WELCOME TO THE PERILS OF EILEEN

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow Ireland

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow,  Ireland

This might have been a short story. When I was born, my parents lived near Highland Park, a high plateau area between Queens and Brooklyn, close to my Beatty grandparents’ home in East New York.  Legend has it that one day an aunt lost hold of my carriage, and it began to roll down a sloping sidewalk towards busy Hillside Avenue. Stopped in time by someone walking up.  My Guardian Angel?  There was more in store.

As we all do in time, I’ve faced my share of “dangers, toils and snares” along the way,  but am still here in my 80th year. In pretty good shape for the shape I’m in. Eternally grateful to have come this far, mostly intact, only slightly scarred. That grand old hymn, “Amazing Grace,” has become my anthem –and my rousing rendition at Sunday Mass sometimes startles those around me.

A while ago I began to to think I may have earned a memoir, even if just for family and friends. Therapy for me, maybe help someone else stay strong, not give up. Besides, picturing my plight in print diverted me from troubles. God’s bargain package deal for a  lifetime journey covers both blessings and trials. There’s no free ride.

Among my gifts:  Caring parents.  Happy early childhood in a comfortable home.  When my dad died young, a mom who courageously raised three children alone.  More than a few true friends.  Tuition free Queens College degree.  Before it was trendy — At 38, married a good man.  At almost 42, after prayers, tears, tests and surgery, gave birth to what the doctor pronounced “a perfect baby boy.”  At 52, decided what I wanted to be when I grew up, returned to Queens for an M.L.S., worked as a librarian for 21 years, pension and medical benefits for life.

Some of my challenges — Struggles with depression since adolescence, two adult hospitalizations, shock treatments.   Breast cancer, mastectomy, chemotherapy, poor prognosis 32 years ago. My husband’s callous downsizing, then his sickness and death.  Our son’s life-threatening illness the next year.  Hurtful, even malicious, words and actions — some from loved ones — more painful than than bodily injury.

But I’ve been too busy hanging on for dear life, haven’t had time to do more than jot random notes now and then.  My working title: “The Perils of Eileen:  Still Hanging in There.”  My inspiration:  the intrepid heroine of the silent movie serial, “The Perils of Pauline,” first filmed in 1914, not long before I appeared on the scene.

Born in Brooklyn in 1931, I’m now the same age as Grandma Moses when three of her colorful folk paintings were included in an exhibit, “Contemporary Unknown American Painters,” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. George Eliot’s  inspirational line is taped to my refrigerator:  “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” Though gymnast might be a stretch.  But you never know!

Played by the actress, Pearl White, Pauline cleverly foiled her wicked guardian’s many pernicious plots to hasten her death and collect her inheritance.  She’s on a boat rigged with explosives. Held captive by sinister gypsies. High in the sky, drifting away in a runaway hot air balloon. Trapped in a burning building. Just a few of the evil villain’s dastardly schemes. Never fear. Brave, resourceful Pauline always survived at the end, sometimes with the help of her faithful fiance, Handsome Harry. Not to worry. She’d be back again, ready and able for another adventure.

Later, what came to be called cliffhangers stranded the hero or heroine in a petrifying predicament, the audience in suspense till the next episode. Hanging from a cliff as the dirt crumbled away.  Tied down while  moving closer to a circular saw.  Bound to a railroad track as the train chugged nearer. Not rescued till the following chapter.  I haven’t yet encountered any of these calamities.  However, in the mid 1960’s, I fell through one of the infamous gaps between Long Island Railroad cars and platforms as the train was ready to leave  Laurelton for New York City’s Penn Station.

Imagine the trailer:  Running late that frigid winter morning, I dashed up the stairs, sprinted to an open, empty doorway — all other passengers had boarded — started to step over the space, slipped on a patch of ice, and dropped feet down to the gravel bed, head not visible above the platform. Over 40 years after my horrendous experience, in 2006, a young woman was killed by a train in Woodside after falling through the wide opening.  Long Island’s “Newsday” ran a series of articles exposing the many accidents and lawsuits not disclosed till then. How I survived in another post.  Hang in there.

A former friend, mocking my channeling Pauline, once sarcastically remarked:  “Eileen, you could never be in a silent movie!”  She was wrong. My son, after graduating with degrees in Psychology and Communication, his chemotherapy and radiation treatments for Hodgkin’s Disease completed, enrolled for classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers.  At that time he aspired to be a movie maker, stand-up comedian, or both.  He starred me in an assignment, a silent film, and got an A for his opus “Lights Out for Grandma.” Told me his classmates chorused “Aww” when I died at the end, silently and dramatically.

While following his dream, he toiled as a  waiter in several Pittsburgh restaurants, including a Friday’s where he met his future wife, working part-time till she finished college.  Now she’s now a Speech Therapist in a children’s hospital.  He’s an Occupational Therapist in a nursing home.  Who knows what they’ll decide to be when they grow up?

I loved being a librarian, but since a little girl have wanted to be a writer, often reading treasured books — “The Bobbsey Twins,” “Little Women,” “Jane Eyre” — by flashlight, under the covers, way past bedtime.  I’ve since written poems and children’s stories, timidly sending some to magazines and publishers.  All rejected.  Gave up trying. Unlike J.K. Rowling, determined to deliver Harry Potter, her brainchild, into the world.  But I do know a little of the thrill of publication. “The New York Times” printed my terse comment on W’s Iraq fiasco.  And “Newsday” accepted two letters, one about breastfeeding’s possible protection against breast cancer, and another after the LIRR Woodside fatality and my previous mishap.

I’ve had what can kindly be called A Motley Career.  Back in 1953, with my  B.A. in English i  hand,  TIME Inc. hired me as a file clerk in “Time Magazine’s” Letters to the Editor Department, where a tear or two sometimes plopped into a folder as I pondered: “Is this all there is?”  So I learned to type and take shorthand, and in 1954 transferred to the new “Sports Illustrated Magazine”as a secretary in the Advertising Department.  “Mad Men” got it right!

After seven itchy years, I found more meaningful work at Dr. Tom Dooley’s MEDICO Foundation. When he died the next year, at IBM Communications. Then, as an elementary school teacher in the South Bronx, very briefly. Seven sensible years as a legal secretary at Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn, Esqs. Five blissful years as a full-time mother. My son safely launched in kindergarten, part-time jobs in the community. After my mother’s sudden death and the family drama that followed, I bravely boarded what in library school was pretentiously called Librarianship.

You’e noticed I’m hardly at a loss for words,  happen to be the latter of two Irish types. Private and closemouthed.  Outgoing and talkative. In  1969, on my first visit to Ireland with my sister and a cousin, I couldn’t miss the chance to kiss the famed Blarney Stone, a custom said to bestow the ability to speak the blarney,  the gift to beguile and cajole. It’s possible that smooching that stone polished my powers of persuasion, resulting in traveling with Honey this trip. The doting Aer Lingus attendants said she was the first pet ever allowed in the cabin.

I’ve never had a problem showing my feelings either, and had honed the facility in a summer acting class at NYU.  When I phoned The Irish Department of Agriculture about bringing my dog to Ireland, I tearfully pleaded my cause —  At my age, this may be the last time I traveled to the land of my ancestors. Honey was an emotional support animal, certified by a mental health professional as my necessary comfort companion for flights on Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines.

Kissing the Blarney Stone is a sly, wry way of pulling the leg.  Literally and figuratively. Back in 1969,  a jolly man — he enjoyed his job — grasped my ankles as I lay on my back on the castle floor, stretching my neck outside a wall opening to peck the designated  block of rock. Somewhat uncomfortable, but not dangerous —  a grating underneath prevents plunging to the ground in case the guide slips his grip.  My kin looked down on the daffy procedure. The custom was beneath their contempt. They’d never lower themselves to such an awkward position. Puns intended.   Their loss.  Might have loosened them up a bit.

Fabled, beautiful Ireland is the birthplace of my maternal grandparents and paternal great grandparents, probably most of their forbears.  My husband’s grandparents and great grandparents on both sides were born there, too. He didn’t really need to ask if I’d mind going again the next year on our 1970 honeymoon.  This year Aer Lingus made another offer I couldn’t refuse, and several days after our arrival my son and daughter-in-law joined me and Honey in Dublin.

One gorgeous, sunny afternoon, wandering a long time by myself in lushly blooming Mount Usher Gardens, I saw a woman across a stream and called out: “How do I find my way out of here?”  She crossed over a small bridge, and led me to a refreshment pavilion where my son and his wife were waiting. We’d walked different ways. Barbara, a Dubliner, was much taken with Honey. No dogs permitted in the park!  Barbara took a picture of my pet, saying she would write about our chance meeting on her blog, “Just Add Attitude.”

When I read the post, Honey’s photo attached, I knew that’s how I could tell my story.  That day I’d been led to take exactly the right path.  Barbara cited Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” so I’ll return the favor and quote Herman Melville’s Ishmael as he wisely observes:  “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.”

These words didn’t make an impression when I first read “Moby Dick,” but struck me when Peg Bracken repeated it in her “I Hate to Housekeep Book,” a title that caught my attention as a newlywed.  Ms. Bracken was cautioning us not to judge careless homemakers  — we can’t know what worries may be distracting them. Melville was saying we should be there for one another, have our shipmates’ backs in stormy weather. To belabor the metaphor:  We’re all in the same boat.now know

I now know that faith and endurance are rewarded. When a door closes, another does open.  Disturbed by an irritating grain of sand, an oyster covers it with a lustrous pearl that wouldn’t otherwise form. Troubled waters have sometimes made me change course, navigate to a safe harbor, mend my sails, chart a new route, then set to sea again. (Couldn’t resist. Slipped my moorings.  Got carried away on the tide.)
 

To be continued, God willing.

 

 
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ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS

There’s not enough time left in 2015 to elaborate on all that’s happened since my November post.  Details next year.  Hang in there.

Spent four days in  Harford Memorial Hospital’s Behavioral Health Unit — Kieran visited me there on my 84th birthday  — in crisis after Dr. Sood had increased my antidepressant medication. Now I know that my persistent low spirits were caused partly by vitamins D and B12  deficiencies, as well as lingering shock after my dear sister-in-law’s sudden death in July.

I hadn’t connected the dots, but a caring social worker at the hospital brought it up, said she’d called my son and he told her I’d been upset after her wake, six days after her death because of an autopsy, that she had accidentally drowned in her bathtub.  Her husband, standing at the open coffin, gave my son and me this horrifying news — until then, we’d assumed she died of a sudden heart attack or stroke. My son stumbled as we walked away, and I put my arms around him.

A few days after leaving the hospital — smiling broadly, the social worker had announced  “I’m going to spring you” — I was afflicted by urinary tract  and upper respiratory ailments.  No trip to Pittsburgh with family for Christmas.  Still blurred vision in left eye.  Painful tendonitis in right hand. Had written newsy notes on cards and kept compulsively editing “More of My Story.” Thought it may be time to retire this narrative, and wanted to get last post right. In the interest of full disclosure.

Transferred myself and voluminous medical records to new doctors: Primary Care, Ophthalmologist, and Gynecologist-Urologist. Had a peaceful, quiet Christmas with Angel.  But first hoarsely belted out carols at beautiful Mass at St. Margaret’s, then ate Chinese food and went to the movies — venerable Jewish customs on December 25th, now observed by many Christians.  Tendonitis healing  after wearing hand brace.  You can count on more perils and pearls, God willing!

Life is good again.  Friends coming tomorrow  afternoon to toast the New Year and nibble what I like to call substantial hors d’oeuvres. Saturday  evening, while Kieran minds the boys, Bethany and I will be at The Grand Hotel in Baltimore, watching a preview of the first episode of the final season of  “Downton Abbey” — a reward for donors to public television. I’ll be  dressed stylishly, a la Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess.

Am staying overnight at my family’s nearby home, and Sunday morning we’ll belatedly celebrate our Christmas together.  Joyful tidings —  Nolan and Jack’s baby sister will be with us next year — the newest member of the Gallagher Clan due to enter the world in July.

I pray you’ll be blessed with a mostly healthy, mostly happy Year of Our Lord 2016.  And a hearty welcome aboard to my thirty-third follower who joined the crew in December. Stay brave. But don’t miss daily lifeboat drill on the main deck aft.

 

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MORE OF MY STORY

Since the fateful day when I, innocently nestled in my baby carriage, started to roll unattended down that hill in Highland Park, my journey has lasted for almost 84 years.  I’ll reach that august age on December 3rd, God willing , and as a reward for hanging in there so long, I’m allowed to let it all hang out here.  So, as a treat for  Halloween, I’m going to entertain you with a tale of some perils you’ve been spared till now.

If you were mystified by that lone, intriguing paragraph, my itchy finger clicked Publish instead of Save Draft when I was just warming up.  “Well begun is half done,” my mom’s frequent mantra, doesn’t always work for me. Besides, recent troubles have preventing me from posting this by October 31st, as intended.

My down mood continued (see September’s “Be Not Afraid”) but my spirits were beginning to lift, and I agreed to Dr. Schwartz’s recommendation of another tabeculectomy  on my left eye.  The surgery in 2013 at Johns Hopkins had increased visual field loss, but she said another procedure could prevent further damage.

She performed the operation on October 14th, and all seemed to go well, but about a week later I was very ill — nauseous, my head heavy and full. At an emergency appointment — I drove carefully in the right lane — Dr. Schwartz reported my left eye pressure  was an alarming fifty-five.  Somehow, she brought it down to a too low three, and relieved my distress.  It was normal for pressure to alternate after this surgery, she said, though she’d never seen such extreme fluctuation.

On another post-op visit, as she removed the last stitch, a dense fog descended over the left eye. A blood vessel had broken, and Dr. Schwartz said it should dissolve in about a week.  Ten days after, as the fog began to lift,  I began seeing double when reading with my right eye. An irritation had developed under the cataract implant she had inserted in April, but new drops would correct clear this up.

When I woke a few days later, the fog again covered my left eye.  “You probably poked your eye in your sleep,” said the doctor, “shouldn’t have stopped wearing the eye shield at night.” Meanwhile, I was still adjusting to a visual annoyance that began in March, often disoriented and distracted by what I described, to Dr. Schwartz’s amusement, as several tiny florets — like broccoli, only red — in the upper left corner of my left eye.

Not her area of expertise, she remarked, and referred me to a retinal specialist.  Dr. Grodin explained that the vitreous, a gel-like substance, shrinks with age (“among other things,” thought I) causing posterior vitreous detachment, resulting in this problem, and others more serious, such as detached retina. “Nothing can be done to correct it,” he solemnly intoned.

If you’re still with me — and I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve lost interest after this litany of lamentations — the following is a random selection of other “dangers, toils and snares” I’ve staunchly survived. Don’t think I’ve forgotten.  I always keep my promises, and usually finish what I start.  Brace yourself.

The dating maze, where I wandered too long, taking more than one wrong turn.  But when I’d almost given up hope (maybe arranged marriages were a smart idea) I saw Kieran John Gallagher standing in the light at the end, waiting patiently all that time for me to find my way to him. Then we entered the marriage marathon . . .

Our young son’s severe asthma attacks. Watching him struggle to breathe.  Visits to the emergency room, especially during the night.  Bur Kieran endured a series of allergy injections rather than give up Frisky, the stray cat he’d adopted. Tearfully, he firmly announced:   “Love is more important than being sick.”

The boy on the block who constantly bullied him, and one day sprayed Right Guard at his mouth, saying:  “Too bad, Kieran.  Fatal if swallowed.” My son managed to clamp his mouth shut, turn his head, break free, and run home. My husband called an overdue family conference at our house.  The bully’s mom didn’t show.  His dad commented: “Keith is just going through a Huck Finn phase.” Not long after, Kieran found his beloved pet dead, her ribs broken, in a wooded area where the troubled boy often played.

An earlier near collision.  (See “Fasten Your Seat Belts.”)  As we drove to Massachusetts for Tim Hogan’s First Communion, our car began to speed out of control, and  accelerated as my husband pressed the brake pedal to the floor. A bus was stopped at a red light at the crossroad just ahead of us. “Get off the road,” I shouted, he swerved to the shoulder, turned  off the the ignition.  AAA arranged an arbitration with Oldsmobile —  we learned that gas had kept flowing through a broken flap, meant to close when brakes are applied. We went home with a big check and bought a Nissan Sentra.

My husband’s age discrimination case against AIG, heard in court in 1994, soon after his death. The company had replaced him with a man under forty in the October 1991 downsizing.  A naive, young lawyer I’d found through the ABA stammered and dropped papers on the floor, obviously intimidated by AIG’s impressive charts and entourage — including three vice presidents boldly lying under oath.  The judge never left the bench, joking with the V.P.’s and sipping from his coffee mug as he found for AIG.

While I’ve been moaning and complaining about my current predicaments, I’ve met and talked to people who shared their stories with me —

Michael, a  Uber driver, an Army veteran and former security guard in a prison where a woman inmate threw a cup of cleaning fluid at his face, splashing in his eyes — meant for her archenemy, another woman.  Immediate treatment saved his sight.

Michelle, a computer technician at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center.  Her mom and dad died within a month of each other this summer.   And  her sister was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Jaymie, one of Dr. Sood’s Physician’s Assistants.  While pregnant with her first child, with a sarcoma on her thigh, facing possible amputation of her leg, was cured in time.

Tasha, a medical technician working for Dr. Sood.  Diagnosed with leukemia at five years of age, under treatment for six years, ever since in remission.  Now in her forties, looking healthy and fabulous.

Dr.Schwartz assures me “You’ll be fine,” but I still can’t read with my left eye or even see clearly at a distance.  We shall see.  Pun intended.  And it’s reassuring, as I’ve noted, that Our Creator generously gave us two of most parts.

Amazingly, I’ve managed to stay afloat again — With the help of  my wonderful family: Kieran, Bethany, Nolan and Jack.  Charlotte, patient with  her own disabilities, who drove me to Dr. Schwartz’s office via busy highways. Marilyn, who delivered kindness and casseroles, and  treated me to dinner at Applebee’s. My angelic pet Angel.  But first, last and always — God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GENDER ON A BENDER

I’m confused.  Not about my own orientation — starting with an unrequited crush on Jimmy Mannion in St. Mary Magdalene elementary school — a bigger crush on my ten-year-older, handsome first cousin, Jim Beatty, after my dad died — romances with Dick Cunningham, then Paul Glynn, in college — and casual dating for too many years before finally finding my husband. I’m baffled by the rapid redefinition of sexual identity.  Archie and Edith Bunker of “All in the Family” — admittedly, not the most enlightened people on the planet — would be in shock.  In their good old days, “girls were girls and men were men.”.

Laws vary in different states, but in 2014 the New York City Council passed an ordinance permitting transgender people to keep what used to be called their private parts, yet change the sex on their birth certificates. Corey Johnson, who introduced the bill, said: “Gender won’t be about your physicality.”  Mind boggling! And it’s not bigotry — it’s about anatomy. Removing external body parts doesn’t change what’s inside. And hormones may be harmful.

God created all men and women equal, deserving  the same dignity and protection of their human rights. Crimes against those perceived to be homosexual or otherwise sexually different should never be tolerated in any civilized society.  But we don’t live in an ideal world — some will always reject and react against what seems abnormal or immoral. It was a revelation to hear Pope Francis say:  “Who am I to judge?”  I believe God is more loving and tolerant than most religions portray Him to be.

I’ve come a long way from my clueless 20’s when I naively asked a friend:  “What do they do?” She laughed and enlightened me — to my amazement. But the media’s current increasing  focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and especially transgender issues seems out of proportion.  This is an organized campaign now that the battle for same-sex marriage has been won, sanctioned by The Supreme Court.

On July 9th The Times printed an editorial:  “The Struggle for Fairness for Transgender Workers.”  Elaine Mendus, a 6-foot-3 transgender woman in the early stages of transitioning, has had a hard time finding a job in New York.  (In all fairness, her attached picture wouldn’t help her cause.) Though hiring by looks is prejudicial, it’s a fact that employers do consider appearance, especially if the employee deals with the public.

On Sunday, August 30th The New York Times featured a story on page one, with a large picture of a  statuesque “woman” in judicial robes: “Once a Pariah, Now a Transgender Judge.”  Front page news?  (As Seinfeld said: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”) The article continued for two full pages. Phyllis, formerly Phil, Frye married his college girlfriend, they had a son, he was forced to resign from the army for transvestism, and his wife divorced him when she discovered him cross-dressing. Phil fell in love again and is still married to his second wife — who agreed to accept his wearing women’s clothes as long as he didn’t have gender reassignment surgery.

The publicity and praise for the courage of transgender people like former Olympic athlete Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner and Laverne Cox of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” has captured public attention. These celebrities lead so-called glamorous lives, while many trans people are poor, homeless and harassed.

On September 4th, The Times put “Who Gets to Play the Transgender Part?” on page one of the Arts section — part of an aggressive push against filmmakers who star non-trans actors in transgender roles. There’s been criticism of casting Elle Fanning in the coming film, “About Ray,” and Eddie Redmayne in the new movie “The Danish Girl.”  The studios are meekly apologetic, but explain they need well-known actors for the films to be profitable. But LBGT activists have hailed the Amazon series “Transparent,” starring straight actor Jeffrey Tambor as a retired professor transitioning to female.

On September 5th, The Times ran an op-ed piece:  “Why Is Science So Straight?” The author advocates sexual diversity in the workplace, and wants more LGBT people hired in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics since they’re presently “underrepresented” in these fields. (Quotas by sexuality?)

On September 7th, The Times published an op-ed piece by Charles M. Blow, who identifies as bisexual: “Sexual Attraction and Fluidity,” recommending we rid ourselves of “superannuated notions of attraction” and freely enjoy both same and opposite sex relations.  He noted that more young men and women are “liberating themselves” from the “outmoded ideas” of older generations.  Rather than just expressing their honest selves, as Blow says, this sounds more like hedonism overdone.

Adolescence and early adulthood are confusing enough. Teenagers and young adults are being encouraged to experiment with their still maturing minds and bodies.  One of my daughter-in-law’s bridesmaids, a close friend since kindergarten, broke up with yet another boyfriend and began a relationship with a young lesbian, her guest at my son and his wife’s wedding — wearing pants, shirt and tie. She left her for another lesbian. Bethany’s friend is dating men again.

I was reminded of the 2001 movie, “Kissing Jessica Stein,” about a young woman, tired of dating losers, who answers a lesbian’s ad to meet, tries out the lifestyle, but finds true love with a man in the end.  A 2005 film, “Brokeback Mountain,” tells the story of an apparently heterosexual married cowboy initiated into a homosexual relationship by another cowboy — and mourning him the rest of his life when he’s killed hustling. In the 2010 film “The Kids Are All Right,” a “lesbian” character has a fling with the man who donated his sperm for her own and her partner’s child.  After some anguish all is forgiven, and the partners and teenage son and daughter are happily reunited.

The American Psychiatric Association no longer lists homosexuality in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, though many psychiatrists and psychologists protested this decision. But it seems a consensus has been reached by most in the mental health profession that sexual orientation is inborn and immutable, as advocated by LGBT activists. But no reliable studies to date have shown homosexuality to be biologically determined. The nature versus nurture conflict continues. Some homosexuals do seem to be “Born This Way,” as Lady Gaga sings. But some may have learned to like what tickles their “fancy.” (Forgive me.)

Mothers are often blamed for feminizing their sons, smothering rather than mothering, becoming too attached, preventing attraction to other women.  But indifferent or hostile fathers may be more at fault for rejecting them.  A dad should hug, play, even roughhouse with his sons from infancy.  No baby or toddler is gay.  And daughters need to bond with their moms.

My unscientific theory:  A little boy’s first love is his mother, and he wants to become a strong man like his dad. A little girl’s first love is her father, and she wants to grow up to be like her nurturing mom. When he was about three, my son paid me a sweet compliment: “Mommy, I’m going to marry you when I grow up,” he announced. But by thirteen he hardly wanted to be seen with me. It only hurt for a little while — and I knew this was healthy, normal behavior.

As I’ve written, I have a beloved gay nephew, and if he met a man he wanted to marry, I’d dance at their wedding, A civil union would cover their human and civil rights, but the LGBT community wanted the name of marriage, too. However, a homosexual partnership will never be the same as the union of a man and a woman. It/s always about anatomy. Taking the name of something else doesn’t change anything’s essential nature. Even the enigmatic lesbian writer, Gertrude Stein, wrote:  “A rose is a rose is a rose.”

By the way, Jimmy Mannion grew up and married Mary Deegan, another classmate —  who in first grade filched an unusual pencil box I brought to school the day after my Aunt Florence gave it to me —  in the shape of  a very large pencil that actually wrote — with space inside for other regular size pencils. The next morning it wasn’t in my desk, and Mary was showing it off, claiming her aunt had given her one just like mine. I was too dumbstruck to tell Sister, and when I complained to my mom, she said  “Let it go. The Deegans are having a hard time.”   She must have reformed later in life. I heard one of her sons became a priest.

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“BE NOT AFRAID”

I just trashed “They Shall Be Nameless,” that snippet I published by mistake.  Was about to share some sour thoughts  best kept to myself. Was trying to get another post out before August ended, but thought better of inflicting that one on you. I’m writing this at the Southampton library on Monday, August 24th — came to my nephews’ house out here last Thursday to be with Tim, his darling girls, my son, his wife and their darling boys. Tim, Elizabeth, Caroline and Josephine left yesterday for home in Massachusetts and it was wonderful to be together.

We had at least $80 worth of fun on Saturday, a beautiful, sunny day at Cooper’s Beach.  The Hogans, here for only a week, didn’t buy a resident season pass, and we paid a $40 parking fee for each car — an outrageous price meant to discourage day-trippers and short term vacationers from enjoying God’s gorgeous ocean. The men and kids built a sand fort near the water, took turns holding the little ones in the waves, and rescued me after a strong one knocked me to my knees. My Grandma Beatty and her friends, wearing long black bathing suit dresses, were more cautious at Rockaway Beach — all in a row, holding onto a rope anchored at each end, dunking themselves sedately.

I’d planned to come the end of next week to join my family, but wanted to see everyone together, especially the children. And I’m glad I did, but confess it’s been an effort to be my cheerful self — am in the throes of another down time.  I’d decided to go home to Maryland today, feel like such poor company and didn’t want to spoil their vacation — but Bethany and Kieran talked me into staying longer.  I’m so blessed to have them in my life, and love them, little Nolan, and baby Jack with all my heart.

Bethany, Kieran and I talked this morning about my recurring depression, and my former psychology major son thinks I may be bipolar — I’ve been reluctant to admit that possibility.  Would rather believe I’m an outgoing, vivacious person with occasional lapses, but realize I probably talk too much and am overly optimistic when up.  Even had dreams of seeing my ramblings published in print someday.

I know these moods don’t last forever. But I’m anxious and frightened anyway. Petty annoyances bother me more — I panic when I can’t find my keys or glasses.  I’m shaky and unsure of myself, ashamed of my weakness. To belabor the ship of life metaphor in my Introduction, I’m adrift in my own little rowboat.  I’m lonely, but it’s difficult to be with others — hard to hide my confusion and sadness.

And I have another problem in my left eye — been coping since the end of March with what look like little reddish florets appearing often in the upper left corner. I’ve had a tiny dot of a floater in my right eye for years, but hardly notice it now.  A retinal ophthalmologist recently told me a gel-like substance called the vitreous contracts with aging, pulling away from the retina, and can’t be corrected. Worse could happen, but it’s very distracting.

Since my cousin Paul died, I’ve been shocked by the sudden death of my friend and sister-in-law Peggy Collins at age 75, with no previous sickness or warning.  Another cousin, Bob McSweeney, is very ill with prostate cancer.  Pat Davies, a college friend who lives in Australia, is postponing treatment, if any, for cervical cancer till October — she wants to enjoy the opera season now.  Tim’s wife Stacie couldn’t be with us at North Sea because her mom’s M.S. has worsened.

It helps to keep involved and moving, but I have to talk myself into getting going. Angel and I went to Agawam Park this morning and I sipped coffee while I worked The New York Times crossword, harder than a usual Monday, but I finished — proving I’m not completely brain-dead. Then we walked around the playground and immaculately kept grassy area. The Gallaghers had gone for a swim in the bay, back to the house for lunch, and Nolan and Jack are having their naps now.  I’ll finish this soon and leave the library. Might have a nap myself later. Nolan and I are sharing a queen bed, and as much as I delight in his snuggling next to me, he flings his arms and legs around in his sleep.

I’m  grateful for the happy days —  My cousin Patty Aubert visited and we went to a veggie cooking event at fabulous Rousedale Farm — outdoors on a lovely evening — delicious samples accompanied by wine. The Colony’s Fourth of July celebration — very sociable, with excellent pizza and wine. Baby Jack’s first birthday party on July 21st — downsized for family and a few close friends because of a emergency room visit for congestion and difficulty breathing a couple of days earlier.  A relaxing ride to and from Manhattan on Amtrak to meet my friend Therese for lunch and the play at The Irish Rep.

Had to edit this often  — tough to concentrate. I’m trying to be brave, relying on the promise of the titled hymn: “Blest are you that weep and mourn for one day you will laugh.” Please God, soon.

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“THE BETTER TO SEE YOU WITH, MY DEAR”

I’ve been procrastinating posting —  recently only every other month.  Have been living my life, rather than writing about misadventures — fewer of late — less perils than pearls. Today’s the last day of June, so here’s what’s been happening.

Dr. Gail Schwartz, my expert new ophthalmologist, a petite dynamo, performed a trabeculectomy and cataract extraction on my right eye the end of April. This time all went well, unlike the glaucoma and cataract surgery on my left eye over two years ago when I lost some vision.

And I still shudder when I remember how close my son and I came to colliding with a car running a red light straight at us on our way to the hospital.  (See “Fasten Your Seat Belts” March 2013) The idiot didn’t even slow down, sped away that dark March morning after missing us by a fraction. Both cancer survivors, we didn’t need a reminder of life’s fragility. However, an occasional nudge doesn’t hurt.

Fluid pressure in my right eye has been fluctuating from low to high and back again — Dr. Schwartz assures me this is normal, and will stabilize eventually. She’s examined me frequently post-op, and I’ll see her again in three weeks. My sight is clearer with both cataracts removed — and she’ll operate on my left eye in October to improve drainage, lessening  further visual field loss.  Concerned about my left eye, I’ve been practicing driving with it closed — just in case. As I’ve noted, Our Creator thoughtfully gave us two of most parts.

Last Thursday, Dr. Jennifer Cooper, my caring dermatologist, cut off a suspicious spot on my right forearm for biopsy — whatever the report, it’s unlikely I’ll lose that arm — and I’ve got another one on the left. Former dermatologists previously excised a melanoma and a squamous cell carcinoma. I’d spent many childhood days on the beach and in the ocean at Breezy Point in the Rockaways.  Burning, peeling and freckling were routine.  In adolescence, my friends and I basted ourselves with baby oil laced with iodine to deepen tanning at Edgemere Beach. Then there were the years basking in the Hamptons.  Who knew those with pale Celtic skin would someday pay the piper?

Other doings: At the end of May, Angel and I drove to my nephews’ house in Southampton, and I visited my cousin Paul Beatty and his wife Audrey next door. Paul had been on dialysis for ten years, had heart surgery last year, and several complications since. I was shocked to see how ill he looked since I’d seen him in September. We talked about our close family, especially our parents, and the good times we had at our grandparents’ house in Brooklyn and at Breezy. As I was leaving, he asked “When are you coming back?”   “On June 29th,” I said. For the past year, each time I saw him I wondered if it would be the last.

On the way home, I stopped to meet three friends, librarians at the East Meadow library, for lunch at our favorite Friendly’s. We’ve kept in touch since I retired, and enjoyed catching up with each other and what’s going on in Libraryland — not as dull a place nowadays as you may think.  Less colorful than Disneyland — but with its own unique characters ambling around.

Angel and I stayed overnight at Garden City’s LaQuinta, and the next morning visited our friend Eleanor at her assisted living home in Lynbrook. We’d bonded 18 years ago, both working part-time at the Peninsula Public Library, both treated badly by the cantankerous assistant director.  El’s a marvel at almost 92 — good, cheerful company — proudly showing pictures of her granddaughter’s and grandson’s weddings.  Since breaking her hip, she maneuvers deftly in a wheelchair, though she’s practicing using a walker. She loved Honey, and is as charmed with Angel — so were other residents, smiling and petting her as we passed by..

The next week, a delightful afternoon at The Baltimore Science Museum with my grandsons and their mom.  The toddler experimenting with a light bulb exhibit.  Gleefully trying to catch multi-colored scarves air-blown up and out a glass enclosure.  Making music play on a harp without strings, moving his hands through apparently empty space. The nearly one-year-old pulling himself up to maneuver a ship’s helm. Splashing his fingers in a water display. Playing with other babies in a room filled with foam blocks, board books, mirrors, and other fascinating toys. Memories I’ll treasure, but took photos of the little boys absorbed in their activities — and, for contrast, one of the imposing dinosaur skeletons in the lobby.  Deep thought alert: They once had their day. Tempus fugit.

My first grandson turned three on June 23rd, and we marked the milestone the following Sunday with a picnic in a nearby park — the reserved pavilion decorated with a Happy Birthday sign and festive balloons.  Pizza, watermelon, pineapple, fruit juices on the menu.  A shark piñata the children whacked enthusiastically with a bat.  Goody bags to take home.  Relatives, friends, other parents with their toddlers and babies.  The birthday boy’s mom and dad baked a shark-shaped birthday cake — my son’s talents are multiplying as he matures. More pictures of a memorable day.

I didn’t see Paul again.  He died peacefully at home on June 28th, at 81 years of age, his wife and five adult children at his bedside. He decided to end the debilitating dialysis a week before, after respiratory distress.  I’ll be going to Southampton again for his wake July 1st and funeral Mass July 2nd, to be celebrated by his friend since kindergarten, Msgr. John Martin, at The Basilica of The Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. My cousin was an exceptional man — a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, and friend.  Wise and kind, with a wry, captivating sense of humor.  A devout Catholic and Eucharistic Minister.  Very successful in advertising and publishing, retired from McGraw-Hill.

My son and I are thankful his “Uncle” Paul  arranged a prompt appointment with top doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering after my son’s Hodgkin’s Disease was finally diagnosed at Moses Taylor Hospital — near The University of Scranton, where he was a senior.  A grueling, then experimental regimen of  chemotherapy and radiation at Memorial cured my boy’s initially misdiagnosed, advanced disease.  Worried and frightened only a year after my husband’s death from pancreatic cancer, I had called Paul, knowing he’d do everything he could to help us, as he did so many in his time on earth. He’s reaping his well-earned reward — and will keep helping us from Heaven.

On Saturday, July 4th, The North Sea Beach Colony will celebrate its 100th anniversary at a party on the lawn above the bay, across from my nephews’ house. I’ll be there wearing red, white and blue. Beer, wine, pizza and salad will be served — hot slices guaranteed — baked on the premises in a traveling truck. Many good people of the Colony have died since I first came to this Eden almost 50 years ago, but their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are now enjoying the beach, the peaceful environment, and each other. I’ll clink a glass of wine or two toasting Paul, his sister Mary Denise, my sister Mary Beth, my mom, and the others who’ve gone ahead of us.

Pizza, salad, wine and beer probably won’t be served in the afterlife — though we can’t be sure.  But I know God will provide treats and wonders we can’t imagine with our finite minds. We’ll be surrounded by love, though —  and that’s what matters in the end.  It’s sad that some, busy with empty distractions. don’t notice the simple joys and pleasures all around them. They’re missing the big picture, too — don’t see the forest or the trees.  Here’s a good place to put: “There are none so blind as those that will not see.”

By the way, I’m not a fan of Sondheim’s music, but if you haven’t seen the movie “Into the Woods” take a look.  Johnny Depp’s sly cameo as The Big Bad Wolf was worth twice the price of admission.

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SPRING HAS SPRUNG

Spring arrived here on March 20th, but it’s still chilly, windy and rainy.  We’ve even had another snowstorm.  I’m longing for sunshine after a harsher than usual winter.  Sometimes I wonder if I may have a touch of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  I keep forgetting that spring takes its sweet time to keep its promise. “April is the cruelest month,.” wrote T. S. Eliot in “The Wasteland.”  I thought he was bemoaning the fickle weather until I became an English major, then learned he was, of course, expressing existential angst.

When I was about nine years old my disappointment inspired a poem I titled  “Snow in Spring,” which began: “I certainly think it’s an awful shame to have it start to snow again, just when we thought Spring was here and Old Winter was leaving.”  I’ll spare you the rest for now.  But, stirred by the satisfying experience, I decided to be a famous writer when I grew up.

Since I began the above, the grass is now greening, flowers are blooming, trees are leafing, ducks and geese are pairing up on the pond, birds are singing and building nests.  A little sparrow I found lying feet up on my patio a couple of weeks ago won’t be with them.  I kept him in a plastic bag in a flower pot till the ground thawed and buried him near a budding bush. I hope he made the most of his springs while he was here.

Nature mirrors the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection this season every year.  And Easter always moves me more profoundly ever since my husband died peacefully on a Holy Saturday evening after a long, cruel illness.  When our son and I went to Easter Mass the next morning I wore a bright yellow suit, celebrating the end of Kieran’s suffering and his new life in Heaven.

As a child, I remember listening to a Good Friday radio reenactment of the crucifixion, crying as I asked my mother:  “How could they do that to Jesus?”  But my Easters then were mostly about coloring  eggs, baskets with chocolate bunnies and jelly beans, and a new straw hat and shiny patent leather shoes to wear to church.  We’d wait in line with our class before mass, admiring (or envying) each others new outfits.  I never did get the navy blue cape I always wanted.

This Easter my son took me and his family to my sister-in-law Peggy’s,’s home in Delaware for dinner with her large, loving family.  A highlight:  The Easter egg hunt — my son and his cousins laughing as they tossed and flung colored eggs in the woods behind the house — the children squealing in delight as they found them .I hope you’ve filed your income tax returns by today.  I hope you’re getting a good refund. If not, I hope you don’t owe much.  And I hope this spring makes you feel more alive.

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‘WHERE THERE’S A WILL…”

Forget that very brief post. You knew I had more to say than that — was just getting started 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 shorter than usual. As I said, I signed a new Last Will and Testament this week.  That really focused my attention! I know my son and daughter-in-law will follow my wishes beautifully after I’m gone . But whatever they do, it won’t bother me much where I am.

Absolutely no wake for me —  funeral homes are a cold, expensive modern innovation.  I remember the simple home wakes for my Beatty grandparents and my dad  — three years in a row back in the ’40’s.  Black wreaths on the front door.  Floral arrangements hanging from the crown molding all around the living room.  Open coffins in front of the fireplace.  Adults taking turns sitting up through the night, waking/keeping the deceased company.  Cousins sleeping upstairs, lots of giggling, lying across twin beds pushed together. In the daytime, smells of cooking from the kitchen.  Sounds of talking, crying, laughing.  Lots of remembering, hugging and kissing.

No fancy coffin for me either.  At my funeral Mass, what’s left of me in a closed plain, wooden box — it’s good enough for the Pope, so it’s fine with me.) Among the hymns: “Amazing Grace” and “On Eagle’s Wings.”  Recessional: “When the Saints Go Marching In” —  sing and dance if the spirit  moves you. Everyone invited for hearty food and drink at a good restaurant — on me. Cremation of my mortal remains.  Kieran can dig a little hole later in his dad’s grave in Holy Rood Cemetery on Long Island, and put me in there near him.

In the meantime, life goes on.  I’m taking the train to New York City Sunday, March 8th, have lunch with my friend Therese, then we’ll see Hugh Leonard’s wonderful play “Da” at our beloved Irish Repertory Theatre. I’m staying overnight in the city 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. Had some hassle collecting  my records from several doctors here, finally got the last yesterday, and will bring them with me.

I’m worried about my sight, confused by differing advice on procedures  — Trabectame, Trabeculotomy, Trabeculectomy — and wanted another opinion. I’m ashamed to complain after all the gifts I’ve been given in my long life, and know many others bear heavier burdens. Catching up on Oscar nominees,  I recently saw “The Theory of Everything” — Stephen Hawking still brilliant and hopeful at 73, though physically immobilized, suffering over 50 years with A.L.S.. At one point, he even says:  “While there’s life there’s hope.”  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 kind word on my behalf if you can fit it in with your own petitions.

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