Monthly Archives: May 2009

Can you really go home again?

I attended the funeral of a ‘black sheep’ cousin two weeks ago. I looked around and it hit me hard that my extended family is getting smaller. When I was a kid, I remember times when we’d host big parties that were attended almost exclusively by family members. They’d all be laughing like hyenas, telling stories and sharing opinions while eating a lot of fantastic food cooked by my Mom. Everyone enjoyed it so much and felt lucky to be a part of it. I guess we were a typical Italian family; we were all pretty close.

In those days, it seemed like people tended to stay geographically closer to each other, too. My parents’ generation had what they called, “The Cousin’s Club”. This group grew up together and caroused together, married, had children, the works. They often even vacationed together (hey, this is starting to sound like “Goodfellas.”) It was pretty amazing to have my grandparents next door, two aunts and two uncles in a two block radius, great aunts and uncles, even a great-grandfather who was local (and grew grapes for his own wine!)  Of course, this also meant hot and cold running cousins and various in-laws (and out-laws!) Man, did we have fun.

Here we are years later and we’re all flung in different corners. Some kids couldn’t afford to stay in the kind of neighborhood we lived in. And sure, people got older and more than a few have passed on. Some of the club members’ kids never married, and those that did, didn’t always have children, or fewer of them. The ‘killer blow’ — my parents, who hosted most of those gatherings, moved to Florida when my Dad retired. He’d been saying it for years – “I am NOT going to be shoveling snow after I hit 55!” And of course, New York taxes had always been a sore spot for the old man.

Fact is, my parents are really fun people. As soon as they got down to Florida, they started building a whole new network of friends, Dad jumped into local politics, Mom started teaching a tap dancing class and they both loved the people they met through their new country club. We’d take our families and go to visit them and it would be pretty funny what we’d go through to schedule visits. My parents always have house guests! You had to grab a spot on their calendar and get in there early.

Tomorrow I’m taking a Jet Blue flight to southwest Florida to visit my folks. My sister and I went out for a cup of coffee after the funeral and shared some memories. We both realized that my parents are ‘getting on’ and when she suggested we just grab a flight and go down there, I felt like it was an inspired idea. We considered taking the redeye flight so we could repeat one of our uncle’s old pranks, namely, huddling under the bedroom window at daybreak to sing “Strangers in the Night,” but ultimately decided against it. We’d just be boring and tell them ahead of time so they could come and get us at the airport.

So, even though the Florida house isn’t the home back in Queens I remember with such nostalgia, it is home because when we get there, it’s going to be just the four of us again, our original nuclear family under one roof for the first time in many years. It’s different now in so many ways, sure. This time around, my Mom is not going to take my bedroom door off the hinges (she didn’t like it when I constantly kept my bedroom door locked when I was 14); my Dad won’t come home knocked out from work and charge outside to mow the lawn. My sister and I will not be fighting over the remote control — there’s a flat screen TV in every room of that house.

But here’s the thing — they’re older now. That feels kind of strange and not a little scary. I’m going to hold on to what’s important. We’ll be together. And when we’re together, there’s always love and lots of laughter. I can’t wait to see them both. Yes, you can go home again and I’ll be there tomorrow.



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Do you believe in ghosts?

I live on Long Island, which seems to be an area that attracts ghosts – or at least, folks who tell tales of having seen them. While tooling around the net, I discovered a wonderful blog that I found absolutely fascinating:

It’s written by Todd Atteberry and I spent the better part of an hour enjoying the author’s whimsical style and absolutely gorgeous photos. (Besides having a very unique voice, Todd is also a talented photographer; his photos are evocative and very much suit the ‘feeling’ of the blog.) The Long Island ghost stories  are certainly eerie, but there is something very unexpectedly playful about the way he tells them — please don’t take my word for all this, go and have a look!

I was elated to find a post about Winfield Hall, which is the old Woolworth mansion out in Glen Cove, NY. On my refrigerator, a magnet holds a faded newspaper clipping. It’s a story about Winfield Hall. I keep it there to remind me of a journey I once made there (as if I could ever forget!) and possibly to goad me into making a return trip sometime.

Winfield is a 30,000 square foot Italian Renaissance mansion which sits on a 16 plus acre property. The grounds surrounding the mansion, now overgrown and wild,  once featured lush gardens fashioned after those of the Villa Borghese in Rome. A 15,000 square foot clock ktower and a carriage house also sit on the property. The main house has 11 bedrooms, 10.5 bathrooms and 16 fireplaces.

F.W. Woolworth is said to have been a strange man. He made a fortune inventing the ‘5 and Dime’ of yesteryear and was supposedly obsessed by Napoleon, as I learned from “The Magic of Believing” (a  book which deeply influenced me and which is discussed in an earlier post here). While that book did mention some  of Woolworth’s rather ‘mystical’ interests, it did not deeply examine aspects of his personal life.

I have read (in “Winfield: Living in the Shadow of the Woolworths”, by Monica Randall) that one of his daughters committed suicide in the house while a party went on downstairs. She was distressed about her father’s refusal to allow her to mary as she wished, so the story goes. There are rumors that Woolworth’s remains are hidden in an enormous sarcophagus in the basement of the mansion. I doubt that old Woolworth’s body is anywhere on the premises (not so sure about his spirit, however!) , but I am certainly more than convinced that it’s a sad house.

About two years ago, I decided to go and take a look at this property. I knew I wouldn’t be content to drive around it and peer through the fences either. I wanted to really see the house — up close and personal. Here’s the story of that visit, which I posted in the “Comments” section of

I have walked the grounds of Winfield late at night. I made it up to the front veranda of the mansion with a companion and we used the flashlight we’d brought along to illuminate the entry foyer and also the beautiful room with the golden ceilings (concealing the hidden chamber above).

The marble staircase was incredibly beautiful; it literally seemed to glow. At the risk of sounding like a lunatic, I have to confess that I thought I saw something. I sensed movement and felt as if my hair were trying to stand on end, because what I was seeing was a figure in a long dress slowly coming down the stairs. At the same time, I felt as if someone was advancing on us from behind as we peered into the house. We both gasped when we saw the figure, I clicked off the light, and we got out of there as fast as our feet would carry us. Later on, we found that we’d both seen the same apparition. VERY creepy. End of story.

Do you believe in ghosts?


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