iELCOME TO THE PERILS OF EILEEN

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

We all face “dangers, toils and snares” along our way. (My rousing rendition of “Amazing Grace” has been known to startle some in nearby pews.) Our journey is a package deal, including blessings and troubles — some of the latter turn out to be the former in the end. I’ve had a fair share of both up to now, and am grateful to have come this far, mostly intact, only slightly scarred.

Maybe I’ve earned a memoir, I thought, even if just for family and friends. Therapy for me, possibly helping someone stay strong, not give up. Besides, picturing my plight in print often helped me get through difficult times. But I’ve been too busy holding on for dear life, occasionally jotting notes.

My working title: “The Perils of Eileen.” Subtitle: “Still Hanging in There.”  My inspiration: the intrepid heroine of the silent movie serial “The Perils of Pauline,” first filmed in 1914. Somewhat before I appeared on the scene, but not by much. I’m 79 now, the same age as Grandma Moses when she was recognized for her colorful folk paintings. You never know.

Played by the actress, Pearl White, Pauline narrowly escaped her wicked guardian’s plots to kill her and gain her inheritance: riding on a boat he’d rigged with explosives — held captive by swarthy gypsies — floating away in an untethered hot air balloon– trapped in a burning building. Just some of the villain’s evil schemes.

Not to worry. Brave, resourceful Pauline always found a way out by the end of each chapter, often with the help of her heroic fiance, Harry, at the last possible moment. She’d be back in a new story, ready and able for action again. Later, what came to be called cliffhangers left the hero or heroine hanging by fingertips from a cliff as the dirt crumbled away. Or tied tightly to a railroad track as a train raced closer. And the audience was kept in suspense till the next week’s episode.

Although she endured many perilous predicaments, I was surprised to learn Pauline never clung to a cliff or lay bound on a railroad track. Neither have I. Yet. But in the mid-1960’s I did fall through the infamous gap between the Long Island Railroad platform and train just as it was about to leave the Laurelton, New York station.

After a young woman fell through the wide opening at the Woodside station and was killed by a train in 2006, “Newsday” ran a series of articles exposing the multiple accidents and injuries over many years. How I was rescued in another post. Hang in there.

A former friend once sarcastically remarked: “Eileen, you could never be in a silent movie!”  She was wrong. My son, after recovering from Hodgkins Disease, now called Hodgkins Lymphoma, featured me in a film school assignment — a silent movie:  “Lights Out for Grandma.”  He got an A, and told me his classmates went “Aww” when I died silently and dramatically at the end.

I know I’m rarely at a loss for words — years ago I kissed the famous stone at Blarney Castle, said to increase eloquence, give the gift of speaking blarney — the power to beguile and cajole. It’s even possible that planting that peck helped me persuade The Irish Department of Agriculture and Aer Lingus to allow my mini-poodle Honey to travel to Ireland with me.

Kissing the Blarney stone is a sly Irish way of pulling your leg — literally and figuratively. While a guide grapsed my ankles, I lay flat on my back, stretching my neck out a wall opening to smooch the designated stone. An awkward position, but not at all dangerous, since a grating protects against fallis. My sister and cousin were with me that day, but declined to participate in such a silly custom  And it wouldn’t have hurt either of them at all — may have livened them up a bit.

This April I visited Ireland, the birthplace of my forebears, and the beautiful country where my husband and I spent our honeymoon in 1970.  While wandering on a confusing path in Ireland’s blooming Mount Usher Gardens, I saw a woman across a stream and called out: “How do I find my way out of here?”

Barbara, a Dubliner, crossed over a little bridge and guided me to where my son and daughter-in-law waited — they’d walked another way. Barbara was delighted to meet Honey, who waited patiently in our car — no dogs allowed in the gardens. She took a picture of my  pet and posted a piece about our chance meeting on her blog, “Just Add Attitude,” including the photo.

When I read it I knew that’s how I could tell my story. It seems I took exactly the right path that day. Barbara aquoted Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” in her post, so  I’m allowed to now cite Ishmael’s words in Melville’s “Moby Dick.”  (As Garrison Keillor reminds us, English majors never recover from the experience.)

“I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody is one way or other served in much the same way — either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each others’ shoulder-blades, and be content.”

Although this deep thought didn’t make a lasting impression on first reading, it did when Peg Bracken quoted it in her “I Hate to Housekeep Book,” a title that caught my attention after I married.  She counseled readers to refrain from judging those who were careless homemakers, since we can’t know what they may be suffering in private.

We’re all in the same life/boat. “The Perils” isn’t just about me and my troubles, which include but are not limited to hurts from some I loved and trusted; bouts of depression; breast cancer; my husband’s job loss, cancer and death; my son’s illness the following year. Our Anni Horribili — with all due sympathy for Queen Elizabeth’s Annus Horribilus — a burning castle and  her children’s marriage meltdowns.

I know now that trials may lead to rewards. It’s true that when a door closes another opens. An oyster covers an irritating grain of sand with a pearl that wouldn’t otherwise be formed.  Life’s rough seas have often made me change course, navigate toward a brighter horizon, and drop anchor in a safe harbor.  (Forgive me — I was on a roll and couldn’t resist.)

To be continued, God willing.

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‘WHERE THERE’S A WILL…”

Forget that very short post. I was just getting warmed up and clicked Publish instead of Save Draft. My last two posts were dispatched on October 31st and December 31st, and today is the last day of February. I want to send this out before March roars in, so this will be briefer than usual. As I said, I signed a new Last Will and Testament this week.  That focused my attention! I know my son and daughter-in-law will handle everything beautifully after I’m gone — if not, it won’t bother me much.

No wake at all! (The only one happy is the undertaker.) A funeral Mass, my body enclosed in a plain wooden box in the aisle. (It’s good enough for the Pope.) Among the hymns: “Amazing Grace” and “On Eagle’s Wings.”  Recessional: “When the Saints Go Marching In.” (Dancing and singing if you’re so inclined — or at least swaying and humming.) All who come to the Mass invited for hearty food and drink at a good restaurant. (My treat.) Cremation of my mortal remains.  (Kieran can later dig a little hole in his dad’s grave in Holy Rood Cemetery on Long Island,  and put me in there near him.

I’m writing this at the Bel Air library — no distractions such as Angel gazing at me soulfully, hinting for a tummy rub, walk or snack, — and then I’ll want some refreshment.  They’re closing soon so I’ll wind this up at home. I’m taking the train to New York City Sunday, March 8th, have lunch with my friend Therese, then we’ll see the wonderful play “Da” at our beloved Irish Repertory Theatre. I’m staying overnight at a LaQuinta Inn, and have an appointment Monday morning with an ophthalmologist at OCLI in Lynbrook, where they monitored and treated my glaucoma for many years before I moved to Maryland. After some hassle  getting  my medical records from several doctors here, I finally collected them all yesterday and will bring them with me as requested.

I’m worried about my sight, confused by advice on various procedures, and decided I needed another opinion. Many people have worse troubles, I know, and I’m ashamed to complain after all the gifts I’ve been given in my long life. I recently saw “The Theory of Everything” — Stephen Hawking still brilliant and hopeful at 72, though physically immobilized.  But I can’t seem to lift my low spirits. I’m praying this dark mood will pass, as it has before. And I’d appreciate a word on my behalf if you can fit it in with your own petitions.

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“THESE FEW PRECIOUS DAYS. . .”

DSC_0002It’s the last day of the year, and you haven’t heard from me since Halloween. I’ve been jotting and deleting various deep and shallow thoughts since then, but before the New Year begins, I want to wish you good health and good cheer in 2015 and beyond. And I hope your Christmas was full of blessings, even some joys, wherever you are on your journey.

I’ve been under the weather again for more than a month. Always wondered where that phrase came from, so Googled and learned it’s probably of nautical origin — stormy weather sends sick seamen and passengers below decks where the ship is more stable. (You’re welcome.) What first seemed like a mild cold morphed into misery, involving nose, throat, chest and sinuses. You know the feeling. Low on the scale of serious illness, but disabling for a time.

I was beginning to recover a week before Christmas when I accepted an offer I couldn’t refuse: — as a long-time modest donor to Public Television, I was invited to a preview of “Downton Abbey’s” fifth season on December 18th in Washington, DC. My lips are sealed. You’ll have to wait till January 4th along with the rest of the commoners to find out what happens upstairs and downstairs in the Crawley household. I’ll be watching it again next Sunday. It was worth my relapse. I think.

The afternoon of December 18th was bitter cold and windy, and I bundled up warmly head to foot and drove to Baltimore, planning to park at Penn Station where I’d take Amtrak to DC. No room at the parking garage, so made a right at the corner, drove into an unattended lot with a boarded up booth at the entrance, finally found a payment machine which only worked when I smacked the screen in frustration, rather than touching as instructed. Bracing against the freezing gusts, I walked two longish blocks to the station, grousing about our overly mechanized, dehumanized world. Don’t think I’m fooled by the perky voice of Amtrak’s robotic Julie!

Since I’d missed some of the Dowager Countess’s wry remarks last season (Dame Maggie Smith at her inimitable best) I’d requested an assisted hearing device, but none were left when I arrived at the hotel, so I was escorted to a center front section reserved for generous donors. A small ensemble of strings, winds and piano which entertained before the showing, and tea, coffee and pastries were graciously served. I was enthralled with all the heart, humor and drama — not to mention the gorgeous costumes, settings and wonderful acting. Came home in a glow, partly the start of a slight temperature.

I’m grateful to be as well and active as I am now — thankful to be here at all after breast cancer 35 years ago and a poor prognosis. In fact, on my 83rd birthday on December 3rd, I cheerfully kept a mammography appointment — still no problems, thank God. That evening I celebrated with Angel at home — she gobbled her dietetic kibble and mush, and I relished two lobster tails, baked potato, salad and Champagne. A few days before, my family had treated me to a festive dinner at Liberatore’s, a favorite restaurant. My toddler grandson, itchy in a highchair, strolled around a bit, but when he wandered into the bar got scooped up to help me blow out the candle on a gooey slice of chocolate cake. Helped eat some, too.

Christmas morning I went to Mass and drove for a visit to my son’s house in Baltimore, still sick, but wanting to give them my gifts. I had such a good time in stores picking out toys, hugging teddy bears. It wouldn’t be Christmas without seeing my grandsons — the adorable children sitting on Santa’s lap above. As Angel and I came up the front steps, the two-year-old parted the door curtain and shouted “Hi Gramma!” Then the baby greeted me with a wide, toothless smile. I tried to keep a germ-free distance, missing the hugging and kissing, drank some wine (for medicinal purposes), ate some cheese and crackers, and drove home happy.

The next Saturday I had two tickets for a musical of Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” at the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York City, was going to meet my friend Therese for lunch before the matinee. And I’d booked a seat to and from Manhattan with Megabus, a reasonably priced three hour ride each way the same day. But I called Therese the day before saying I was ill, not up to a long outing, suggesting she go with someone else. She said she’d rather go another time with me, so I donated the tickets to volunteer ushers.

The same afternoon my sister-in-law and her husband, Peg and Ed, were hosting a family holiday party at their home in Delaware — I’d bought the tickets earlier than her invitation — and she thought I’d be able to come now with my son, but I too sick. A good time was had by all, I heard. Except, on his arrival, my two-year-old grandson, greeted at the door by a big barking dog, confided to his father: “I wait out here.” Carried inside, he lay on the floor for a while, then got up and mixed and mingled. His parents have told me they think he takes after me — he’s talkative, and you don’t have to guess how he’s feeling or what he’s thinking. An open book. Not sure they mean the likeness as a compliment, but I’m taking it as one.

These days are priceless, and I’m so grateful for the many gifts God has given me. And since the recent death of my cousin Mary and the serious illness of her brother, my cousin Paul, I’ve been reminded again that these are only on loan. But I’m hoping to live long enough to see my grandsons grow more, and that they’ll remember me. They would have loved their Grandpa Gallagher, but I believe my husband is beaming on them from Heaven.

Meanwhile, for the New Year, I’m registering for yoga and digital camera classes. And I’m planning to do more volunteer work. I enjoyed presenting storytimes a while back at daycare centers, except for the early schedules — have never been a morning person. Will probably renew my membership in the Harford Artists Association, though I haven’t sold any photographs in three years. Three are now displayed in a rotating exhibit at the Katzen Eye Group — and it’s fun to see them hanging there.

My new ophthalmologist, Dr. Joe, happens to be with Katzen, and confirmed the glaucoma in my left eye has worsened since cataract and glaucoma surgery two years ago at the Wilmer Institute in Baltimore. (See “Fasten Your Seat Belts.”) I sometimes have difficulty focusing when reading, and the disparate sight in both eyes feels disorienting. My left eye was the better one, and I now see more clearly with my right eye, even with a cataract.

Dissatisfied with post-op visits — Dr. Friedman kept reassuring me I’d be fine — a year later I transferred to Wilmer’s Bel Air Branch, where an ophthalmologist glibly said: “You have 20/20 vision. There’s been no change.” Then I moved on to Dr. Joe, formerly with Wilmer, and highly recommended by neighbors. He prescribed new drops to bring the pressure down, and added that I may need further surgery in the left eye, with a chance of more loss of vision. As brave as I try to be, I can’t help being frightened. I’ve been practicing closing my left eye now and then. Hope nobody thinks I’m winking.

And I’ve given in and gotten hearing aids, had been resisting for some time because of the price. One friend paid $5K and another $10K for a pair. Outrageous! “The New York Times” recently reported that the technology and materials don’t warrant the high cost. But I recently found that my medical plan as a retired New York State librarian covered the $2,800 cost completely — United Healthcare has an agreement with Epic Hearing. So I’ll be wearing them when I watch Downton Abbey again Sunday night at home.

At my mellow age, I’m allowed to be sentimental and dispense wisdom, especially on New Year’s Eve, so I’ll pass on some of what I’ve learned over the years. We’re weary of unending wars and the horrors of torture and terrorism. And we have our own troubles and disappointments. But we’ve been given the gift of life with its joys and sorrows — and we’re meant to make the most of it. We only go around once. So laugh, cry, show your love, and vent and argue if you need to — but make up soon. Treasure your loved ones. We’re here to comfort each other in hard times and rejoice together in good times.

As my mother said in a letter to me, my sister and brother “to be opened at my death”: “Try to get along together and help and love one another. As you get older you will find that life is very short really…If you have disagreements try to settle them and go on because when all is said and done we only have each other…Be happy, be good and enjoy life and God will bless you!”

Mom died suddenly in 1984 at 81 years of age, two days after receiving an encouraging medical report. Her heart was slightly enlarged, and she’d been wearing a heart monitor which showed no incidents. My brother had visited, took her to the doctor appointment, and when they returned to her apartment told her he and his wife were divorcing. I wish Bill had given me a hint — I may have been able to calm mom sooner.

She called the following day, asked me to bring Tylenol, and when I let myself in, I was shocked to see her on the sofa, looking pale and weak. “Oh, Eileen, come here,” she said. “I have bad news.” She was still upset that evening, so the next day I left my son with her while I went to work. That night she sounded more cheerful, said she felt much better after the hearty meal I’d cooked for their lunch. But when I came in the morning, she was lying across the bed, as though she’d been sitting on the side and fallen back when God called her.

Mom would have been sad to know that my sister, brother and I were estranged for a long while after she died. I’ve agonized over sharing the details, read that memoirs should tell it like it is, but will draw the curtain for now on the family drama that followed. I’ve since heard that sibling disagreements are not uncommon after a death, especially a parent’s — a time when we need each other more.

I was heartbroken, cried and prayed often, realized I should keep busy, thought of taking adult ed courses, then had an inspiration — I’d go back to my beloved Queens College and study to be a librarian. The perfect job for an English major who dreamed of being a writer, but learned to type and take shorthand to be employable. (I had a part-time job in an Oceanside school library in the ’70’s, and I fit right in.) As I’ve said, six months after my mother died I was working as a Librarian Trainee in the Rockville Centre Public Library — the building next to her apartment.

I’ve tried to live as mom advised, have had abundant blessings, and God has led me to paths I wouldn’t have found on my own. In the words of my favorite hymn: “Tis grace hath brought me safe this far, and grace will lead me home.”  (Not too soon, Lord!)

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN

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I’ve been too happiimagely busy since August to write any posts.  Now it’s the last day of October, and I don’t want anyone to be concerned that I’ve  quit the blog or possibly “given up the ghost!”  So this will be briefer than usual since today looks to be a happy, busy one, too.

Angel and I are driving to Baltimore to join my wonderful daughter-in-law and her adorable sons trick or treating — I’ll be wearing a witch’s hat with straggly black hair and a black shawl, my toddler grandson will be dressed as a cowboy, his baby brother as a calf (no bull, at three months old). Am bringing a big bag of candy (opened just to sample the quality — excellent) to give out later.  Last year my older grandson, then a year old, won first prize in his age group at a costume contest at the Baltimore Zoo — the little darling dressed as Dracula, complete with blood stains on his innocent face.

I had the best time from the end of August to the end of September at my nephews’ cottage in North Sea, Southampton.  Just me and Angel for the first three weeks, then joined by my son and his family for the last week.  Sunny, mild weather almost every day.  Did lots of reading, visited ocean and bay beaches, enjoyed a boat ride to Greenport on the north fork, relished delicious meals and drinks, toured nearby Sag Harbor and East Hampton, strolled on Southampton’s Main Street and Job’s Lane, window and bargain shopped, relaxed at outside tables on Main Street or at Tate’s with coffee and a crossword puzzle, met lots of friendly people — Angel is as much a magnet as Honey ever was.

And it was so good to see my cousins again.  Paul, his wife Audrey, and sister Mary Denise live in their next door homes all year now.  Paul has been on kidney dialysis for over ten years and recently had heart surgery — but he’s doing better now, and his indomitable faith, courage and humor buoy him up — as do his loving wife, children and grandchildren.  Mary Denise, a couple of years older than I am, has always been very independent, involved in the community, and a regular golf player, but is now ill, too. I’m so thankful for my present good health and recent pleasures.

Among the most memorable:  My son’s 41st birthday celebration at Meschutt’s Beach Hut on the bay, with a lively band playing.  My toddler grandson and I rooming together for a week — he in a bottom bunk bed, me in a nearby twin bed.  His soft “Gramma?” about 7:30AM each morning waking me cheerfully (a mini-miracle) and enjoying a private breakfast  at the kitchen counter, looking out the window towards the bay.  Holding and cuddling my baby grandson as he smiled and gurgled his own special language to me.  His Christening last Saturday and the joyful family gathering afterwards. All surely a foretaste of Heaven on earth.

I’ve got to get ready to leave in about an hour and a half, so will close for now.   I wish you many treats and few tricks today.  And many blessings on All Souls’ and All Saints’ Days.

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ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL

Stuff happened in the past week that could have ended badly, but didn’t.  Someone Up There still likes me. First, I seriously scraped the right front bumper and fender of my pristine, pre-owned Honda Accord, trying to wedge into a narrow spot next to a wall at Baltimore’s Charles Street Theater garage.  I heard the dreaded grating sound, but didn’t look until after I’d seen the movie, Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight,” which delighted and diverted me from such mundane matters as repair costs.

I’d noticed the icon indicating low gas on the way from Bel Air, and planned to fill up before returning, but annoyed about the accident, I forgot.  When the car slowed down in a neighborhood near home, I just had time to park at the curb.  I  couldn’t call AAA, having forgotten my cell phone, and walked up to a man in the driveway to ask to borrow his.  David, the Good Samaritan,  happened to have a container of gas handy, and  donated enough to get me moving.  I could have stalled for hours on Rt. 695 or 95, or been rear-ended while waiting for help. I’m taking David’s advice to never get below a quarter tank from now on.

The next day my back bumper hit an unnoticed high curb behind me as I backed out after Mass. I pulled up a bit, got out to see the pitted scrape, and a woman coming out of church stopped to commiserate. I told her what had happened yesterday, saying I knew car scars were annoying, but not that important in the scheme of life.  She agreed, then told me she was soon starting chemotherapy for an abdominal tumor. I shared my story of surviving a bad prognosis, and we parted with a hug. A body shop has now expensively restored the car to its pristine state.

Several days later, Angel was lying quietly near the patio door, chewing on a rawhide bone, and suddenly began choking and gasping for breath.  I tried to soothe her, brought her a bowl of water, but she wouldn’t drink. When I  lifted her up on her legs, she couldn’t stand and fell down again.  So I carried her to the car and drove to the Animal Emergency Hospital, thankful I knew the way since Honey had been treated there. I was terrified to lose her too. At a red light I offered her water again, she drank it thirstily, and when we arrived, walked briskly around the lot on her leash.  A couple who’d just left their dog asked if they could help, and advised me to have her checked out anyway. An X-ray showed some irritation in her throat, but nothing stuck there.  For a couple of days I fed her a soft diet.

Then, leaving Angel at her groomer, Bon Bon, I visited The Stale Fish and Boat Company, a nearby surfer shop. Not that I’m thinking of taking up surfing at this late date  — though a recent balance test showed my equilibrium is excellent — but I enjoy browsing among the colorful clothes and jewelry there. A brilliantly green parrot sitting on top of its open cage looked right at me and said “Hello.”  Never can ignore a friendly overture, so walked over to return the greeting, raised my arm to pet him — and he flew down and bit my outstretched hand.  Ouch!  A clerk pried him loose and I washed up in the bathroom.  No skin broken, but it smarted for a while.  After, I saw the sign: “Parrot bites.” I hadn’t seen the sign above Angel’s cage either, but when I put in my hand to touch her sweet face, she gently licked my fingers. I asked to hold her, then took her for a lively walk — and I knew we were meant to be together.

What I’ve learned:  Don’t squeeze car into narrow spaces.  Fill gas tank when down to a quarter. Look behind car before backing up. No more rawhide bones for Angel. Observe warning signs, but follow your feelings.  Keep reaching out — you’ll get hurt now and then, but you just might get loved.

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HAPPY DAYS

DSCN1378With apologies to my brave, hardy, elite band of followers  (still can’t convince some friends and relations to read my musings) for posting “Hanging in There,” I’ve trashed that litany of complaints, realizing you’re each clinging to your own personal cliffs.  Was feeling sorry for myself and looking for  sympathy. And didn’t get any.

After the bout with a respiratory virus, then an intestinal one, I was so weak and washed out I thought I may be near the end of my earthly journey — reminded of Redd Foxx in “Sanford and Son” clutching his chest, calling out to his late wife: “I’m coming, Elizabeth.  This is the big one.” It never was.  But, ironically, Mr. Foxx later died of a sudden heart attack, and onlookers assumed he was acting.

I weepily told my son: “I’ve lived long enough.  You’ll be better off with my condo and CD.”  “Mom,” he sighed,  “you were like this a year ago with the mold sickness.  You’ll be fine.” I am now, thank God.  But for a time I just took care of Angel, food shopped, read a lot, worked crossword puzzles, and prayed. Minding my grandson lifted me up, but when he napped after lunch, I lay down on the sofa. Bonus:  I lost seven pounds which I’ve managed to keep off.

I was in a kind of fog, operating on autopilot.  And some  vision loss in my left eye since the glaucoma surgery adds to disorientation.  Everything was an effort.  When I was feeling low years ago my son turned on some lively music and coaxed me to dance.  I wasn’t in a dancing mood — but jumping around helped.  Walking Angel recently, I met a woman and her Golden Retriever, Grace — as in “Amazing Grace.”   Julie told me her mom in England spent most of her day in bed, too depressed to get up. It’s all about keeping moving, putting one foot in front of the other.  It gets easier.

I started to feel better just before my new grandson was born, and his arrival completed my cure. His brother squirms when I hug him too long, and he won’t sit on my lap anymore —  but he’ll cuddle next me if I lure him with a storybook.  The baby contentedly nestles in my arms as I sing lullabies and coo to him.  That precious time goes by so fast. But it’s wonderful, too, seeing my first grandson growing, learning, becoming independent. The other day he put down his trains, went over to his brother, and gently rocked him in his little seat — all his own idea. I clapped as I watched.

Just five days after the baby’s birth, another joyous blessing — my nephew Matt married his lovely Stephanie in North Sea, Southampton where his mother bought the cottage almost 50 years ago. They had crushes on each other in college, but didn’t date, lost touch for years, then reconnected on Facebook, both now in California.  Matt lovingly honored his late mom by having his wedding  where they had many happy summers, and where he, his brother Tim, and my son bonded from babyhood. Angel and I drove from Bel Air, breaking up the trip at the Garden City LaQuinta.  My son, with his wife’s blessing, drove from Baltimore the next day with my first grandson,  giving mommy and baby some quiet time together.

Highlights of the wonderful wedding: Drinks and hors d’oeuvres before the ceremony under a shady tree as a violinist played. Then to the  lawn above the bay where the groom waited under a trellis decorated with blue hydrangeas and a gracefully draped white sheet.  My son’s doing —  affirming his  kindergarten report card:  “When he settles down and matures, we’ll begin to see his many creative talents!”  My godson Matt touchingly asking me to pin on his boutonniere.  Tim’s three adorable daughters  strewing petals from little baskets.  The bride and groom facing each other under the trellis, holding hands as they said their vows, their attendants on either side.  Violin music in the background.

Followed by a sumptuous clambake reception, featuring lobsters with all the sides and fixings.  I made friends with a waitress who served me  seconds, including champagne refills.  So when Stephanie asked if I’d  give a toast, I was ready. “Would it be inappropriate if I also sang “The Moonshiner?” I  wondered — the Irish drinking song I’d sung, by request,  at my son’s wedding and Tim’s last St. Patrick’s party.  “You definitely should,” she replied.  Thus encouraged, I toasted and sang — to much applause, I’m pleased to say.

I was delighted when one of the guests said she’d enjoyed my performance, and asked:  “Are you an actress?”  I’ve told you about dancing with my little sister for the entertainment of our parents and grandparents, and the plays from “Jack and Jill” magazine staged in my garage.  I’ve also portrayed the Blessed Mother in several grammar school Nativity pageants, had chorus parts in high school Glee Club shows,  and several years ago took a Continuing Ed acting class at N.Y.U.  It seems I’m a ham at heart.  My admirer’s husband suggested an encore, but knowing it’s better to exit before getting the hook, I thanked him, saying my repertoire was limited at present.  But  I’m planning to learn another song or two for the next appropriate occasion.

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ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL BABY BOY

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For the history books, my second grandson was born Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 4:40 AM, weighing 8 lbs. 5 oz., measuring 20.9 inches. He entered this world as smoothly and conveniently as possible for all concerned, only several days past his expected due date. His two-year-old brother was two weeks late and had to be encouraged to leave his safe, comfortable home  — still took his time for a day or so after labor was induced.  His mommy was exhausted and his daddy weary.

I’d gone to bed about 10PM Saturday night, read for a while, then went right to sleep — usually takes me a while to drift off.  The phone rang  four times, just rousing me slightly, and I turned over.  It rang again. Who could be calling in the middle of the night?  It was only 11:30PM —  my son saying his wife was having contractions.  I was on standby notice to mind Number One Son.

I threw some clothes in a bag, scooped up Angel, and drove to Baltimore in my pajamas. Arrived in under an hour, saw mommy and daddy off to the hospital, checked on my sleeping grandson, and Angel and I went to bed. Wonder of wonders, I had one of the best sleeps of my life, awakened at 8:30AM with the happy news.  My son told me he thought I’d be tossing and turning all night, so had called his wife’s mom in Virginia to relieve me. So when she arrived I went to visit the happy parents and their healthy, handsome new son.  He fit as cozily in my arms as his big brother did.

My first grandson is still  deciding whether this baby idea is as good as advertised.  His parents bought him a toy stroller with a boy doll strapped inside which he occasionally pushed around the house, though he preferred playing with his cars and trains.  They promoted him to a big boy’s bed with a railing attached for now.  He has a T-shirt announcing “I’m the Big Brother.”  He met the baby Sunday afternoon, seemed excited and curious, smiling as he gently touched his brother’s face, calling him by his new name — but when the baby began to exercise his lungs,  looked very thoughtful.

Times have  changed since I was a girl. I was almost seven when my brother was born, confused when my grandmother came to mind me and my little sister — and our mother went missing for a week.  When our dad brought her home with our infant sibling they told this convoluted tale: “We were driving by Mary Immaculate Hospital and Dr. Morton was standing outside. We stopped to say hello, he told us some nice new boy babies had just arrived, and invited us in to pick one out.  So we did.” And I bought that.

My son took mommy and baby home today, and I’m off soon to visit the four of them.  Before I do, this is a good  place to repeat the deep thought I shared with you some time ago:

A rose is proof enough of God for me.  And a baby is proof of His love.

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A FRIEND IN A HIGH PLACE

Today is June 13th, the Feast Day of St. Anthony of Padua, a saint who seems to have great influence with God.  Born in Portugal, his mission was mostly in Padua, Italy, and Italians have adopted him as one of their own. A mesmerizing preacher who turned throngs of listeners — possibly lost souls — from sin, he’s familiarly known for finding lost objects.

As I’ve said, I believe he helped my husband and me find each other. Not that we were completely lost yet — but we were in our mid-thirties.  My mother-in-law told me  she’d been  beseeching the saint to find a good wife for her bachelor son. At the same time, I was making frequent novenas and visits to the St. Anthony Chapel in New York City’s St. Francis Church to remind him I wanted to marry and have children.

It’s practically impossible for me to lose anything permanently.  And this phenomenon goes back to 1960 when I began work in the New York office of Dr. Thomas Anthony Dooley’s MEDICO, his medical mission to Laos, as secretary to his brother Malcolm, then in charge of fundraising.  Dr. Tom, a former Navy doctor, was a well-known, charismatic promoter of this humanitarian project,  but a year later, at 33 years of age, was afflicted with a fatal form of melanoma and a patient in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital.

A volunteer had brought a St. Anthony relic  to MEDICO’s office, and Malcolm asked me to lock it in my desk that night until he could bring it to Tom.  Before I did, I held the glass case in both hands and prayed about a troubling  problem of my own.  My prayer was answered soon.  But Dr. Tom, weak and heavily sedated, and still trying  to guide MEDICO with phone calls from his bed, died the next day.  There’s a lot more to tell about this extraordinary man and all that happened then, but that’s for another time.

Some of my lost and found experiences: My mother had given me a silver St. Anthony medal, blessed by Pope John XXIII, which I sadly lost.  Two years later, my two-year-old son (middle name Anthony) found it in our backyard. I lost it several years ago at an inn where Honey and I stayed in Pittsburgh — found in my room and returned.  Lost it again the next year, and hope someone found it who needs it more than I do now. I know it wasn’t the medal that protected me.

On the night before a cousins’ reunion at my Oceanside co-op, my daughter-in-law noticed the diamond was missing from my engagement ring. I was upset, but not as much as I thought I’d be.   My generous husband had spent his savings on the ring and our Ireland honeymoon, and I’d enjoyed wearing it for a long time.  Never had it insured!

I wouldn’t know where to begin to look — had been everywhere that week, shopping and getting ready for the party.  But my son insisted on searching the community room and my apartment, shining a  flashlight in every likely and unlikely place. I told him to give up — we were tired and wanted to go to bed. But he shined a beam through the narrow opening between my sofa bed back and mattress — ready for him and his wife —  and there was the diamond on the floor.

I had it reset  and  insured. And the diamond fell out again several weeks later.  The insurance company would never believe me, I thought.  So I didn’t file a claim right away. The ring meant more to me as a sign of love and commitment — though the diamond had  incredibly increased nine times in value since 1970 — and I’d definitely appreciate the money.  About a month after that, coming home after a heavy rain, I happened to glance down and saw the diamond on the wet sidewalk —  in  front  of  my welcome mat. It could have washed down to the drain at the curb.

A few days ago, after buying impatiens and potting soil at Home Depot, packing them and Angel into the car, I stopped for some  yogurt.  No money — I’d left my wallet in the shopping basket.  Sending up a quick prayer, I returned — and a wonderful person had turned it in with nothing missing.  Thank you, whoever you are.  I wish I could have rewarded you.  But in thanksgiving for things found, I always give a donation to the poor, a special concern of St. Anthony’s in his lifetime. And I believe there’s more here than can be attributed to coincidence or serendipity.    .

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