seELCOME TO THE PERILS OF EILEEN

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

Years ago I thought I might have earned a memoir,  even if just for family and friends.  Therapy for me, maybe encourage someone else stay strong, not give up. As we all do, I’ve faced my share of “dangers, toils and snares”  along the way. (“Amazing Grace” is my anthem.) And imagining my plight in print sometimes helped me get through difficult times.  I’m very grateful to have come this far, mostly intact, only slightly scarred.

I count my many blessings: Wonderful parents.  A carefree, happy childhood in a comfortable home. A brave mother who raised three children after my father’s early death.  Something of a late bloomer — at 38 I married a good, loving man. At almost 42, I gave birth to our miracle baby boy after prayers, tests and surgery. At 52 I went back to college for an M.L.S. degree, and worked as a librarian till I was 73 — with a pension and medical benefits.

But I’ve learned that God’s package deal for our lifetime journey includes troubles, too.  Among mine: Struggles with depression.  Breast cancer and mastectomy.  My husband’s “downsizing,” then his illness and death.  Our son’s Hodgkin’s Disease the next year.  Disappointments and heartaches, some from loved ones, more painful than bodily injury.

Until now, I’ve been too busy holding on for dear life to do more than jot occasional notes. 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 — 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 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 came to be 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 was kept in suspense till the next week’s episode. Although she endured many life threatening scenarios, 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 one of the infamous gaps between Long Island Railroad cars and platforms at the Laurelton station — as the train was about to leave for New York. In 2006, after a young woman was killed after falling through the wide opening in Woodside, 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, but years ago I kissed the famous stone at Blarney Castle, said to give the gift of speaking blarney — the ability to verbally 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 outside a castle wall 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. It wouldn’t have hurt them at all —  might 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 in Ireland’s blooming Mount Usher Gardens, I saw someone across a stream and called out: “How do I find my way out of here?” The woman, a Dubliner, crossed over a little bridge and guided me to where my son and daughter-in-law waited at the exit. They’d walked another way.

Barbara was charmed with Honey, who waited patiently in our car — no dogs allowed in the gardens. She  wrote about our chance meeting on her blog, “Just Add Attitude,” including a picture of my pet.  When I read the post I knew that’s how I could tell my story. It seems I took exactly the right path that day. Barbara quoted Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” so I’ll return the favor by quoting Melville’s Ishmael in “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.”

These words didn’t make an impression in my English major days, but they struck me when Peg Bracken repeated them in her  “I Hate to Housekeep Book,” a title that caught my attention as a newlywed. Ms. Bracken advised us not to judge careless homemakers —  we don’t know what they may be going through.  (My personal guideline is the one on a sign I saw  in a cousin’s kitchen:  “My house is clean enough to be healthy, and dirty enough to be happy.”)

Now I know that trials bring 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 made me change course, navigate toward a bright horizon, and drop anchor in a safe harbor till ready to set sail again.  (Forgive me — got carried away on the tide.)

To be continued, God willing.

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SPRING HAS SPRING

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 cruellest 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 expressing existential angst.

When I was about nine years old my disappointment inspired a poem entitled:  “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 wrote the above the grass is 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 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’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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“THESE FEW PRECIOUS DAYS. . .”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HAPPY DAYS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WELCOME BABY BROTHER!

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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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