October 5, 2018
Take a trip to Macy's fabric floor in 1966. Here you'll find my mother prepped to select patterns, zippers, threads and buttons as she begins her annual mission to hand-sew our childhood wardrobe.
I am pleased to announce that my new piece -- "Fall 1966: The Cool and Groovy Look" -- was invited to appear on the Hudson Valley Writers Center website.
October 3, 2018
When I was growing up, my mother sewed everything my sister and I wore. Dresses. Skirts. Blouses. Bathing suits. Coats. Everything but our underwear.
And by early August, my mother was already planning what we would wear on the first day of school. It was time to make our pilgrimage to the sewing floor of Macy’s department store.
My little sister, older brother and I were like three little ducklings following my mother into the city (we called it the “city” and not “Manhattan” because we thought they were two different places). Since it was a day of walking the fabric floor, my mother wore sensible shoes: woven leather low heels that reminded me of two little baskets on her feet.
We began the journey from our home on Curtiss Place, in Maplewood, New Jersey, and took the Erie-Lackawanna railroad. The train had honey-colored straw seats that could flip around depending on whether you were going to or coming from the city. As the conductor walked up the aisle, he pushed the seats, making sure they were facing the right direction for the next load of commuters.
There was no direct train at the time. Once we reached Hoboken, we had to catch the PATH to 34th Street. The sprint between the two trains was a panic until my legs were long enough to keep up with my mother.
The underground PATH in August was hot and steamy. It took us right to 34th Street, where Macy’s was at the top of the stairs. Before heading up though, we would grab lunch at Nedick’s, which was on the corner of 34th and Broadway. There we’d order hot dogs and orange soda. They also had a nut bread-and-cream cheese sandwich, which I was always tempted to try but thought it would make ordering more complicated. It was a fast-food luncheonette, after all. I stuck with my mother’s order: “Four hot dogs and four orange sodas, please.”
We finished lunch quickly. We had a big day in front of us.
Macy’s had grand revolving doors. Mom always went in first, and I remember the welcome blast of cold air as I emerged into the lobby. The scent of Chanel 5 infused the air. We had arrived.
The four of us took flight after flight of wood-slatted escalator steps to the seventh floor, which was filled with bolts of fabric in all shades of solids and different patterns of stripes and plaids. I knew Mom was in “work mode” when she went for the corduroys and wools. She was looking ahead to colder weather, but the thought of wearing fabrics like those on such a searing day was beyond my imagination.
My sister and I helped our mother peruse the pattern books, which were huge and filled with sweeping renderings of “The Look” for that fall. This was the era of Twiggy, and I hoped there was a pattern for a dress that would make me look exactly like her.
“How’s this?” Mom would ask us. “Can’t you see it in a nice plaid?” I squinted to try and picture it, but I trusted my mom. She had a great eye for putting “The Look” together.
My mom then requested the patterns – those tissue-paper-y sheaths that would be the start of our new wardrobes. With the packets in hand, we headed over to fabric. I was really excited. I could have a say on what I would wear the first day of school. Or even what I would wear for Photo Day. In fifth grade, it was a blue corduroy dress that was short enough to have coordinating blue corduroy shorts (that showed). Looking back, I will admit I was quite the standout in the front row of Miss Smith’s class picture.
“This would look good in a bold print,” my mother said, as she held up the pattern for a Go-Go shift. I could see it clearly: this dress and windowpane stockings.
Or, “Do you think this jumper would be better in a solid or print?” Often she would combine the two: printed jumper with solid pockets. The one I remember most was a black, red, white and yellow print with yellow corduroy pockets. Once you had the pattern, you could make zillions of the same dress. So my mother always made this dress with solid pockets that picked up a prominent color from the jumper fabric.
Throughout the day my sister and I had one charge: who could make the biggest thread ball. As we walked the floor and passed the bolts, we grabbed hanging threads and wrapped them around our ever-growing, multicolored balls.
The outing took hours: after picking patterns and fabrics, there were still zippers, buttons and threads to be found. When my siblings and I got bored, we played “Train” under the big tables carrying the pattern books. My brother was the conductor, my sister and I were the passengers. I was glad to be a part of the game; I wore glasses and was usually not invited to play with them. “Too fragile,” people thought. “Too weird,” was my brother’s reaction. He called me a “Four-Eyed Freak.” So playing “Train,” I was right in step for being groovy.
When we returned home to Maplewood, my sister and I compared our thread balls. Soon, Mom was in her yellow sewing room in the attic. We would hear the rumble of the machine start and then stop. She would adjust the needle, or straighten a piece of cloth, and then start again.
My mother is now 87-years old. During one of our daily phone calls, I asked her about being a sewing savant and her technique for finishing a seam.
“You have to direct the fabric,” she said. “You push it either straight or curved. Then you go back and forth, back and forth, for a quarter of an inch, to make sure the stitches don’t unravel.”
“It was hot as hell up in that attic,” she continued. “I would have wool on my lap on the third floor, in an un-air-conditioned room, in August. Oh gawddd, it was horrible.”
“I wanted to set an example and let my children know that you didn’t have to go to the store for everything. Often you could make it yourself.”
My brother, I must add, was just along for the ride. The day didn’t hold much for him. The only thing my mother could sew for her son was pajamas. As the ringmaster on clothes, though, she insisted he always wear store-bought corduroys, a button-down shirt and a V-neck sweater. He absolutely hated his look.
My brother told me recently that he remembers hardly anything about our annual summer pattern- and fabric-finding mission to Macy’s.
Then he said, “In retrospect, Mom did an incredible job. Who sews anymore? Some of the outfits were really adorable. Like remember the shot of you two on the steps at Curtiss Place?”
I do remember that outfit. The dress was red, and over it was a coat with a big white collar and a red grosgrain ribbon tied into a bow. This was paired with black patent Maryjanes, gloves and a round black patent purse (with nothing but a plastic comb and Lifesavers inside), and topped with wide-brimmed red bowler. My sister had the exact same outfit. We were twins!
The chapter of proudly wearing my mother’s hand-sewn clothes came to an end when girls started to wear pants to school. We begged, telling Mom it wasn’t cool anymore to wear clothes made by hand.
She eventually gave in. My sister and I were allowed to wear pants twice a week. This time, store-bought pants. From where? Macy’s.
September 5, 2018
My daughter (the doctor-to-be) drove us up to the Vineyard. As we were driving, I pulled out the tomatoes I brought as a pre-repast at Wendy's.
"Would you like a tomato?" I asked. I popped one in my mouth.
"Did you wash them?"
"No," I responded while popping another in my mouth. (She could have been more gracious since I was sharing them.)
I rolled a third one around in my mouth before biting into it. So delectable!
"You should have washed them," my daughter said. "Did you know that there could be Listeria Monocytogenes on them?"
"Nooo, but ..." I spit that third one out into my hand.
"Or Salmonella? They could also be covered in Shigella. You really shouldn't eat them, Mom, before washing them."
"I'm not," I said, trying to wipe off the seeded goo from my chin.
"Good," she continued. "Because you wouldn't want a case of Campylobacter Jejuni either."
Med school, it appeared, was paying off.
August 15, 2018
June 14, 2018
Nicknames are lovingly given to replace someone's real name. For example, is there anything more endearing than "Schmoopey"? (It's what I sometimes call my dog. A pet name, so to speak.) Or, the diminutive for someone who is "ace" at something might be my daughter, Annaclaire. Her initials are "ACB," thus the spinoffs "Ace," or "Acey." For those not in a rush, they go for the full three-syllable, "A-C-B."
My entire name is Bonni Dee Kogen Brodnick. Over the years, I've accumulated multifarious sobriquets:
Benni (I think Elton John wrote a song about me. Click here.)
CloBon (a derivation of "Cloudette Bonni")
Scoop (This was particularly clever because it was rendered when I wrote a weekly newspaper column, "Talk of the Town" for the Bedford-Pound Ridge Record-Review. I'd hear from across the street, "Hey, Scoooooop!" and knew exactly who was calling me.)
I love all of them. I truly appreciate that someone wants to bestow me with a moniker other than Bonni Dee Kogen Brodnick. That they should feel close to me. Love me, if you will.
But, if you don't know me well, don't call me by a nickname. E.g., don't call me "Bon" too soon in our relationship. Also, if I'm at a business meeting, say I'm discussing the media tactics for a new campaign and someone whom I just met asks, "So, Bonnzi, what do you think?" I think you're getting a little too personal. You might as well add, "Old friend, old pal" and whack me on the back.
So, play it safe. Keep a distance. Call me "Bonni." You'll know in your heart when the time is right to use one of my nicknames. I promise you, Flippy.
May 6, 2018
So here I am, doing research for a new writing project. I googled "atrial fibrillation." In the right-hand column I see ... no, wait ... is it really ... ME? (Click here)
The chick in the photo looks exactly like me (plus 30 lbs. ... like, me when I was in college and cooking at Helio's, a Greek restaurant on Martha's Vineyard, and I couldn't get enough of the tahini frosting).
Can you believe I'm the poster child for A-Fib? I look crabby and disgruntled to have disorganized electric signals and heart palpitations. Plus, I appear to have the grimace of being irregular ... with heartbeat, that is.
My mother said, "Bon, do you have glasses like that? I really think it's you. Maybe they took it of you and you didn't know."
And my sister said, "Call Central Casting!"
Let's just say ... it's a beautiful coincidence.
April 25, 2018
(Left to right) My sister Pamela and my brother Michael. I am so thankful for them.
I was returning to Phelps Hospital, where I was for two weeks in-patient rehab. My stroke was mid-April. Perched in my room on the 4th floor, I could watch the seasons change as the grass, flowers and trees turned from spring to summer. Then during follow-up therapies, I watched them go from fall to winter. Today, the scenery is once again on the cusp of bloom. I was back to have my post-stroke, 1-year anniversary.
The entrance to Phelps has “P” in black and “helps” in red. Phelps Helps. The boxwood were trimmed just below the word “Emergency.” (Once when I was leaving in June, the flowers had grown to nearly cover the word. I thought, “How can you have a sign with the word ‘Emergency’ covered? What if there was an EMERGENCY?)
Today, I left enough time so that I could navigate the hallways, which can be confusing. One half of the hospital is 755 and the other is 777. I had appointments with my neurologist in 777, but had to drop off a form to retrieve my records at 755. I had also parked in the wrong place. No worries. I could do it.
I remembered walking the 4th-floor halls with my physical therapists. “Watch out for the walls.” “Over here a little more.“ I was slightly dizzy and weak. My vision was skewed. Why were their mouths so long? (I later learned that my eye muscles were temporarily weakened from the stroke.) I couldn't wait for the session to be over when I invariably crashed. The naps couldn’t come soon enough.
When I walked the 1st-floor with my OT therapist, everything was so confusing. There was more bustling with people coming and going in the lobby. In one of our sessions, she asked me to count how many fire extinguishers I passed from the OT room to the gift shop. I had to point and say, “Fire extinguisher” as I passed each one.
“You missed one,” she said patiently. Her challenge was steep for this post-stroke survivor. It was so hard to walk, watch and say “fire extinguisher.” “Oops, you missed another one," she said.
“Maybe it’s my eyes,” I said. I could blame a lot on my eyes.
Finally, we got to our destination: the gift shop.
“Find a Reese’s Cup, pocket tissues and a pair of earrings,” she said. “Then, take me to where there are things with a proverb written on them.”
Sounds easy. Believe me, it was challenging. I felt so slow-minded. I wanted to go to my room where there weren't as many people hustling around. And the noise. My brain couldn't take the confusion.
But today -- my 1-year anniversary -- was different. I felt stronger. I could walk straight -- both a straight line, and tall and straight. I was proud. I could navigate the noises, lights, and people so much easier. Even the fire extinguishers didn’t fetter me.
My neurologist was thrilled to see my progress. He asked what were some of my challenges.
My right side was weak but getting better. I was also self-conscious of my aphasia.
“You are talking much clearer,” the doctor said. “There is more hesitation between the words, and you speak softer, but it is clear. I don’t think you should tell people you have aphasia. They might not have even noticed.”
“Maybe I could use it to my advantage when I was talking on the phone with the bank or insurance company.”
He laughed and agreed.
That evening, I went to the market. A couple was there. She was picking oranges. The man was muttering something. He had a limp, a cane and a clenched hand. I used to have the same.
I empathized with what he was going through. I wanted to ask, “Excuse me. Did you have a stroke, by chance? I did, too.”
I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all I could do.