Like Dorothy and her fantasized lions, tigers and bears on the road to Oz, we all face fears and trials in our lives. They’re part of God’s reasonably priced, all-inclusive package deal. You may also encounter, as I have, more than one witch or fake wizard along the way. But I’ve managed to come this far mostly intact, only slightly scarred.
Some years ago I thought I might have earned enough material for a memoir — the hard way — even if only for family and friends. Therapy for me, maybe helping someone else stay strong, not give up. Besides, picturing my plight in print often helped me get through some scary times.
But I’ve been busy holding on for dear life, just jotting occasional notes. My working title: “The Perils of Eileen.” Subtitle: “Still Hanging in There.” My inspiration: another intrepid young woman, the 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.