WELCOME TO THE PERILS OF EILEEN

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow Ireland

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow,  Ireland

As we all do, I’ve faced my share of “dangers, toils and snares” along the way. So I sing that rousing old hymn, “Amazing Grace,” as loud as I can in church, sometimes startling people around me.  I’m very grateful to have come this far — mostly intact, only slightly scarred.

Some years ago I began to think I’d 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 in difficult times. I’ve learned that God’s bargain package deal for the journey of a lifetime covers blessings and trials. There’s no free ride.

Among my gifts: Loving parents. Carefree childhood in a happy home.  Courageous mom raising my sister, brother and me after our dad died young.  Some true friends.  Tuition-free Queens College degree.  Before it was trendy — At 38, married a good man.  At 41, after prayers, tests and surgery, gave birth to our miracle baby boy.  At 52, decided what I wanted to be when I grew up, and worked as a librarian till I was 73. Pension and medical benefits.

Some of my challenges: Struggles with depression, two hospitalizations.   Breast cancer, mastectomy, a year of chemotherapy, poor prognosis — 32 years ago.  My husband’s callous downsizing, followed by his sickness and death.  Our son’s life-threatening illness the next year.  Hurts and disappointments, some from loved ones, more painful than bodily injury.

But I’ve been busy holding on for dear life — haven’t had time to do more than jot random notes.  My working title: “The Perils of Eileen:  Still Hanging in There.”  My role model:  The intrepid heroine of the silent movie serial, “The Perils of Pauline,” first filmed in 1914, before I appeared on the scene, but not long.  Born in Brooklyn in 1931, I’m 79 now — the same age as Grandma Moses when she was noticed for her colorful folk paintings. You never know.  I’ve taped George Eliot’s  “It is never too late to be what you might have been” to my refrigerator.

Played by the actress, Pearl White, Pauline cleverly foiled her evil guardian’s wicked plots to collect her inheritance by hastening her death — On a boat rigged with explosives. Held captive by sinister gypsies. Floating away in a runaway hot air balloon. Trapped in a burning building. Just a few of the villain’s dastardly schemes.  Brave, resourceful Pauline always survived at the end of each episode, sometimes with the aid of her heroic fiance, handsome Harry.  Not to worry — Pauline would be back, ready and able for a new adventure.

Later, what came to be called cliffhangers left the hero or heroine in a petrifying predicament — Hanging by fingertips from the edge of a cliff as the dirt crumbled away.  Tied down while a circular saw churned closer.  Bound to a railroad track as the train raced nearer. The audience kept in suspense till the next chapter. I haven’t encountered any of these calamities so far, but in the mid 1960’s I fell through one of the infamous gaps between Long Island Railroad cars and platforms, after all other passengers had boarded, and the train was ready to leave Laurelton, Queens for New York City’s Penn Station.

That frigid winter morning, I ran to a still open, empty doorway, 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. Then, in 2006, over 40 years after my horrendous experience, a young woman was killed by a train after falling through the gap in Woodside.  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, amused at my channeling Pauline, once remarked:  “Eileen, you could never be in a silent movie!”   She was wrong.  My son, his chemotherapy and radiation treatments completed for Hodgkins Disease, now called Hodgkins Lymphoma, enrolled in a film school, and starred me in an assignment — a silent movie. He got an A for his opus, “Lights Out for Grandma,” and told me his classmates went “Aww” when I expired dramatically, and silently, at the fade-out.

After his recovery from cancer, my son’s career goals were movie maker, stand-up comedian, or both.. He had degrees in Psychology and Communication, and was a waiter while working on his skills.  When he fell in love with his future wife, he went back to college for an M.S. in Occupational Therapy, and now cares for his nursing home patients with compassion and humor. Who knows what he’ll decide to be when he grows up?

Being a librarian was an ideal career, but since childhood I dreamed of being a writer — often reading treasured books under covers, by flashlight, past bedtime. Years later, I timidly submitted a few poems and a children’s story — all rejected — and didn’t try again. However, I know something of the thrill of publication —  The New York Times printed my letter about the Bush Iraq fiasco, and several appeared in Newsday —  one about breast-feeding’s protection against breast cancer, and another about  the LIRR Woodside fatality and my earlier mishap.  Now I’m the author of a blog.  And that counts, too.

On my first visit to Ireland in 1969 with my sister and a cousin, I couldn’t miss the chance to kiss the famed Blarney Stone, a custom said to bestow the talent to talk the blarney, to beguile and cajole. I’d never been at a loss for words before, but it’s  possible that smooching that stone improved my powers of persuasion, resulting in my traveling with Honey this time, with  microchip and shots up to date. The enamored Aer Lingus flight attendants told me she was the first pet ever in the cabin.

I’ve never had a problem projecting my emotions either, and had honed this ability in a summer acting class at NYU.  When I phoned The Irish Department of Agriculture for permission to bring my dog, I shed some tears as I pleaded my case — 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 psychologist as my comfort companion for domestic flights on Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines.

Kissing the Blarney Stone is a sly way of pulling the leg — literally and figuratively. On that first trip, as I lay flat on my back on Blarney Castle’s floor, a jolly man (he seemed to enjoy his work) firmly held my ankles  as I stretched my neck outside the wall to peck that block of rock. Uncomfortable, but not dangerous —  a grating underneath prevents plunging to the ground in case the guide loses his grip.   My kin looked down on the silly procedure.  The tradition was beneath their contempt. They’d never lower themselves to such an undignified position. (Puns intended.)   Their loss.  Could have loosened them up a bit.

Beautiful, legendary Ireland is the birthplace of my maternal grandparents, paternal great grandparents, and their forebears.  My husband’s antecedents were born there, too.  And in 1970 we spent our wonderful honeymoon in that welcoming country.  (My beloved didn’t  need to ask if I’d mind going again, two years in a row.) And this year Aer Lingus  made an offer I couldn’t refuse.  Neither could my son and daughter-in-law, who joined Honey and me in Dublin.
One gorgeous, sunny afternoon, wandering a long while on my own 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 we talked as she led me to a refreshment pavilion where we joined my son and his wife. We’d walked different ways. Barbara, a Dubliner, was delighted with Honey, who waited patiently in our car — windows wide open — no dogs  allowed in the park. My guide took a picture of my sweet friend, and said she’d write about our meeting on her blog, “Just Add Attitude.” 
When I read her post, the photo of Honey at the top, I knew that’s how I could tell my story. I’d  chosen exactly the right path that day. Barbara quoted Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,”  so I’ll return the favor and cite Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” as Ishmael says:  “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 a lasting impression back in college, but I was struck by their wisdom when Peg Bracken repeated them in her “I Hate to Housekeep Book,”  a title that caught my attention as a newlywed.  Ms. Bracken cautioned us not to judge careless homemakers — we don’t know what problems may preoccupy them. We’re all on this voyage together, and  should be there for one another — have our shipmates’ backs — especially in stormy weather.
Now I know that endurance is rewarded. When one door closes, another does open. An oyster covers an irritating grain of sand with a luminous pearl that wouldn’t have been created.  Troubled waters have sometimes forced me to change course, navigate to a safe harbor, mend my sails, chart a new route, then set to sea again.  (Couldn’t resist.  Got carried away on the tide.)
To be continued, God willing!
 
 
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“THE BETTER TO SEE YOU WITH, MY DEAR!”

Have been procrastinating posting —  only every other month lately — mostly because I’ve been busy living rather than writing about my misadventures — less perils and more pearls recently, thank God. It’s now the last day of June, so here’s what’s been going on.

On April 29th my new ophthalmologist, Dr. Gail Schwartz, a petite dynamo, performed a trabeculectomy and cataract extraction on my right eye. This time all went well, unlike the surgery on my left eye over two years ago when I lost some vision.  And I still  shudder every time I remember how close my son and I came to colliding with a car running a red light straight at my car on our way to the hospital. I hope the driver was as shaken  as we were — probably not — the idiot sped away that dark March morning after missing us by a fraction. As I wrote in “Fasten Your Seat Belts” in May 2011, my son and I, both cancer survivors, didn’t need another reminder of life’s fragility, but an occasional nudge probably doesn’t hurt.

And last Thursday, my dermatologist cut off a small, suspicious thing on my right forearm for biopsy.  The odds are low, she said, that I’ll lose my right arm — and I have a left arm, too. Previously had a melanoma on left thigh and a squamous cell carcinoma on right shin. People with pale Celtic skin didn’t know any better years ago — neither did our parents.  I spent many happy childhood days on the beach and in the ocean in the Rockaways, mostly at Breezy Point — and from adolescence on my friends and I basted ourselves with baby oil laced with iodine to promote tanning. Couldn’t bear the sheets touching me in bed at night, even after my mom slathered me with a cold tea remedy.

Since my recent eye surgery, there have been ups and downs — Dr.Schwartz  reassured me this was normal — pressure still high at first, now lowering with prescription drops.  But my vision has improved — can now read smalller letters on the eye chart.  Worried about my left eye, I’d been practicing closing that eye when driving, just in case. Later on, Dr. Schwartz will perform another operation on my left eye to improve drainage, preventing further visual field loss. As I wrote earlier, God generously gave us two eyes, two arms, and two of most other parts.  I’ve heard the saying about having only one mouth and not using it too often, but loquaciousness is in my DNA.  Besides, I’ve kissed the Blarney Stone.

Other recent happenings: A trip to the Baltimore Science Museum with my daughter-in-law and two little grandsons. What delight to watch the toddler excitedly experimenting with the clever, child-friendly exhibits.  And the almost one-year-old baby babbling with joy, pulling himself up to turn a ship’s helm, dabbling his hands in a water display, playing — and  sharing — with other babies in a room with foam blocks, board books, mirrors, and other fascinating toys.

My first grandson turned three years old on June 23rd, and we celebrated the milestone at a picnic in a nearby park  — the reserved pavilion decorated with balloons and a Happy Birthday sign.  Pizza, watermelon, pineapple, fruit juices on the menu; a shark pinata the children enthusiastically whacked with a bat; goody bags to take home; relatives, friends, parents with their progeny, mostly neighbors.  And the birthday boy’s mom and dad even baked a shark-shaped birthday cake. My son’s skills keep increasing as he matures. I took lots of pictures as usual. A very happy day.The toddler and baby fell fast asleep in the car on the way home. And I took a nap when I got back to Bel Air.

Tomorrow morning, Angel and I are driving to the North Sea Beach Colony in Southampton, New York.  My cousin Paul Beatty died in his home there Sunday morning at 81 years of age after a very long illness — on dialysis over ten years, heart surgery about a year ago, and respiratory problems a week before he decided to end the debilitating procedure and go home to God. His wake is tomorrow afternoon, and Msgr. John Martin, Paul’s friend since kindergarten, will say the funeral Mass Thursday morning at the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Basilica.

Paul was an absolutely wonderful husband, father, grandfather and human being;  wise, kind, with a great sense of humor; a devout Catholic and  Eucharistic Minister; a successful businessman, retired from McGraw-Hill. My son and I are so thankful that he pulled strings and arranged immediately for Sloan Kettering’s then experimental protocol that cured my boy’s misdiagnosed, advanced Hodgkin’s Disease twenty years ago.  Frightened and distraught, just a year after my husband died of cancer, I called Paul, knowing he’d do everything  he could to help us, as he did others throughout his life.

This Saturday, July 4th, I’m going to a party celebrating the Colony’s 100th anniversary — on the lawn above the bay, across from the Hogan house, where my late sister’s son Matt married his Stephanie last summer. Beer, wine, salad and pizza will be served — hot slices baked right on the premises in a traveling truck. A good time is guaranteed in the company of the good people of the Colony. Many have died since I first discovered this Eden almost fifty years ago, but their children, their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren are now enjoying the beach, the beautiful surroundings and each other. I’ll clink a glass of wine or two toasting Paul, his sister Mary Denise, my sister Mary Beth, and the others who’ve gone before us.

I know there probably won’t be pizza, wine, beer or salad in Heaven —  but God will surely provide other treats and surprises we can’t imagine with our finite minds. We’ll be surrounded by love, though —  and that’s what really matters. It’s sad that some don’t seem to realize that. “There are none so blind as those that will not see.” They’re missing the big, beautiful picture.

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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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