Extended Read - Part 1
A several part autobiography that may extend quite long.
During the course of her research she told me that she had no idea that I was born in New Jersey. I was sure that this was not some hidden secret and probably talked about it before. But this began a train of thought to my own experiences in research. What did I not know about my family? That's why I do what I do currently. To know what they didn't tell me. I also tell people all the time to never forget to write down information about yourself and your family as you know it. But I obviously didn't take my own advice.
For the sake of my children, I'll embark on a journey to share with them (and consequently with you) the memories from my life so that they can fully know where I came from and how I began the Story of Me. While my memories are my own, I have two older siblings. Much older (teehee), to be exact they are 12 and 11 years older than I am. So while I was an infant, toddler and small child, my memories will be drastically different than the experiences they remember as young teens and adults. I encourage both my sister and brother to share their wonderful family memories with everyone in our family too, remembering that each will have a different perspective. None of them right or wrong. Just different.
So why hadn't I spoken much about my early life? Well, I wasn't always interested in family history so I probably was busy living and growing and learning. By the time I had my children, my grandparents were gone and my parents had retired to travel the world on their own while we were just starting to settle down. As they got older and life more complicated we talked even less about the past and family history. As they get older and begin to ask questions or say things like my daughter did, it brings light to what we've missed.
What do they know about the Story of Me?
I was born Michele Lee Prestis 5th of January in 1972 to Mary Elizabeth Brocato and William Allen Prestis Sr in Vineland, New Jersey. My parents lived in a home on West Avenue, which coincidentally, the older children had visited when they were with me in New Jersey on holidays. My siblings attended school on split days. In the morning one would attend and in the afternoon the other would attend. My mother had several jobs, one of which I specifically remember was a bus driver. Occasionally I would ride on the little dash area next to her seat while she drove. More often than not though, I would not be with her. Two of the things I remember were a babysitter named Valentine and some friends of ours who owned a Chocolate Candy shop. (I will get to those stories shortly) She also held a job at a transportation company called National Freight. I don't specifically remember much about that so in my mind, I'm guessing it was while I was much younger or before my time. My father worked mostly the grave yard shift at the Electric Power plant.
Valentine was a wonderful old woman would watch children in her home. I can remember the drive to her house especially in the spring with the flowering trees lining a very beautiful street. Her home was a small one with an enclosed back porch, a small wooden detached garage and a fairly big fenced in back yard. She watched quite a few children during the week and we would eat lunch and then lay down on the living room floor to take a nap. She insisted on quiet and no crying and shortly everyone would be asleep. Several times during the week though, she served soup for our lunch. I assume now as an adult because the parents didn't provide food at that time and it was a less expensive alternative for children than bread and peanut butter. I absolutely hated soup of any kind. For whatever reason I would not eat soup if my life depended on it. I would cry and cry. The majority of the time, she would take me aside and tell me that if I will lay down and be quiet, after all the kids go to sleep she will fix me a sandwich and we can sit in the other room. So I would lay down and the children would sleep and she'd gently touch my shoulder and allow me up into the kitchen. For an hour or more I'd sit and visit with her as the others slept. When everyone would awaken on nice days we would go out into the back yard for some play time in the fresh air. On the back side of her fenced yard near the garage was a giant honeysuckle plant. We would run and play and pluck the blossoms to suck on them. The air was always full of that sweet smell. To this day, when I smell honeysuckle I remember her sweet gentle voice and the porch we would sit on.
Cass and Cathy Sterling's Chocolate Shop
Occasionally I would get to go visit with some friends of my parents. To me they will always be Aunt Cass and Cathy though we are not related in any way that I've ever seen. The shop If I remember correctly was Al's Chocolate Candy Shop or something of the sort maybe. Cass and Al Sterling started their homemade candy shop and while I don't know the specifics of their lives particularly, Al passed away and their daughter Cathy helped run the store and make the candies. My favorite thing in the world was their chocolate covered pretzels. Cass and I would walk all through the shop. Past the conveyor belt and the oven past the tables and on to the pots where the chocolate would be heated and stirred. This was my favorite place to be sitting and stirring the pot of chocolaty goodness. Every major holiday season we'd all go to the candy shop and buy our favorite candies from our dear friends.
Other Miscellaneous Memories From the Early Years
I also remember occasionally playing with a family of children across the road from our house. They were Mennonites and I don't remember too much about them except the lay out of the house and how much fun I had when I was with them.
In the basement of our home my parents had a fish tank wall. Behind the wall was all dark and creepy and I don't recall going in there often. I remember less about the fish than I do that dark scary space behind the door. My mother told me as a teen that it was impossible that I would remember such things and I can assure you that these memories are not from any photos or stories. I can picture them plain as day in my minds eyes. I also remember as a toddler falling down the stairs from the kitchen to the basement. Don't worry, I don't think I was hurt, but that is one of those memories my mom said I should not recall.
I can perfectly picture every room of that house even though I was just 5 years old when we left New Jersey. I remember the placement of the attic stairs and the door to the room my sister shared with me. I remember the all where my brother's bed was and the items perfectly on his book shelf on the wall. One thing I never could picture was the door to my parent's room. I could lay out the whole house in a drawing but could never understand why I didn't remember what it looked like or where they slept. Later in life, after explaining my frustration over not being able to recall it, my mother informed me that I didn't remember it probably because my father was a daytime sleeper having worked all night at the plant. I wouldn't have really been allowed to go in there and when he was awake, I was sleeping.
I remember sitting in my grandfather's basement with him. He fascinated me because he would go down there and paint for hours. I would sit on a stool he would set up next to his and watch quietly. My grandfather Emil had just one arm. We called him Pop-pop and my grandmother we called Mom-mom. Once, I remember asking what happened to his arm and my grandmother matter-of-fact like said, "I caught him flirting with another girl and I cut it off." My father never liked tattoos and later in life he told me that the reason my grandfather lost his arm was because of his tattoo. He had gotten his tattoo and received a cut in the same area. The cut became infected and there was nothing they could do but to cut it off. But he painted his paintings with one arm on recycled canvases he would grab from old shops, or out of the garbage someone was throwing away. He would recycle the wood frames and fix them if they were broken. He painted all sorts of things from winter scenes to wild animals to little drummer boys. He gave paintings to family and friends as they'd come through and it's no telling how many he actually painted and gave away. He also played a large organ that they had in their living room. It had rows and rows of keys and buttons and he played it wonderfully. He had fashioned a single stick that would strap to his shoulder. He used this as his "arm" and with that, he would play all my grandmother's favorite songs. Some of those songs he taught to me and my other younger cousins as they would come about to visit. I enjoyed sitting and listening to the songs and this favorite of my grandmothers: "I love you truly, truly dear. Life with it's sorrows, Life with it's tears. They fade into dreams, when I feel that you are near. I love you truly, truly dear."
My parents and siblings had traveled a great deal when I came along. They made trips to all parts of the country including to north central Pennsylvania where they would go camping and skiing. They would often go to Denton Hill Ski Lodge in Coudersport, PA. Just up the road from there was the Pennsylvania Logging Museum where we would go and watch the logging competition. When my sister graduated from the very large Vineland High School in New Jersey, I was 5 years old. It was a rough school from what my mother told me in later years and they wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the growing area with higher rates of crime and violence. So that spring they packed us up and bought an old dairy farm in Shinglehouse, PA.
I specifically remember the long trip with three or four friends and families in trucks with our belongings. It was exciting. The old home had a giant barn and fields with grasses taller than I was. My room was a small hallway which was more like a closet. Though, I spent much of that first couple years outside the majority of the time that I barely was around to sleep there anyway. I played in the barn, I ran through the woods, I went to the bottom of the pasture and played in a creek. I chased animals in the woods and caught red-bellied racers with my hands in the summer dirt roads. I rarely was in the house in warm weather and I wandered miles and miles alone all day long. After a couple years and experience I would ride my pony bareback through the woods alone. I'd follow paths and trails to friends houses that were by road, miles away. I'd get up early, come home late and my parents were never concerned about something happening to me.
(To Be Continued)