad- WW II VetGoing to war is never easy, but in his case, he served knowing that the rest of his family was trapped on the other side of the world, and their return home rested on his shoulders.

When he got on that train in Moscow in 1941, he was a twenty-one year old young man. Like so many soldiers, he was forced to grow up too quickly.

marty-wardamasky-ww-iiUnlike others fighting the war, Dad did not have a family sending him letters of comfort or a girlfriend writing love letters to help him survive another day.

For the first few months after he was drafted, he knew only that the town where he had been living with his parents and siblings when he left had been bombed. Had they even survived?

He began writing letters to the State Department, Red Cross, and several embassies, trying to get them home. Trying to find a safe route home was one problem, and trying to secure the funds to cover their travel expenses was another, particularly as a soldier on a limited salary.

1942-2-8-copyMy father never gave up the cause. The book I wrote is the story of why the family went to Russia in the first place, and the extraordinary efforts undertaken to get the surviving members of the family back in New Jersey.

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