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.