WELCOME TO THE PERILS OF EILEEN

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

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.

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“THESE FEW PRECIOUS DAYS. . .”

DSC_0002It’s the last day of 2014, 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 big ball drops I want to wish you good health and good cheer in 2015. And I hope your Christmas was full of blessings, even some joys, wherever you are on your journey.

I’ve been feeling 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, so 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, fulminating about our overly mechanized, dehumanized world. Don’t think I’m fooled by the perky voice of Amtrak’s robotic Julie!

I’d requested an assisted hearing device (had missed some of Maggie Smith’s dowager’s wry asides last season) but they were gone when I arrived at The Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, so I was escorted to a reserved section in center front where a small ensemble of strings, winds and piano entertained before the showing. 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. I came home in a glow, partly the start of a slight temperature.

I realize how fortunate I am to be as well and active as I am now, especially after surviving breast cancer 35 years ago with a bad prognosis. When I turned 83 on December 3rd, I kept an appointment that morning for mammography of my left breast — still no problems, thank God. Then that evening I celebrated at home with Angel — she gobbled her dietetic kibble and mush, as I enjoyed two lobster tails, baked potato, salad and Champagne. I deserved it! A few days before, my family treated me to a delicious dinner at Liberatore’s, my 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 short 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 — a perk for them — and cancelled the bus.

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 up to comingr coming with my son, but I wasn’t. 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 very precious, and I’m so grateful for the many gifts God has given me. And since the recent death of my cousin Mary Beatty and the serious illness of her brother, my cousin Paul, I’ve been reminded again that they’re only on loan. But I’m hoping to live long enough to see my grandsons grow some more, and that they’ll remember me as I remember my loving grandparents.

Meanwhile, for the New Year — I’m going to take gentle yoga and digital camera classes. And I’m planning to do some volunteer work again. I presented storytimes a while back at daycare centers, but I’ve never been a morning person, and the early (for me) schedule was difficult. 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 at least it’s a pleasure to see them hanging there.

Coincidentally, my new ophthalmologist, Dr.Joe Navalesa, is with Katzen, and confirmed what I knew, that my eyesight was damaged when Dr.Friedman of Baltimore’s Wilmer Eye Institute performed trabectome and cataract surgery two years ago. I have trouble focusing, am sometimes disoriented, and have lost peripheral vision in my left eye. I transferred to Dr. Bolton of Wilmer’s Bel Air Branch, and he glibly assured me: “You have 20/20 vision — there’s been no change.” Dr.Joe has prescribed new drops to bring the pressure down, but may need to perform another operation to save my sight. I learned long ago to trust in God, and have confidence in Dr. Joe, but can’t help being frightened and worried.

And I’ve given in and now have hearing aids, had been resisting for a couple of years because of the price. One friend paid $5K and another $10K. Not long ago “The New York Times” published an article saying the technology and materials don’t warrant such outrageous overcharges. 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. (May write a post someday: “The Better to See and Hear You With, My Dear.”)

At my 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 often wearied by the conflict and cruelty in our beautiful world. And we have our own worries and woes. 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 wrote in a letter to me, my sister and brother which was to be read after her 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!”

I’ve hesitated to give the details of what happened after my mother’s death, but it’s an important part of my story. She died the day after my brother Bill visited and told her he and his wife were divorcing. She was 81 and her heat was somewhat enlarged, but she’d recently received an encouraging medical report. Mom gave me the news the next morning, looking pale and shaken. We spoke that evening, and the following day I found her lying back across her bed near the phone.

After the funeral lunch at my home I tearfully read mom’s letter to the family, my sweet husband beaming encouragingly at me the whole time. I knew my sister and her husband were upset that mom had left me her engagement ring, though she’d given Mary another beautiful ring years before. So as I continued reading, I told my sister she could have the ring. But her husband startled us all calling out: “Give it to her now!” Mary put her hand on his shoulder, quietly saying “Not now, John.” To add to my heartache, worse was to come. I cried each time I read our mother’s letter. But I kept praying for help and suddenly had the inspiration to go back to college to study to be a librarian. Many years later, my son gave the ring to his bride-to-be.

I’ve tried to live as my mom advised, and God has blessed me in many ways — even, amazingly, allowing the perils that led to new paths I wouldn’t have found by myself. In the words of my favorite hymn, “Amazing Grace” — “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

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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 REDUX

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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A BRAND NEW BABY TO LOVE

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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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RESCUED

Angel's new homeAs I was writing “In Memory of Honey” in April, I felt throbbing in a back molar.  On Good Friday.  On top of my heartache.   The pain was worse next day, so I called my dentist.  Office closed Holy Saturday.  I didn’t know how I’d get through Easter weekend, so called the emergency number, and wonderful Dr. Miranda opened his office just for me, examined the tooth, gave me an antibiotic prescription and referred me to an endodontist for possible root canal.  Been there.  Done that.  Not pleasant.  And very expensive.

Busy endodontist couldn’t see me till two weeks later, and recommended extraction instead. Almost two weeks after that, a dental surgeon mercifully removed the offending tooth. I was more nervous before the extraction than I’d been before more serious surgery.  An aunt’s jaw was broken during the procedure.  And my brother’s face swelled like a balloon after his wisdom teeth were removed.  But my experience was  painless and trouble free.  Dr. Vafakos was very pleasant and reassuring.  He also happened to look a lot like Richard Gere.  Didn’t need stitches.  And I’m healing nicely.

After all the above, I decided it was time to look for another dog to fill the empty place in my life.  A friend mentioned the Fallston Animal Rescue Movement, and I drove there that day and found my Angel.  Meant to be.  FARM’s pets are usually kept in foster homes until ready for adoption,  but Angel had just been delivered from the Maryland SPCA and was in one of several cages at the Feed Plus store whose owners founded the organization.  Attracted by her sweet face and bright eyes,  I put my hand in the cage to pet her and she gently licked my fingers. (I’m easy.) Then I saw the sign above advising against that interaction. They let me take her for a walk and I was sold.

After they checked my references — Honey’s vet gave me a glowing one, and the groomer said he told them if he was a dog, he’d like to be adopted by someone like  me — I went back the next Saturday and brought Angel home.  She’d been called Rory, but her new name fits her better. She’s another mini-poodle mix, seven years old,  charcoal colored, in excellent health, with a sweet disposition. A few pounds overweight, but less hearty meals and more walks  will get her in shape again.  Me, too.  I lost five excess pounds giving up cocktails, wine and beer  for Lent — except on St. Patrick’s Day, of course.  Before we know it,  Angel and I will be as svelte as a middle-aged dog and 82-year-old grandma can be expected to be.

Angel and I are having dinner soon, so this is more concise than most of my missives. She eats a small meal morning and evening, with nothing in between but an occasional healthy snack for praising purposes. We get along beautifully so far.  I wasn’t up to training a frisky puppy again, but Angel is  peppy for her size, trotting along briskly on our outings.  And she relaxes near me or on my lap during our quiet times.  As I said, there was only one Honey and I’ll never forget her or stop loving her.  I like to think she chose Angel for me.

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