East Orange Life - Toby  © 2000 Pete Smith

           I don't remember mom dating much. One day we wound-up with a pot-bellied stove - an extremely large and heavy, black-iron, antique. It was quite beautiful and one of our families most treasured and sentimental pieces. The same one, as I mentioned earlier, that we used as a storage container for our winter gloves and hats. Mom may have dated the guy who gave us this stove, Mr. McGuirk, I'm not sure.
     I also remember someone by the name of Les -  mom would refer to him jokingly saying, "oh, Les this," and "oh, Les that, hmmmmmph"!
     Then there may have been someone named Red Ball, as in ..."Red Rubber Ball"... I just don't know. Mom's relationships with men during those 7 or so years after dad died seemed to be sporadic; brief; fleeting; (or maybe "fleeing"). We rarely saw the men she dated as I guess a night of staying home and playing with the seven little "angels" wasn't really their idea of a good time.
     We had a bit of fun, though. I'll never forget the one guy, (I don't remember his name because he never came back), but he was some type of foreigner I think. I sort of remember dark skin, and red clothing and maybe a weird accent. Well anyway, he came over the house to take mom out. We all sat nice in the living room and tried to not to laugh as mom introduced all of us, one by one, to him. Well shortly thereafter he excused himself and went upstairs to use the john. Now I don't know whether it was from fright or a bad pork-chop, but he stayed in the bathroom for a reeaaall long time. He wound up stinking-up the place real bad and put a major clog in the toilet. There may have even been an "overflow" situation.
     But not to worry, having seven little boys, mom had reached "expert level" in the use of a plunger. (An activity in which I feel quite competent participating in today.)
     Then one day, probably in 1971, a man came over the house to meet us.
     I'm not sure if this was his and mom's first date or whether they had gone out a few times and decided it was time. The first thing I remember about him was his braces; yes, little springs on his teeth. He was tall and handsome, and seemed easy-going and friendly. He was confident, and did not flinch when he stepped through the front door. He just stood there, smiling, and saying nice things to the seven, little, dirty-faced kids staring at him from the livingroom couch.
     He did not run. He did not flail about, looking for possible escape routes. He did not stink-up the bathroom.
     Mom introduced us all by name and we'd each give a little wave and say, "Hi." And he would smile, and nod his head, and say things like, "Oh, that's a nice name," or "Oh, I have an uncle with that name." It was really very nice.
     His name was Toby.
     I think we all hoped for the best. After all, even though we had this tight little unit--mom and her seven sons--we knew that mom needed help and deserved someone. By now, the oldest, Joe, was around 15, and the youngest, Vin, was 7. The house was getting smaller, and we were not getting any easier to handle. Lets face it, one woman trying to raise seven little boys is tough enough, but seven boys entering their teenage years?! Puberty? High School? Forget it!
     East Orange was changing rapidly. Many of the neighborhood families were moving out to Bloomfield, or West Orange, and many black families were moving in. The Public High School was predominately black and it would be very expensive to send us all to Immaculate Conception in Montclair.
     So without really knowing or understanding why, I think we all were ready for someone. And plus, Toby was "A PSYCHIATRIST!" we'd say. (I often wonder if any of his friends or family joked with him about having his own head examined when they found out he was getting involved with a woman and her seven kids). And we figured he made tons of money, and being a psychiatrist he could handle even the most complicated twists turns our lives might take.
     So as mom and Toby went out, we got more and more excited. It was a mixed blessing though. See, we had always been told great stories about our real dad, Gene. How strong he was, and brave (our uncle Vin would tell us how our dad had killed 17 "gooks" single-handedly in Korea), and for so long he was like a ghost who was always there, just beneath the surface...a sort of invisible glue that held us all together. He had been very handsome and very athletic and had died while still loving mom. I know for a long time - many, many, years - I expected he may even come back, having been too young to see that he actually died.
     And after what I'm guessing was around a year...? six months...?
2 years...? I remember mom sitting us down and telling us how she and Toby were thinking about getting married and how did we feel about it. I sort of remember someone actually crying out, "What about Daddy!" I mean, that's how strong our bond with our deceased dad was. But I'm pretty sure we all came to the conclusion pretty quickly that it was a good thing and mom deserved to be happy. Plus....we might move to BLOOMFIELD!
     So this guy Toby was moving in. "That's cool," I figured, "I can deal with it." I can deal with it.? What about HIM!!!!?
     It has taken me a long time to really appreciate what kind of man Toby is. Here's a guy who was single, no kids, making pretty good dough, and he joins our family - just as we're ready to enter the toughest, wildest, most difficult and tumultuous times in our lives; our teenage years. He did so with courage, patience, tolerance and love. And he sacrificed, sacrificed, sacrificed, sacrificed. He was quiet and stayed-out of things, until the time was right. Then he'd come crashing-down like a tidal wave; weighing-in like a heavyweight; a mad  referee. He never hit me. But his voice would go BOOM!
     And the years ahead were to be rough; very rough. But we made it through. Thanks to mom; and thanks to YOU, Toby.

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