Today’s guest post is by Billie Tekel Elias. Billie shares the process of paying homage to her colorful mother, Pearl in the memoire, Pearl’s Party…and you’re invited.
I never wanted to write. I was a numbers gal, a quant. In high school I excelled in mathematics because it was all logic, no memorization or writing involved. The natural academic course for me was engineering school. I even went on to earn a master’s degree in a field called Operations Research. But that was long before I got married, had a child and lost my mother.
Those are three biggies. Now I could probably write a book about each, but I was never moved to do so until I had to clean out Mother’s house in preparation for its sale.
Pearl, as I called her, had told me, “After I’m gone, just back a dumpster up to my house, and throw everything away.” Boy, am I glad I didn’t do that! Her house was a treasure trove of cool stuff. Think no one’s interested in a 1950s Hoover Vacuum Cleaner pamphlet? Think again. Or a Dunhill cigarette lighter? Or a Fontainebleau Hotel matchbook? Those are just some of the many items I’ve sold on eBay, leading me to firmly believe that Pearl’s trash is my cash.
What’s more, each item had a back-story, and I felt the nostalgic memories deserved to be preserved. Only those of us who are Baby Boomers will be able to record memories of the early days of commercial aviation, the Fuller Brush man, portable record players and Studebakers. As I wrote, I could almost hear the music accompanying each episode playing in the background of my mind. Pearl’s life was filled with music and it plays a key role in the book.
No one I know had a closer relationship with their mother than I. Perhaps it was that she was only 23 years older; more likely it was her agelessness, her sense of fun and adventure. Many of Pearl’s friends late in her life were my age, or even younger. It might have been her divorce when I was young that bound us together at the hip. As her only child, we spent a lot of time together, traveled side-by-side and did a myriad of other fun things in tandem. She was a risk taker, an Auntie Mame, an original women’s libber who taught me a lot about life and parenting. Everyone loved her because she “told it like it is.”
My book Pearl’s Party…and you’re invited delves into how deeply I knew her and how much (as I learned after her death) I didn’t know.
Synopsis – Pearl’s Party…and you’re invited
Let Pearl show you how to mambo through life. In this daughter’s homage to her colorful mother, you’ll jump on the rollicking ride of a foxy, voluptuous young divorcée who started unconventional businesses, loved casinos and martinis, and who was hip enough to be adored by gays and people half her age. Even dogs sensed her unique aura.
Her style made her eight decades interesting and fun –for herself and for everyone around her. She let nothing get in her way. Plagued by diabetes and riddled with cancer, she stayed upbeat. She knew how to party!
You may think you know someone well, until you sift through the ephemera they leave behind — matchbook covers, airline tickets, hotel keys, restaurant menus. Each has a story to tell, and the music Pearl listened to brings those stories to life.
Part nostalgia, part fun; it’s a crazy party…and you’re invited.
Add Pearl’s Party…and you’re invited to your Goodreads shelf.
Atlantic City was still glamorous in Pearl’s heyday.
Women donned evening gowns to stroll “the boards” at night, after a long day at the pool or the beach. On a cool evening, they wrapped themselves in mink stoles (a garment that was de rigueur for any woman seen on the Atlantic City Boardwalk) and added chunky heel protectors to their stilettos to prevent their pencil-thin heels from slipping into the cracks between the wooden planks. Lovely stores adorned the Boardwalk and the two avenues parallel to it, Atlantic and Pacific – stores with branches in Palm Beach, Monte Carlo or Miami. There were more hotel rooms in Atlantic City in the 1950s than thirty states combined. My earliest recollections include our stays at the elegant Ambassador Hotel with my grandmother, then later at the Deauville or Teplitzsky’s on Chelsea Avenue. Even in the fall and into the winter, when the town went into hibernation, we would take a ride down to smell the ocean air and grab a cheese steak at the White House Sub Shop at Mississippi and Arctic. James’ Salt Water Taffy shop was open all year ‘round, too, and it was fun to see the local shops making the taffy and fudge on site. Sometimes we’d visit the huge MONTE Bingo hall on the Boardwalk where they were playing for money long before gambling was legalized. Pearl could easily play 20 cards at a time!
The Miss America beauty pageant was created there. We watched the contestants ride down the Boardwalk in open-air convertibles or on magnificent floats. (I wasn’t yet born in 1952, the year that Marilyn Monroe was the Grand Marshal and sat atop one of these cars.) Pearl took me to see the Ice Capades inside the mammoth Atlantic City Convention Hall, which during that period claimed the world’s largest clear span space and the world’s largest pipe organ with 33,000 pipes.
Often Pearl brought Anita and Bobbi (the babysitter and her friend) along to watch me while she went out to paint the town.
She went to Skinny D’Amato’s 500 Club, which was known to have a secret card room (the ace in her cup of spades). Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis performed there; occasionally D’Amato’s good friend Frank Sinatra would take the stage. Jersey was home to the soulful romantic crooner, and as a tireless philanthropist Sinatra funded a wing that bears his name at the Atlantic City Medical Center. Sometimes Pearl danced over to one of the beachfront hotels to hear the rumba maestro, Cuban bandleader, Pupi Campo.
When the babysitters were along, we always stayed in one of dozens of motels that dotted Pacific Avenue, one block in from the beach, just off the Boardwalk. To Pearl, it was important that she and I had a good time, but it was equally important that my babysitters enjoyed themselves so they’d want to do it again.
Pearl had just one rule for Anita and Bobbi: at night when she went out, the girls were not to have any boys in the room. Oops! One night when she returned after midnight, a guy was there, asleep on the floor! Pearl took his sneakers and threw them off the catwalk outside our second story room, halfway across Atlantic City! She had values, and her rules were meant to be adhered to.
George Hamid’s 1600 foot long Steel Pier was the ne plus ultra in Atlantic City for musical entertainment, “The Showplace of the Nation,” as it was known. The ballroom seated over 6,000 and the Music Hall seated 2,000. Only the very very top talent of the day was showcased: acts like Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell in the late 1950s and early 1960s when we were going.
Pearl bought tickets for $1.50 each for my babysitters and us to see Paul Anka, the huge teen idol. He appeared at the Steel Pier in July ’61, ‘62 and ’63, singing ♫Put Your Head on My Shoulder and ♫You Are My Destiny.
Recently I met Mr. Anka at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park in New York and asked him about his recollection of Steel Pier. He recounted that it was a pain in the neck for the performers, because the first show was at 9 a.m.! Then they broke for the diving horse show, a huge permanent attraction, after which they did another show. We saw those diving horses the day Pearl took us to see Bobby Darin, yet another major celebrity of the time (♫Mack the Knife).