Sometimes I’ve felt like Dorothy on the road to Oz, fearful of threatening “lions and tigers and bears,” troubles lying in wait. But what I worried about hardly ever happened — a lot else did, though. I’ve faced my share of “dangers, toils and snares” along the way, as we all do. So I sing a rousing rendition of “Amazing Grace,” my anthem, thankful to have come this far, only slightly scarred. Trials are included in God’s lifetime journey package deal.
A while back, I thought I may have earned a memoir, even if just for family and friends. Therapy for me, maybe help someone stay strong, not give up. Besides, picturing my plight in print often helped me get through difficult times — but I’ve been busy holding on for dear life till now. 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 astray in a suddenly 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 more action.
Later, what were called cliffhangers ended with 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 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 fell through the infamous gap between the Long Island Railroad platform and train 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, Long Island’s “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, while 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 dramatically, and silently, at the end.
I realize I’m rarely at a loss for words. Not that I needed to, but years ago I kissed the famous stone at Blarney Castle, said to foster eloquence, give the gift of speaking blarney — the talent 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 in the cabin with me — the first pet with that privilege, I was told.
Kissing the Blarney stone is a sly Irish way of pulling your leg — literally and figuratively. While a guide grasped my ankles, I lay flat on my back, stretching my neck out a castle wall opening to smooch the magical stone. An awkward position, but not dangerous, since a grating protects against falls. My sister and cousin were with me that day, but the custom was beneath their dignity. And it wouldn’t have hurt them a bitl — might have livened them up.
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 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 at the exit. They’d taken another path.
Barbara was delighted with 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 and Honey’s photo on her blog, “Just Add Attitude. 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 quoted Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” in her post, so I’ll return the favor by quoting Ishmael in Melville’s “Moby Dick.”
“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 these wise words didn’t make a deep impression in my English major days, they struck me when Peg Bracken cited them in her “I Hate to Housekeep Book,” a title that caught my attention after I married. Ms. Bracken advised us to refrain from judging careless homemakers — we don’t know what worries may be distracting them. (I was delighted by a little sign in a cousin’s kitchen: “My house is clean enough to be healthy, and dirty enough to be happy.”)
I’ve known many joys and blessings in my long life — this isn’t all about misfortune. But, with God’s help, I’ve survived: Struggles with depression. Breast cancer and mastectomy. My husband’s downsizing (discarding) at 60, then his cancer and death. My son’s malignant illness the next year. Heartaches and disappointments that hurt more than bodily trauma.
Now I know that trials may reap rewards. It’s true that a new door opens when another closes. An oyster covers an irritating grain of sand with a precious pearl that wouldn’t otherwise form. Life’s rough seas have sometimes compelled me to change course, navigate toward a brighter horizon, drop anchor in a safe harbor, and rest till ready to set sail again. (Couldn’t resist. I drifted along on the tide.)
To be continued, God willing.