She wasn’t a politician, a banker, a religious leader, a grocery store owner. But she was a huge influence on my life as a young mother. She was always a neighbor and she was always there if she were needed, to babysit or simply to give advice.
Pauline and Andy Homiak lived two doors away from us on Huddy Avenue for the first five years of my marriage. She was probably in her late 40s or early 50s then, but to me, an 18 year old bride, I thought she was old. She had bright red hair, a mouth that could make a priest shrink, and could be so loud when she was angry at something you’d swear the knick knacks on the living room shelves were rattling . I know Chicken, our little mongrel dog, would shake and run into a corner to hide when Pauline yelled.
Pauline was a McGrail as well, one of those great wonderful families that filled the town with Irish love, laughter, religion and everything else that’s good. Her mom lived on Second St. and her brother lived on Linden Ave…her nephew is the wonderful Rev. Marty McGrail at the Church on Bay avenue in Highlands. Her sons Andy, Michael and Jimmy were always around, always great kids, always close to both their mom and dad.
Big Andy worked at Fort Monmouth and Pauline was a stay at home mom, and close to all the McGrails.
Pauline loved my girls, Kathy and Michelle, who were both born in the years we lived on Huddy Avenue. I’d bring them over to Pauline’s little front porch on warm days, so she could chat with them, hold them, love them, and tell me everything I was doing wrong as a mom. As Kathy got to be three or four years old and the Homiaks moved one house closer to us so they were then next door neighbors, Kathy could even walk over to Aunt Pauline’s by herself and loved to sit and chat with her.
Jimmy, my husband, as near perfect as he was, also could make a priest shrink when he spoke. “God damn it” was a single noun in his vocabulary, and meant everything from “Boy, that was great!” to “What the heck did you do that for?”
So it was natural that Kathy, a quick learner, would pick it up as well. At Aunt Pauline’s, she would say it often, whether she was happy or upset about something. Pauline told me that all the young mothers read Dr. Spock, the pediatrician so highly regarded for all those years. She told me Dr. Spock said you should not reprimand a youngster for using bad words. Instead, the good doctor said, one should simply create a phrase and every time the child used the bad words, you should substitute the new phrase. Pretty soon the child would get the message and stop saying the old phrase.
So how could I challenge Pauline and Dr. Spock? I agreed to quit yelling at Kathy for her mouth and try substituting “Or for Pete’s Sake!” Even though I didn’t even know a Pete other than Pauline’s brother!
So this went on for a couple of weeks. Every time Kathy said God damn it, I said, “Oh for Pete’s Sake,” and refrained from washing her mouth out with soap or yelling at her. Then a few weeks after we started, there was the transformation! Kathy was annoyed at something and burst out, “Oh for Pete’s Sake!”
I was delighted! I was thrilled! Kathy was saying “Of for Pete’s Sake” all the time. I loved Pauline’s advice and I quickly became a follower of Dr. Spock. Here I was, a young mother of two adorable little daughters and I was smarter than a four year old! It was amazing!
My pride in myself did not last too long! Kathy was over her Aunt Pauline’s with me one day, and Pauline said, “Kathy Smith, why do you always say, “For Pete’s Sake?” And with all the wisdom, beauty, confidence and intelligence of my beautiful first born, she wiped out my whole sense of pride and confidence.
Looking up at Aunt Pauline, Kathy giggled and said, “Because my mother doesn’t like me to say “God damn it!”
I threw my new Dr. Spock book away. But I learned so many other lessons from a wonderful neighbor and a dear friend.