“THIS COULD BE THE START OF SOMETHING . . .”

Somehow November and December got away from me. Thanksgiving, shopping, cards, Christmas.  Didn’t get around to blogging.  Suddenly, it’s the first day of January. We all get another chance to get it right this year.

Am dashing this off at my family’s house in Baltimore. A lot going on around me. Nolan playing an energetic, grunting game of Wii tennis. Jack, on his hands and knees, zooming a toy car around the floor, with sound effects.  Maeve toddling around with a doll, holding it by one leg, babbling her own language.  Bethany in the kitchen cooking veggies for dinner.  (I offered to help, but she sweetly declined, handed me the glass of wine I’m sipping as I write.)  Kieran working at the nursing home on the holiday.  He’ll be grilling filet mignon on the deck — a real treat for the feast.

He just came in the door, and he and Nolan are inviting me to Wii bowl with them now.  “No thanks.  Can’t stand electronic games.  Nothing like the real thing,” say I. (Though it’s been many years since I last rolled a ball down an alley, often in the gutter.) But they keep persuading. So I’ll stand in front of the TV screen and push some buttons, so they’ll stop pushing mine.   One of my ongoing resolutions:  be more open to new experiences!?

So here’s a toast to auld lang zyne and the brand new year of Our Lord 2018!  I wish you and yours many blessings:  love, health, friends, happiness — prosperity, too, if possible. We’ll get through the winter once again. More snow is predicted in Maryland tomorrow.  But have you noticed the days are getting longer?  It’s lighter a little later each evening.  “Can spring be far behind?”

 

 

 

 

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WELCOME TO THE PERILS OF EILEEN

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow Ireland

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow,  Ireland

In this Year of Our Lord 2011, at the advanced age of 79,  I’m bravely launching a voyage into uncharted waters — the blogosphere.  Never knew this wide world was out there till my recent trip to Ireland, the magical, storied land of my ancestors, with my mini-poodle, Honey. (That’s us in the picture above.) Yes, she was allowed to accompany me in the Aer Lingus cabin as my “comfort companion” — first pet ever to have that perk —  sitting on the seat next to me, cooed at and fussed over by the flight attendants,  even sharing some of my meal.

Then, one lovely day we met a Dublin woman who, smitten with Honey, asked to take her picture (“Step aside, Eileen.”) and wrote about our chance encounter on her blog, “Just Add Attitude.” When I read it later, I knew that’s how I could tell my story. Besides, I thought I’d earned a memoir by now, even if just for family and friends — therapy for me, maybe helping someone else.  Have wanted to be a writer since reading “Little Women” by flashlight, under the covers, after bedtime. Short stories and poems sent off over the years returned rejected.

Grandma Moses was 79 when three of her colorful folk paintings were shown in an exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art:  “Contemporary Unknown American Painters.”  Maybe there’s still hope for me.  Does a blog count?  I’ve got George Eliot’s: “It is never too late to be what you might have been,” taped to my refrigerator. (Though  gymnast might be a stretch?)

To begin at the beginning. . .When I was born, my parents lived in Highland Park,  a hilly area near my mom’s parents’ home in East New York, Brooklyn, next to the Queens County line.  According to family lore, an aunt lost hold of my carriage one day, chasing it as it ran down the sloping sidewalk — stopped by a gentleman before reaching  Hillside Avenue traffic. Napping and unaware, I’d been rescued from my first perilous predicament. There were more in store.

Since then, I’ve had my share of “dangers, toils and snares”  as we all do.  God’s bargain package deal for our amazing journey covers both blessings and trials.  And I’m eternally grateful to have come this far, only slightly scarred, in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in. So I enjoy belting out my favorite hymn, “Amazing Grace,” at Sunday Mass, sometimes startling more subdued souls.

Some blessings: Happy childhood with loving parents and my younger sister and brother.  Some true friends. Tuition free Queens College degree.  Marriage to a good man — we were both 38 — before that was even trendy.  At almost 42, after tears, tests, surgery and prayers, the birth of our son, Kieran — “a perfect baby boy,” as the doctor reported. And at 52, decided what I wanted to be when I grew up — worked as a librarian for 21 years — lifetime pension and medical benefits.

Some trials: My dad’s illness and death when I was 11. Episodes of depression, two hospitalizations, since adolescence. Breast cancer, mastectomy, chemotherapy, poor prognosis 32 years ago. My husband among 1,000 downsized by American International Group in 1991.  His pancreatic cancer and death in 1994. Our son’s Hodgkin’s Lymphoma the next year.

Painful family trauma after my mother died.  My sister and her husband upset that my mother had given me her engagement ring.  My brother’s messy divorce. Mom died of a heart attack the day after he gave her the news.  I cried and prayed a lot.  Thought taking classes would distract me — suddenly thought of going back to my beloved Queens College.  Mentioned to the children’s librarian in my local library that I’d started library school.  She asked: “Would you like to work here?

So there I was, a librarian trainee, six months after my mother’s death, in the building across the street from her apartment. Required courses for an M.L.S., Master’s in Library Science, are almost as boringly soporific as Education courses.  But I loved the job, and hung in there till I  earned the degree.  Worked in several other libraries, including a school library while my son was in high school.  Lots of material for a memoir.

Have been too busy clinging to the proverbial cliff to write any of it down till now. My working title: “The Perils of Eileen:  Still Hanging in There,” inspired by the heroine of the silent movie serial, “The Perils of Pauline,” first filmed in 1914, not that long before I appeared on the scene. Pauline, played by the actress, Pearl White, cleverly foiled her guardian’s dastardly schemes to kill her and collect her inheritance.

She’s on a boat rigged with explosives. Held captive by sinister gypsies. High in the sky, drifting away in a runaway hot air balloon. Trapped in a burning building. Just a few of the evil villain’s pernicious plots. But never fear. Brave, resourceful Pauline survived at the end of each episode, sometimes with the help of her fiance, handsome Harry. She’d be back again, ready and able for another adventure.

Cliffhangers came later, leaving the star in a petrifying predicament. Hanging on the edge over a chasm as the dirt crumbled away.  Tied with ropes, moving toward a buzzing circular saw.  Bound to a train track as the engine raced nearer. Come next week to see what happens.  I haven’t faced any of these calamities, yet. But, back in the ’60’s, I fell through one of the wide gaps between Long Island Railroad cars and platforms as the train was about to leave for New York’s Penn Station.

Picture the trailer:  Running late that winter morning, I dashed up the stairs of the Laurelton station, sprinted to an open doorway, started to step over the space, slipped on ice, and landed on the gravel bed, head not visible above the platform. Over 40 years later, in 2006, a young woman fell at the Woodside station and was killed. Long Island’s “Newsday” ran a series exposing many other accidents and lawsuits never before reported. (How I survived in an future post.  Hang in there.)

A friend once said: “Eileen, you could never be in a silent movie!”  But my son,  with degrees in Psychology and Communication, after his chemotherapy and radiation treatments, registered at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, aspiring to be a filmmaker. Or a stand-up comedian. Or both.  He featured me in an assignment, a silent film, “Lights Out for Grandma,” earning an A for his opus. Told me his classmates went “Aww” when I died dramatically — short of breath, trying to blow out trick candles on a birthday cake.  My face falling into the icing. More than one take.

After college, Kieran earned his living as a waiter in Pittsburgh restaurants.  I’d encouraged his hopes — it only mattered that he was alive and well again.  A bonus — he met his future wife, beautiful Bethany, at a Friday’s, working there while she went to college. Now she’s a Speech Therapist in a children’s hospital.  He’s an Occupational Therapist in a nursing home.  But he’s still writing movie scripts.

I haven’t given up hoping to be published, but I’ve had the thrill of seeing my name in print — if only in newspapers. “The New York Times” printed my terse letter on “W” Bush’s Iraq fiasco.  And “Newsday” printed two — one about the LIRR Woodside fatality — another about breast feeding’s probable protection against breast cancer.  A recent study  found pollution wasn’t a definite factor in Long Island’s alarming rate of the dreaded disease. I’ve wondered whether the reason it’s so hard to find the cause could be because there’s more than one.

To my delight, Santa Fe’s “Mothering” magazine accepted my article, “Missing Link:  Vital Connection” about nursing’s little known positive effect.  I’d researched the subject in medical journals, with the help of a librarian at The La Leche League, an advocate for breast feeding. It was to appear in an upcoming November issue, but was pulled before then. Talk about crushing disappointment!

Before I found my true calling, I’d had a motley career after college.  With a B.A. in English, minor in Philosophy — file clerk at TIME magazine’s Letters to the Editor.  Secretary at TIME’s “Sports Illustrated” magazine.  Secretary at the then celebrated navy doctor, Dr. Tom Dooley’s, MEDICO, founded to help the sick poor in Laos. Secretary, then correspondent in Stockholder Relations, at IBM Corp. Followed by a very brief stint as a third grade teacher in the South Bronx.  Seven years as secretary at Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn, Esqs. Retired six months into pregnancy, in danger of miscarriage.

As you’ve noticed, I’m hardly at a loss for words, being the latter of  two Irish types — private and closemouthed — outgoing and Talkative. In 1969, on my first visit to Ireland with my sister and cousin,  couldn’t miss the chance to kiss the Blarney Stone, a tradition said to bestow the gift of blarney, the ability to beguile and cajole. Smooching that stone may have polished my powers of persuasion — Aer Lingus allowed Honey to come with me this trip. And the doting flight attendants said she was the first pet ever allowed in the cabin.  She sat on the seat next to me like an experienced traveler.

Haven’t had a problem showing my feelings either — and had honed the ability in an NYU acting class one summer. When I’d called The Irish Department of Agriculture for permission to bring my dog to Ireland, I tearfully pleaded: At my age, this may be the last time I traveled to the land of my ancestors. And Honey was an emotional support animal, certified as my comfort companion for flights on Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines.

By the way, kissing the Blarney Stone is a sly, wry way of pulling the leg.  Literally and figuratively. Back in 1969,  a jolly man grasped my ankles as I lay on my back on the castle floor, stretching my neck outside an opening in the wall to peck the special block of rock. Uncomfortable, but not dangerous —  a grating prevents plunging to the ground if the guide slips his grip.  My relatives looked down on the procedure. The custom was beneath their contempt. They’d never lower themselves to such an awkward position.

Ireland is the birthplace of my maternal grandparents and paternal great grandparents, and their known forbears.  My husband’s grandparents and great grandparents on both sides were born there, too. He didn’t need to ask if I’d mind going again on our 1970 honeymoon.  This year Aer Lingus made another offer I couldn’t refuse, and several days after our arrival my son and daughter-in-law joined me and Honey in Dublin.

One gorgeous afternoon, wandering and lost 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 led me to a refreshment pavilion where my son, his wife and Honey were waiting. Rescued once more.  My guide, Barbara, smitten with Honey, took the picture and wrote a post: “The Road Not Taken,” titled after Robert Frost’s moving poem. Apparently, I’d taken exactly the right path that day.

This has gotten longer than I intended for my first outing, but I need to quote Herman Melville’s Ishmael here, as he observed:  “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.”

Those wise words didn’t make an impression when I first read “Moby Dick,” but struck me when Peg Bracken quoted them in her “I Hate to Housekeep Book,” a title that caught my eye as a newlywed.  Ms. Bracken recommended we not judge careless homemakers  — we don’t know what may be distracting them. In effect, we’re shipmates and need to be there for one other, have each other’s back in hard times.

Faith and endurance are rewarded. When a door closes, another does open.  Disturbed by an irritating grain of sand, an oyster spins a lustrous pearl around it. Stormy seas have made me change course, navigate to a safe harbor, mend my sails, chart a new route, then set forth again. Couldn’t resist. Got carried away on the tide.

To be continued.  God willing.

 
 
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MARCHING IN

Had good intentions, started a post last night, hoping  to get in under the wire for February — but got sleepy and went to bed instead.  (So much for New Year’s resolutions!) Here’s a sketch of the month that was.

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, both on February 14th.  St. Margaret’s Church in the morning, and to Kieran’s in the afternoon, toting my (in)famous meatballs for dinner. Adorable grandchildren.  Hugs.  Kisses.  Bedtime stories.  Home with Nolan and Jack’s handmade valentines, now on refrigerator.

A surprise visit one afternoon from Kevin and Megan Jackson, on their way back from Villanova, where Megan’s been accepted for September.   So good to see them again.  Not since her grandpa Ed Collins’s 80th birthday party last May.

Wonderful Debbie, of Sparkle Cleaning Service, came once more and made my condo shine, cheerfully humming while she works her magic. Last year I’d decided I’d earned this luxury — wish I’d done it sooner. Angel loves her, too, following her around the apartment for belly rubs and happy talk.

Entertaining Chinese New Year celebration at a Baltimore museum with the Gallagher Clan. Costumed youngsters performing intricate steps to drumbeats and ancient music.  Colorful dragons (two people inside) kicking and writhing around the floor, delighting the crowd.  Followed by a craft workshop, Nolan and Jack making party hats. Then a buffet lunch at a Nepalese restaurant.  Broadening my palate!?

Just in passing, a check-up at the dermatologist.  Still good to go in the skin I’m in. Always grateful for my excellent medical coverage.

Balmy weather the last days of February.  A preview of spring.  Angel and I have been enjoying leisurely strolls in Bynum Run Park and on the boardwalk at Havre de Grace.  A pleasure after recent record freezing temperatures — then short walks with my pet, both of us bundled up to the nose, me tugging on her leash:  “Let’s go home.  Mommy give you treat.”  That always works.

By the way, may be retiring “The Perils…” after a random run of over six years. Want to concentrate on revising a couple of children’s stories I wrote long ago, and have been jotting down family memories, hopefully of interest to the younger generation.  Am now the third eldest:  My cousin, Jim Rogers, wins the gold at 96.  Cousin Patsy Beatty McNulty, earns the silver at 87.  And I get the bronze at 86.

Thank you for coming along with me on this bumpy ride.  Many blessings always to you and your loved ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TRICK OR TREAT

It’ll be dark pretty soon, a little earlier every evening now.  Excited  children are getting  ready to go trick-or-treating.  Princesses, action heroes and heroines, all kinds of creepy creatures will be ringing doorbells, collecting hoards of candy.

There’ll probably be bonfires on beaches tonight.  Spooky stories told.  Apples bobbed for.  Does anyone still do that?  I hope so.  A messy highlight of my son’s costume party for third grade friends. He’d invited only boys — much to the annoyance of the girls in the class.  That was before he’d noticed their various charms.

Halloween’s origins can be traced back over 2,000 years to ancient Celtic harvest festivals, especially the Gaelic festival of Samhain, dedicated to remembering departed ancestors before the pagan new year began then on November 1st. In  the early Christian church, the celebration became known as All Hallows Evening (Hallows E’en) the eve of All Saints Day.  (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Nowadays, there’s more scary stuff going around than “things that go bump in the night.”  More frightening than ghosts, mummies, skeletons, witches or zombies.  More terrifying than Norman Bates, Dracula, Freddy Kruger, Hannibal Lecter or Michael Myers.   Among them:  Climate tragedies.  Multiple mass shootings, Frequent terrorist attacks.  Threats of war and nuclear annihilation.

The fragile middle class is disappearing.  “The rich get rich and the poor get poorer” — remembering the devastating last Depression. Back to the bad old days when the lowly labored for the wealthy?  My 15-year-old Irish immigrant grandmother among them. Immigrants may be disappearing, too.

The Republicans’ trickle-down mantra has never worked before, and won’t work now. The magical solution evaporates on the way down, doesn’t reach the roots. The GOP is willing to overlook the travesty of a rude, crude, dishonest president who promised us a virtual rose garden, but only sows havoc and controversy.  As long as he signs their heartless agenda into law.

We’ve been tricked!

 

 

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SEPTEMBER MEMORIES

Thirty seven years and one week ago today, on September 19, 1970, Kieran John Gallagher and Eileen Marie Copeland were married at St. Mary Magdalene Church, in Springfield Gardens, New York. My sister, Mary, my maid of honor.  My brother, Bill, escorted me down the aisle.  Kieran’s brother, Kevin, his best man.  Six friends his ushers.

A memorable moment at the nuptial mass:  As the priest, citing the Wedding Feast at Cana, solemnly intoned: “And a miracle has been performed today!”  — a rumble of hearty laughter arose from the congregation — mostly my husband’s raucous buddies  — he was the last to take the leap.

Followed by a reception at my home in Laurelton, tables set in the yard — on very damp grass. A gorgeous, sunny day — after torrents of rain the whole day before.  We’d decorated our finished basement, in case, and the food would be served buffet style in the dining room, but it would have been a very cozy party. We hadn’t told my mom how many we’d invited, over 100, assuming there’d be refusals. Only one.  An open bar in the garage.  A strolling accordion player.

Exactly three years later, on our third anniversary, September 19, 1973, I was admitted to Flushing Hospital, a Caesarean section scheduled the next morning.  And on September 20th, our son, Kieran Anthony, entered the world. I’ll always be grateful that, after the recovery room, a sweet nurse wheeled my gurney up to the nursery window to see my infant son.  “A perfect baby boy,” the doctor later pronounced. Weighing in at seven pounds, seven ounces. His daddy, Kieran John, came to visit, looking goofily happy, carrying a dozen red roses, with a card that said: “Wow a boy!” (Not that he was chauvinistic!)

Kieran Anthony celebrated his 44th birthday last week.  And he and Bethany, and Nolan, Jack and Maeve, are making their own memories every day.

 

 

 

 

 

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HOME ON THE RANGE

Not the kind “where the buffalo roam,” in that sentimental song of the old West — the kind that cooks.  What I still call a stove.  Last week the oven died in the gas range. Had tried self-cleaning, which didn’t work, and after that, neither did the oven.  Can’t be without an oven to bake my Irish soda breads and apple pies with homemade crusts.  (My mom always enjoyed her little pun:  “Eileen, you’ve got some crust!”)

I’m convinced that many appliances, along with some other modern conveniences, have gotten way too complicated  — for me, anyway.  Though I have a basic cell phone, dabble on the Internet,  and get money (too often) from an ATM.  My husband wouldn’t touch any of them — he didn’t like to be rushed, was thorough and deliberate.  Speed and dexterity count more now.  Fingers flying over smart phones. My grandchildren mesmerized and adept at digital games.

I remember watching my Grandma Beatty in her kitchen as she calmly turned out delicious Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for about 25 — herself, grandpa, aunts, uncles and cousins — cooking turkeys and all the fixings in a wood stove, throwing in big chunks to keep the fire burning evenly.  Kids fed first, then pretty much left on our own, chasing each other, playing games, sliding down the banister, boy cousins taking turns riding up and down in the hallway dumbwaiter — girls only allowed to keep watch for adults.

Wish we could go back to the days when families were closer, in both senses — wouldn’t want to go back to  wood stoves.  But do newfangled ones have to be so daunting?  The range was an older one, wasn’t worth repairing — $100 for the service call. Went to Home Depot, sales people scarce, none anywhere near appliance area. Only three gas ranges on display.  Finally ordered one a rare sales rep found on computer, to be delivered in several days, with later installation. With vision of stove sitting in my living room for a while, next day called and cancelled.

But now there’s a brand new Whirlpool gas range (4-1/2 stars out of 5) in my kitchen — reasonable price, black and stainless steel, 5 burners, a griddle, bought at Best Buy, where a helpful salesman approached as soon as I began to browse.   Delivered in two days, old range removed, new one immediately connected. All smooth sailing so far.  Not for long.

A 31 page Care and Use Guide came with the stove, 16 in English, then in French.  Had a quick lesson from installer, decided to bake Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits.  Mouth watering, put them on cookie sheet, tried to set oven temperature and timer, pressed digital control panel in proper places. But didn’t press Start button within 5 allotted seconds, 3 seconds to lock in. Finally got it right, but wouldn’t unlock when I wanted to correct the temperature.

Called Best Buy — “Press Lock for three more seconds to unlock” —  on page 8 of  manual, which made my brain hurt. But the biscuits were delicious, and I dunked them in homemade chicken soup for lunch.  Yesterday, I treated myself to bacon and eggs cooked on the griddle — left some egg for Angel to lick off. Then discovered Low setting on front burners was defective — flame too high. Repair coming Friday.

I rest my case.

 

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BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

This morning, on the way to WaWa for my customary French vanilla decaf coffee, plain donut for dunking, and “The [real news] Washington Post,” I turned on Tredmore Road and saw a curious sight — a woman and two young children, sitting on folding chairs near the curb, holding up small handwritten signs. Couldn’t make out the message as I drove by — probably young entrepreneurs offering refreshments on a hot summer day, with mom supervising sales.

As I came near, all three held up the signs, hopeful smiles fading as I kept going. Felt a twinge — sorry I’d passed them by — decided to stop on the way back.  A boy about five — he reminded me of my grandson Nolan — and his sister, maybe six, were selling ice pops for a dollar, though none were in evidence.  Their aunt had encouraged the project to keep them busy while their mom visited their new baby sister in the hospital, still there with birth complications.

I asked for an orange and an apple ice, gave each child a dollar, and they filled the order in the garage where the pops were kept frozen. I was their first and only customer, said the aunt.  They’d been discouraged and had started to walk away when I arrived. Now they were delighted, both beaming and dancing around, waving the money. The boy  suddenly ran and gave me an enthusiastic hug.  Worth more than a dollar.  Priceless.

This afternoon Angel and I visited Havre d’Grace again for a walk on the boardwalk, water for her and a coffee ice cream float for me at the Promenade Cafe. After, we relaxed in a gazebo,  met a retired kindergarten teacher, Myrtle, and her son Charley, who proudly told me: “Today’s my mom’s 103rd birthday!” His mother added emphatically: “And I’m in very good health!” Which she certainly seemed to be.  Charley told me he’s had cancer three times, last time seven years ago, when doctors said he’d only live three months.

You never know who’ll you meet when you stop along the way.  Or what you’ll learn if you do.

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STILL HANGING IN THERE

Recently realized it’s been three months since I wrote “Out Like a Lion.” And suddenly it’s the Fourth of July — time flies whether or not fun is involved — and I wanted to send my loyal, intrepid followers greetings and good wishes on this anniversary of our nation’s independence.

This year we had a four day celebration since today’s a Tuesday — and we needed every one of them, many of us weary of the constant turmoil  in Washington and the world. Our so-called president seems more unhinged every day while his fans still adore him.

Outrageous tweets.  Bizarre behavior. Alternate “facts,” Health care plans on life support.  Environmental protections dismantled. The Russian question. And more. Our founding fathers would be scandalized and horrified.  And we have to worry about Putin in Russia.  Kim Jong-un in North Korea.  Conflict and unrest in so many countries.

Time for Angel and me to go to bed.  She’s got an early vet appointment in the morning.  Blood work for her Cushing’s disease.  But she’s doing well, thankfully, now about 10 years of age. When we found each other three years ago at Fallston Animal Rescue Movement, they said she was about seven then.

Sorry to say I’ve had another bout of depression, back in Sheppard Pratt again in June.  Out in time for Nolan and Jack’s shared 5th and 3rd birthday party in a park — 20 kids, parents, pizza, pinatas, masks. And Maeve will be one year old on July 15th.  So good to be home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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