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  • Writer's pictureDonna Brown

Undershirts, coyotes, eating healthy & more

Great, here I sit with a list of scribbled notes for this column, and I can’t think of what half of them mean. One of the words is undershirts. If you are close to my age, you undoubtedly wore a white cotton undershirt under your dress or dress shirt to school from October to May. Undershirts kept you warm in drafty classrooms and under your pajamas. Today no undershirts on kids, they just put on a hoodie.

Girls also wore leggings. Not the thin, trendy leggings of today, but thick satin lined wool leggings that matched your coat. On cold winter afternoons the girls would go into the hallway at school several minutes before the boys to pull the leggings up under their dresses. Then boys and girls alike struggled to get galoshes, also known as rubbers, over their shoes and that was no easy feat. Once on we had to latch all those metal buckles.

I remember a knit hat with a long scarf sewn to it at the back of the neck. Our gloves were attached to our coat sleeves with elastic garters, or a string ran under our coat from one glove to the other. We dressed like this because many of us had long walks to get home.

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Yesterday a nurse from Aetna came to give me my yearly health evaluation. The first thing she asked me to do was to remember three words. I couldn’t even remember what I ate for breakfast, but I said OK. She then asked me about medication, eating, drinking and health issues. She told me about exercise programs on YouTube. After 45 minutes I did remember the words, “banana, sunrise and chair.” She said I was of sound mind, no dementia. Right. This morning I have no idea what her name was, what the YouTube channel was called or what she told me to ask my doctor, but I still remember the three words.

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Last night Al built a fire on the lake behind our house, and we sat enjoying the stars. We noticed Orion’s Belt is lower in the sky foreshadowing the coming of spring. We listened to the coyotes, yes coyotes, howl behind us. There are approximately 5,000 to 10,000 coyotes in New Jersey, and they have been found in all counties. At first you may think they are dogs barking, but their barks are intermittent with long howls. They are usually shy unless hungry or protecting their young.

This week I turn 70 and my goal was to do something I haven’t done in quite some time. This morning my husband and I went out to the lake. I put on my ice skates and glided across the ice. A little wary at first, I soon became more confident feeling like a kid again. I remember skating on the Hammonton Lake first as a child and then as teenager, racing toward the Pike or meandering in the cove. Seemed the entire town would be out; all our skates having been sharpened at Rice Hardware.

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I have decided to get healthier because I want to see my grandkids graduate from college and dance at their weddings. They are five and seven, so I figure I have about a 50/50 chance. Three weeks ago, I joined Noom, which uses psychology to build habits that can lead to a healthier lifestyle. Every morning there are lessons which I enjoy reading. Then I use an app to log food, bond with my group and talk to my personal coach.

Most of the emphasis is on giving up processed foods, cutting back on takeout and learning to cook healthy meals. Oh, come on. Where is the magic I was seeking? I usually cook three meals from scratch every day. Contrary to my experience, the majority of my Noom group members are all struggling with preparing their own meals. Many saying they don’t know how to cook so they get takeout every night for dinner. How expensive is that?

I began to wonder why they can’t cook. Growing up in Hammonton in the ’50s and ’60s my family rarely went out to eat. I never had pizzeria pizza until I went to Bruni’s on a date. My family made their own dough or bought it from Ideal bakery. Then we used leftover gravy to make Sicilian pizza in large sheet pans.

My family was like most in that they cooked meals at home and the children were required to help their mother in the kitchen. We had a basic knowledge of cooking utensils and ingredients from an early age. These skills were also reinforced in Home Economics in 7th and 8th grade, where we were taught how to bake cookies, cakes, French toast and pancakes. What a shame most middle schools cut cooking, sewing and woodshop classes in the 1990s. Essential life skills lost.

Donna Brown is a former Hammonton Middle School librarian and a columnist for The Gazette. To reach Donna Brown, send an email to


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