WELCOME TO THE PERILS OF EILEEN

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow Ireland

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow,  Ireland

This might have been a very short story. When I was born, my mother and father lived near Highland Park, a high plateau area between Queens and Brooklyn, close to my Beatty grandparents’ home in East New York.  Family legend has it that one day an aunt lost hold of my carriage, and it began to roll down a sloping sidewalk towards busy Hillside Avenue. Stopped in time by someone walking up.  My Guardian Angel?  There was more to come.

As we all do in time, I’ve faced my share of “dangers, toils and snares” along the way,  but am still here in my 80th year. In pretty good shape for the shape I’m in. Eternally grateful to have come this far, mostly intact, only slightly scarred. My rousing rendition of that grand old hymn, “Amazing Grace,” at Sunday Mass sometimes startles people nearby.

A while ago I began to to think I may have 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 from troubles. God’s bargain package deal for a  lifetime journey covers both blessings and trials. There’s no free ride.

Among my gifts:  Loving, caring parents.  Happy childhood in a comfortable home.  When my dad died at 45, a mom who courageously raised three children alone.  More than a few true friends.  Tuition free Queens College degree.  Before it was trendy — At 38, married a good man.  At almost 42, after prayers, tears, tests and surgery, gave birth to what the doctor pronounced “a perfect baby boy.”  At 52, decided what I wanted to be when I grew up, returned to Queens for an M.L.S., worked as a librarian for 21 years, pension and medical benefits for life.

Some of my challenges — Struggles with depression since adolescence, two adult hospitalizations. Breast cancer, mastectomy, chemotherapy, poor prognosis 32 years ago. My husband’s callous downsizing, then his sickness and death.  Our son’s life-threatening illness the next year.  Hurtful, even malicious, words and actions — some from loved ones — more painful than than bodily injury.

But I’ve been too busy hanging on for dear life, haven’t had time to do more than jot random notes now and then.  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, not long before I appeared on the scene.

Born in Brooklyn in 1931, I’m now the same age as Grandma Moses when three of her colorful folk paintings were included in an exhibit, “Contemporary Unknown American Painters,” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. George Eliot’s  inspirational line is taped to my refrigerator:  “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” Though gymnast might be a stretch!?

Played by the actress, Pearl White, Pauline cleverly foiled her wicked guardian’s pernicious schemes to collect her inheritance by hastening her death.  She’s seen 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 dastardly plots. Never fear. Brave, resourceful Pauline always survived at the end, sometimes with the help of Handsome Harry, her faithful fiance. Not to worry. She’d be back again, ready and able for another adventure.

Later, what came to be called cliffhangers left the hero or heroine in a petrifying predicament, the audience in suspense till the following episode. Hanging from a cliff as the dirt crumbled away.  Tied down while  moving closer to a circular saw.  Bound to a railroad track as the train chugged nearer. Not rescued till the next chapter.  I haven’t encountered any of these calamities  so far. However, in the mid 1960’s, I fell through one of the infamous gaps between Long Island Railroad cars and platforms as the train was ready to leave  Laurelton for New York City’s Penn Station.

Imagine the trailer:  Running late that frigid winter morning, I dashed up the stairs, sprinted to an open, empty doorway — all other passengers had boarded — 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. Over 40 years after my horrendous experience, a young woman was killed by a train in Woodside in 2006, after falling through the wide opening there. Long Island’s “Newsday” then ran a series of articles exposing the many accidents and lawsuits not disclosed till then. How I survived in a future post.  Hang in there.

A former friend, mocking my modelling Pauline, once sarcastically remarked:  “Eileen, you could never be in a silent movie!”  She was wrong. My son, after graduating with degrees in Psychology and Communication, his chemotherapy and radiation treatments for Hodgkin’s Disease completed, enrolled for classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers.  At that time he aspired to be a movie maker, stand-up comedian, or both.  He starred me in an assignment, a silent film, and got an A for his opus “Lights Out for Grandma.” Told me his classmates chorused “Aww” when I died at the end, silently and dramatically.

While dreaming his dream, he toiled as a  waiter in several Pittsburgh restaurants, including a Friday’s where he met his future wife, working there part-time till she finished college.  Now she’s a Speech Therapist in a children’s hospital.  He’s an Occupational Therapist in a nursing home.  Who knows what they’ll decide to be when they grow up?

I loved being a librarian, but since childhood had wanted to be a writer, often reading treasured books — “The Bobbsey Twins,” “Little Women,” “Jane Eyre” — by flashlight, under the covers, way past bedtime.  I’ve since written poems and children’s stories, timidly sending some to magazines and publishers.  None accepted.  Gave up trying. Unlike J.K. Rowling, determined to deliver Harry Potter, her brainchild, into the world.

But I do know a little of the thrill of publication. “The New York Times” printed my terse comment on W’s Iraq fiasco.  And “Newsday” accepted two letters, one about the LIRR Woodside fatality, and another about breastfeeding’s protection about breast cancer after a Long Island pollution study failed to find a definite association. And came close when Mothering” magazine first accepted, but then rejected my article:  “Missing Link:  Vital Connection” on the same subject.

I’ve had what can kindly be called A Motley Career.  Back in 1953, with my  B.A. in English i  hand,  TIME Inc. hired me as a file clerk in “Time Magazine’s” Letters to the Editor Department, where a tear or two sometimes plopped into a folder as I pondered: “Is this all there is?”  So I learned to type and take shorthand, and in 1954 transferred to the new “Sports Illustrated Magazine”as a secretary in the Advertising Department.  “Mad Men” got it right!

After seven itchy years, I found more meaningful work at Dr. Tom Dooley’s MEDICO Foundation. When he died the next year, at IBM Communications. Then, as an elementary school teacher in the South Bronx, very briefly. Seven sensible years as a legal secretary at Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn, Esqs. Five blissful years as a full-time mother. My son safely launched in kindergarten, part-time jobs in the community. After my mother’s sudden death and the family drama that followed, I bravely boarded what in library school was pretentiously called Librarianship.

You’e noticed I’m hardly at a loss for words,  happen to be the latter of two Irish types. Private and closemouthed.  Outgoing and talkative. In  1969, on my first visit to Ireland with my sister and a cousin, I couldn’t miss the chance to kiss the famed Blarney Stone, a custom said to bestow the ability to speak the blarney,  the gift to beguile and cajole. It’s possible that smooching that stone polished my powers of persuasion, resulting in traveling with Honey this trip. The doting Aer Lingus attendants said she was the first pet ever allowed in the cabin.

I’ve never had a problem showing my feelings either, and had honed the facility in a summer acting class at NYU.  When I phoned The Irish Department of Agriculture about bringing my dog to Ireland, I tearfully pleaded my cause —  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 mental health professional as my necessary comfort companion for flights on Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines.

Kissing the Blarney Stone is a sly, wry way of pulling the leg.  Literally and figuratively. Back in 1969,  a jolly man — he enjoyed his job — grasped my ankles as I lay on my back on the castle floor, stretching my neck outside a wall opening to peck the designated  block of rock. Somewhat uncomfortable, but not dangerous —  a grating underneath prevents plunging to the ground in case the guide slips his grip.  My kin looked down on the daffy procedure. The custom was beneath their contempt. They’d never lower themselves to such an awkward position. Puns intended.   Their loss.  Might have loosened them up a bit.

Fabled, beautiful Ireland is the birthplace of my maternal grandparents and paternal great grandparents, probably most of their forbears.  My husband’s grandparents and great grandparents on both sides were born there, too. He didn’t really need to ask if I’d mind going again the next year 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, sunny afternoon, wandering a long time by myself 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 and his wife were waiting. We’d walked different ways. Barbara, a Dubliner, was much taken with Honey. No dogs permitted in the park!  Barbara took a picture of my pet, saying she would write about our chance meeting on her blog, “Just Add Attitude.”

When I read the post, Honey’s photo attached, I knew that’s how I could tell my story.  That day I’d been led to take exactly the right path.  Barbara cited Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” so I’ll return the favor and quote Herman Melville’s Ishmael as he wisely observes:  “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 when I first read “Moby Dick,” but struck me when Peg Bracken repeated it in her “I Hate to Housekeep Book,” a title that caught my attention as a newlywed.  Ms. Bracken was cautioning us not to judge careless homemakers  — we can’t know what worries may be distracting them. Melville was saying we should be there for one another, have our shipmates’ backs in stormy weather. To belabor the metaphor:  We’re all in the same boat.

I now know that faith and endurance are rewarded. When a door closes, anoone or more open.  Disturbed by an irritating grain of sand, an oyster covers it with a lustrous pearl that wouldn’t otherwise form. Troubled waters have sometimes made me change course, navigate to a safe harbor, mend my sails, chart a new route, then set to sea again. (Couldn’t resist. Slipped my moorings.  Got carried away on an irresistible tide.)

 To be continued, God willing.

 

 
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STILL HANGING IN THERE

Today’s the Fourth of July, and I haven’t been able to write since April 30th — been battling another round of depression.   Came home from St. Joseph’s Hospital on Friday after two weeks there on new medication, Paxil, which can take about four weeks to show results. And patience isn’t one of my virtues.

Before that, spent two and a half weeks in May in Meadow Wood Behavioral Health Hospital in Delaware where I was sent to the geriatric unit  — sadly, most patients with dementia — and prescribed six different medications. The second week was  transferred  to a quieter unit despite my advanced age.  Group sessions, asked how we felt on a scale of one to ten, and our goals for the day. Mine was to just get out of there!

Struggled for about a month later at home, feeling no better on all that medicine, including Zoloft and Lithium, the latter causing diarrhea, shakiness and loss of appetite. And went to out-patient group therapy at Harford Memorial Hospital three times a week — about ten patients sitting in a circle with a social worker or nurse giving pep talks, writing on a board, giving out work sheets, calling on us for thoughts. Each three hour session seemed endless.

After another sleepless night on June 17th, I called Kieran, had promised him if I needed help again, I’d find it nearer his Baltimore home.   He took me to Sheppard Pratt, where a psychiatrist interviewed me, referred me to Greater Baltimore Medical Center to be tested before admission to his facility. Kieran stayed with me till nearly midnight  till I was finally called to the emergency room, slept overnight there, learned no beds at Sheppard Pratt after all, and 24 hours after entering GBMC was taken by ambulance to St.Joseph’s where there was room. A man there told me he’d spent three days in an emergency room before admission — a cruel procedure.

St. Joseph’s was better than Meadow Wood in all ways, but also attended several group sessions a day, including one involving crafts and coloring pictures.  Tried occasionally to concentrate on working crossword puzzles Kieran brought me. He’s been so caring and wonderful through all of this. And it  breaks my heart to trouble him and Bethany now, especially with their baby girl due in about a week.

They visited me yesterday to hang room darkening curtains in my bedroom, Kieran concerned about my sleeping.soundly. Then they were on their way with Nolan and Jack to a Fourth of July party nearby.   I love them all so much. Don’t know what I’d do without them.  So many I met in hospitals without family support.

Another comfort — Kieran and Bethany’s friends Aaron and Kathy, kindly took Angel into their home while I was away this time — my pet recently diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease, on meds twice a day, tomorrow due for blood work to see how they’re working. I love her so much, too, and am worried about her as I was with Honey’s diabetes..

Kieran just called to invite me to a cookout about 5PM today.  Am foggy headed and shaky, but know it’s better not to be alone.  And feel like a weakling.  Here I am at 84 in good physical health, while friends my age are having health problems –Marilyn having heart surgery tomorrow, Charlotte with a recurrence of cancer, Monty in the hospital again, Therese still with a blood clot in her leg and a broken arm after a fall.

Have been trying to pray and hold on tight to hope. Please remember me in your prayers. Thank you all for coming this far with me.

 

 

 

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RANDOM RAMBLING

Still wasn’t ready to write April 1st. Have tried to post every month, but on the last few days it feels like “deja vu all over again,” as Yogi Berra poetically put it. I’m back in Queens College with a term paper due!?!

Sometimes it’s a slow slog to get the words right — they don’t flow as trippingly from my fingers as they do from my tongue,  often edit after publishing. Speaking of “deja vu,” if you have nothing better to do, see my Introduction’s new first paragraph (April 2011) and additions to “More Dangers, Toils, and Snares” (November 2015).

Now have a grand total of 42 followers — a select group after five years — but loyal and hardy.  Still can’t persuade many to take a look. Back when I began  I emailed friends and relatives about my venture — my brother’s wife immediately replied: “Bill and I don’t do blogs.”   When he called before they left on their latest cruise, I suggested he take a chance, “Be Brave,” I said.  But he reminded me: “Cyn  and I don’t do blogs.”

Am not into Facebook, so have been passing out business cards to people I meet along the way — luring ten more subscribers.  Remember the rich man in the Bible gathering strangers from the highways and byways after those he’d invited didn’t show up at his party?  As I’ve noted, this is a kind of therapy for me.  It’s a bonus if you smile or nod in recognition now and then. That said, here’s what’s been going on since March.. .

The “Downton Abbey” English Tea Party was delightful, though the promised “three course tea” was rather scanty — a three-tiered serving of scones, tiny sandwiches and cupcakes shared by about six guests.  But the final episode was completely satisfying, loose ends neatly tied up, most characters on their way to happily ever after.  I’ll  truly miss the Crawleys and their servants.

The Hogan’s St. Patrick’s celebration was wonderful — open house for babies up to grandparents.  Kieran, Bethany, Nolan and Jack drove from Baltimore, staying several days at Bethany’s sister’s nearby home. I’d flown there that morning. Was happy to see my nephew and his wife, Matt and  Stef, all the way from California. Tim served mounds of  corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots — washed down with gallons of beer, wine and soda. A bagpiper played all afternoon.

The next day was sunny and mild, and we sat outside eating corned beef sandwiches, listening to Irish music, the children improvising step dancing. As Tim’s five-year-old, Caroline, held three green helium balloons, I playfully tapped one too hard, and we watched dismayed as they drifted high, caught in a tree, and floated out of sight. Caroline ran to her mother crying. I know it didn’t comfort her just then, but I said they might land somewhere else, make another child happy. She sniffled and looked thoughtful.     .

I’ve cancelled my trip to Ireland in June, realized  I wouldn’t have as good a time myself at this stage of my life as I did with Kieran and Bethany five years ago. Was so glad they joined me after three day in Dublin on my own. And Angel isn’t as spry as Honey was at nine years of age, pulls back on her leash when she gets tired  walking.

Besides, I’ve had to pay for a new hearing aid — the right one went missing — had already replaced that one under warranty  after Angel mistook it for a chew toy on my coffee table. And I need a new electric dryer — the old one died very inconveniently.

While mommy attended a speech therapist conference in Philadelphia, Kieran brought the boys here last Saturday –games and pizza at Chuck e Cheese; fun at home with books, toys, and a boisterous round of hide-and-seek; spaghetti with meat sauce for supper, vanilla ice cream and strawberries for dessert; baths and stories at bedtime. Among the memories  — in the middle of playing, Nolan suddenly looked up, announcing:  “I missed you Gramma.”

Sunday morning my domesticated son loaded the washing machine with sheets and towels.  Followed by silence from the adjoining appliance.  Picture damp laundry draped over door jambs and furniture for a couple of days.  Home Depot to deliver new dryer Tuesday.

After my family left, went to Mass, then drove to Towson to see the play “Detroit ’67,” presented by Center Stage, temporarily at Towson University while their Baltimore theater is renovated. A gripping story of a black brother, sister and  friends during the violence in that tormented city, beautifully acted and produced. Talked to a pleasant woman sitting next to me at intermission — she’s been enjoying Center Stage offerings for 30 years. I’ve subscribed to the 2016-2017 season starting in November.

On the national front, I’ve donated $100 to Bernie’s campaign and voted for him in the Maryland primary.  I’m more optimistic after his  winning streak, am weary of hearing Hillary is inevitable. It’s a gut feeling, but never liked her as First Lady, Senator, presidential candidate, or Secretary of State.  And here she comes again –the Energizer Bunny, beating her own drum.  The motley assortment of 18 Republican candidates has been winnowed down to three — Trump as strange as his hairdo, Cruz just plain scary, and Kasich seemingly sane and reasonable. I’d vote for him over Hillary if, by some fluke, he’s nominated at a contested convention.

Bernie is real,  and his plans are possible with grassroots support. What’s so outlandish about free state college tuition?  Queens College was free when I went there. Our country is heading in a disastrous direction, the middle class disappearing, the wealthy living in luxury, the rest waiting on them. “Upstairs Downstairs.”  “Downton Abbey.” My grandmother a maid in rich people’s homes.

More in May. Maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SHORTEST POST EVER

Wanted to send a post by today.  But it’s suddenly the last day of the month again — time  does really fly when you’re having fun — even when not so much. But Angel and I are just back from another long, leisurely walk on the boardwalk at Havre de Grace on this balmy last day of March. Talk about going out like a lamb. And I’m enjoying a glass of Yellow Tail Riesling before dinner, feeling lazy and relaxed, not in the mood to update you on what’s happened since February 29th.  So you’ll have to wait till tomorrow.  No fooling.

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SMALL STEPS AND A GIANT LEAP

Since posting “Endings and Beginnings” on New Year’s Eve I’ve been living my life, counting my blessings, enjoying smooth sailing, and suddenly it’s  February 29th, Leap Day, last chance to post this month.  Am feeling very well — happy, hopeful and grateful — even a routine, uneventful day is delightful after navigating troubled waters. Yesterday, Angel and I strolled on the boardwalk at Havre de Grace, soaking up the sunshine, my pet attracting many smiles, children asking to pet her.

No physical or emotional ailments worth mentioning now, thank God. A laser procedure has restored somewhat clearer sight to my left eye, though the second trabeculectomy caused more peripheral vision loss. Have been weaned off Effexor/Venlafaxine for over two months — had been on that anti-depressant since my previous hospitalization in 2000.  Am keeping monthly appointments with an empathetic social worker for talk therapy, and eating more healthily, including foods rich in vitamins D and B complex.  But won’t ever give up an occasional Friendly’s Coffee Fribble — each calorie is decadently therapeutic.

Bethany and I had a lovely time at the “Downton Abbey” premiere of this season’s first episode at Baltimore’s The Grand Hotel on January 3rd. As I savored a glass of wine, she sipped water, mindful of the baby girl she’s carrying. And when Carson proposed to Mrs. Hughes at the end, I stood up, cheering and clapping with many others.

On the way there the Uber Driver remarked:  “You look stunning!”  (Of course, I tipped him well.) Dressed in a long black velvet tunic and skirt, my Aunt Betty’s cropped Persian lamb jacket with sable collar, my mom’s strand of crystal beads, and the high-heeled red suede shoes she wore  on her honeymoon in 1929, I felt elegant. Would have welcomed the Dowager Countess’s cane by the end of the evening.  And being with my grandsons afterward topped all that!  Kieran took pictures of me in my  finery for posterity.

Had a disturbing conversation with a niece, one of my late sister-in-law’s daughters, in early February.  I’d called about a possible family get-together in the spring, but when I wondered if her mom may have suffered from sleep apnea, she became angry,  then more so when I sympathized that one of her siblings had been troubled by their dad’s request for the family’s proper behavior at the wake and funeral — no undignified displays of emotion.  Soon after we hung up, my son phoned, delivering a long lecture —   he’d received an email from one of my niece’s brothers, complaining I’d upset his sister.

A few days later, I decided to treat myself to a weekend in Manhattan, driving to The LaQuinta Inn on 32nd Street — not yet pet-friendly — Dominique minding Angel. Arriving too late for the matinee of “Burial at Thebes” at the Irish Repertory Theatre, changed my ticket for the evening performance. Had a chill as I was ushered to the front row, where Peggy and I sat our last time there together. She had fallen asleep during the performance, as she’d done at another play the year before.

On Sunday, missed  noon Mass at St. Francis Church — the bellman wandered off as I waited for him to mind my luggage — so left earlier to visit my friend, Eleanor Glaser, at Sunrise Assisted Living in Lynbrook. Now 93, she’s more frail each time I’m with her, but still good, cheerful company. Never complains, but her aide told me she hardly hears from, let alone sees,  her daughters and grandchildren. Their loss!  And she’s always been  loving and generous to them, troubled by their difficulties, proud of their achievements, showing me pictures, beaming as she shared their milestones.

Took Kieran, Bethany, Nolan and Jack to a pre-Valentine’s dinner at The Dizz, a fun, funky restaurant near their house. John Waters of “Hairspray” fame has been known to patronize the establishment. “We’re all booked up,” said Elaine, the owner, when I phoned  for a reservation, but found a table for five, with two booster seats, when I teased her, saying I’d like to meet the filmmaker someday.  “He’s a good guy,” she laughed.  I savored a Grey Goose martini, straight up, with a lemon peel, waiting for my family to arrive. Much hilarity, in the meantime, as  Elaine sat down on a male diner’s lap.

Next Sunday afternoon, I’ll watch the last chapter of “Downton Abbey” at an English Tea Party  in North Bethesda for MPT patrons, then stay overnight at my son’s home. Can’t wait to get my arms around the boys again  Was disappointed Bethany couldn’t join me, but she’d committed to substituting as a speech therapist at Kieran’s nursing home.  I won’t be wearing the three inch heels, but had a shoemaker shorten them a quarter inch for a future suitable occasion. I’ll bequeath them to my granddaughter when my dress-up days are done.  This time may try for a more Cora look — feeling more spry than Violet.

Coming up:  Stacie and Tim Hogan’s annual St. Patrick’s party on March 12th in Natick, Massachusetts. Dominique again minding little Angel, thus avoiding the possibility of  being injured underfoot during joyous jigging. Will fly Southwest from Baltimore to Boston and return, staying overnight at the hosts’ house — my nephew claimed his three darling daughters, my great nieces,  would be disappointed if I didn’t.  How could I say no?

And am looking forward to another sentimental journey — On June 6th, the anniversary of my dad’s death in 1943, Angel and I will fly Aer Lingus to Ireland, returning  June 13th, St. Anthony’s Feast Day. Will be well protected coming and going.  We’re staying at a pet-friendly hotel in Rathmines, near Dublin City.– there happens to be an “award-winning” musical pub next door — my pet even welcome in the Beer Garden. Five years have flown  since  Honey and I traveled to Erin.  Who knows what adventures await Angel and me this time?

 

 

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ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS

There’s not enough time left in 2015 to elaborate on all that’s happened since my November post.  Details next year.  Hang in there.

Spent four days in  Harford Memorial Hospital’s Behavioral Health Unit — Kieran visited me there on my 84th birthday  — in crisis after Dr. Sood increased my antidepressant medication. Now I know my persistent low spirits were caused partly by vitamins D and B12  deficiencies, as well as lingering shock after my dear sister-in-law’s sudden death in July — we’d assumed  of a heart attack or stroke.

I hadn’t connected the dots, but a caring social worker at the hospital called my son who told her I’d been even more upset after her wake, delayed six days by autopsy.  We had grieved with my seven nieces and nephews, Kieran’s cousins, standing next to each other along the far right wall, then with her husband, alone at her open coffin.  He volunteered that Peggy had accidentally drowned in the bathtub, he’d found here there when he came home from volunteer work that evening, tried CPR, and called 911.  Kieran stumbled as we walked away, and I put my arms around him.

A few days after leaving the hospital — smiling broadly, the social worker had announced  “I’m going to spring you” — I was afflicted by urinary tract  and upper respiratory ailments.  No trip to Pittsburgh with family for Christmas.  Still blurred vision in left eye.  Painful tendonitis in right hand. Had written newsy notes on cards and compulsively edited “More of My Story.” Thought it may be time to retire this narrative, and wanted to get last post right.

Transferred myself and voluminous medical records to new doctors: Primary Care, Ophthalmologist, and Gynecologist-Urologist. Had a peaceful, quiet Christmas with my Angel.  But first hoarsely belted out carols at beautiful Mass at St. Margaret’s, then ate Chinese food and went to the movies — timeless Jewish customs on December 25th, now being observed by many Christians.  Tendonitis healing  after wearing hand brace.  My odyssey will go on, God willing!

Life is good again.  Friends coming tomorrow  afternoon to toast the New Year and nibble what I like to call substantial hors d’oeuvres. Saturday  evening, while Kieran minds the boys, Bethany and I will be at The Grand Hotel in Baltimore, watching a preview of the first episode of the final season of  “Downton Abbey” — a reward for donors to public television. I’ll be stylishly dressed in tribute to Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess.

Am staying overnight at my family’s nearby home, and Sunday morning we’ll belatedly celebrate our Christmas together.  Joyful tidings —  Nolan and Jack’s baby sister will be with us next year — the newest member of the Gallagher Clan due to enter the world in July.

I pray you’ll be blessed with a mostly healthy, mostly happy Year of Our Lord 2016.  And a hearty welcome aboard to my thirty-third follower who joined the crew in December. Stay brave. But don’t miss daily lifeboat drill on the main deck aft.

 

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MORE DANGERS, TOILS AND SNARES

Since the fateful day when I, innocently nestled in my baby carriage, started to roll unattended down that hill in Highland Park, my journey has continued for almost 84 years.  I’ll reach that august age on December 3rd, God willing , and as a reward for hanging in there so long, I’m allowed to let it all hang out here.  So, as a treat for  Halloween, I’m going to entertain you with a scary tale of perils you’ve been spared till now.

If you were mystified by that lone, intriguing paragraph, my itchy finger clicked Publish instead of Save Draft when I was just warming up.  “Well begun is half done,” my mom’s frequent mantra, doesn’t always work for me. Besides, recent troubles have prevented me from posting by October 31st, as intended.

My down mood continued (see September’s “Be Not Afraid”) but my spirits were beginning to lift, and I agreed to Dr. Schwartz’s recommendation of another tabeculectomy  on my left eye.  The surgery at Johns Hopkins two years ago had increased visual field loss in what had been my better eye, but a second procedure could prevent further damage.

She performed the operation on October 14th, and all seemed to go well, but in about a week I felt very ill — nauseous, my head heavy and full. I drove carefully in the right lane to an emergency appointment , and Dr. Schwartz found my left eye pressure  was an alarming fifty-five.  She brought it down to a too low three, immediately relieving my discomfort.  “It’s normal for pressure to fluctuate after this surgery,” she said.  Though she admitted she’d never seen it that extreme.

On another visit, as she removed the last stitch, a dense fog fell over the left eye. A broken blood vessel, Dr. Schwartz reported, but it should dissolve in about a week.  In about 10 days, as my sight began to clear,  I began seeing double when reading with my right eye. An irritation under the cataract implant she had inserted in April,he said, but new drops would correct this.  Oh, please!

When I woke a few days later, the fog had again fallen again over my left eye.  “You probably poked your eye in your sleep, shouldn’t have stopped wearing the eye shield at night,” she chided.  Bear in mind  I was still adjusting to a visual annoyance that began in March, often seeing  several tiny objects — something like broccoli florets — in the upper left corner of my left eye. A description that seemed to amuse Dr. Schwartz.

Apparently not her area of expertise, so referred me to a retinal specialist.  Dr. Grodin explained that the vitreous, a gel-like substance, shrinks with age (among other things,I thought) causing “posterior vitreous detachment,” and others more serious, such as detached retina. “Nothing can be done to correct it,” he intoned.

If you’re still with me — and I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve lost interest after this litany of lamentations — the following is a random selection of other “dangers, toils and snares” I’ve staunchly survived. Don’t think I’ve forgotten.  I always keep my promises, and usually finish what I start.  Brace yourself.

The dating maze, where I wandered too long, taking more than one wrong turn.  But when I’d almost given up hope (maybe arranged marriages were a smart idea) I saw Kieran John Gallagher standing in the light at the end, waiting patiently all that time for me to find my way to him. Then we entered the marriage marathon . . .

Our young son’s severe asthma attacks. Watching him struggle to breathe.  Visits to the emergency room, especially during the night.  Bur Kieran endured a series of allergy injections rather than give up Frisky, the stray cat he’d adopted. Tearfully, he firmly announced:   “Love is more important than being sick.”

The boy on the block who constantly bullied him, and one day sprayed Right Guard at his mouth, saying:  “Too bad, Kieran.  Fatal if swallowed.” My son managed to clamp his mouth shut, turn his head, break free, and run home. My husband called an overdue family conference at our house.  The bully’s mom didn’t show.  His dad commented: “Keith is just going through a Huck Finn phase.” Not long after, Kieran found his beloved pet dead, her ribs broken, in a wooded area where the troubled boy often played.

An earlier near collision.  (See “Fasten Your Seat Belts.”)  As we drove to Massachusetts for Tim Hogan’s First Communion, our car began to speed out of control, and  accelerated as my husband pressed the brake pedal to the floor. A bus was stopped at a red light at the crossroad just ahead of us. “Get off the road,” I shouted, he swerved to the shoulder, turned  off the the ignition.  AAA arranged an arbitration with Oldsmobile —  we learned that gas had kept flowing through a broken flap, meant to close when brakes are applied. We went home with a big check and bought a Nissan Sentra.

My husband’s age discrimination case against AIG, heard in court in 1994, soon after his death. The company had replaced him with a man under forty in the October 1991 downsizing.  A naive, young lawyer I’d found through the ABA stammered and dropped papers on the floor, obviously intimidated by AIG’s impressive charts and entourage — including three vice presidents boldly lying under oath.  The judge never left the bench, joking with the V.P.’s and sipping from his coffee mug as he found for AIG.

While I’ve been moaning and complaining about my current predicaments, I’ve met and talked to people who shared their stories with me —

Michael, a  Uber driver, an Army veteran and former security guard in a prison where a woman inmate threw a cup of cleaning fluid at his face, splashing in his eyes — meant for her archenemy, another woman.  Immediate treatment saved his sight.

Michelle, a computer technician at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center.  Her mom and dad died within a month of each other this summer.   And  her sister was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Jaymie, one of Dr. Sood’s Physician’s Assistants.  While pregnant with her first child, with a sarcoma on her thigh, facing possible amputation of her leg, was cured in time.

Tasha, a medical technician working for Dr. Sood.  Diagnosed with leukemia at five years of age, under treatment for six years, ever since in remission.  Now in her forties, looking healthy and fabulous.

Dr.Schwartz assures me “You’ll be fine,” but I still can’t read with my left eye or even see clearly at a distance.  We shall see.  Pun intended.  And it’s reassuring, as I’ve noted, that Our Creator generously gave us two of most parts.

Amazingly, I’ve managed to stay afloat again — With the help of  my wonderful family: Kieran, Bethany, Nolan and Jack.  Charlotte, patient with  her own disabilities, who drove me to Dr. Schwartz’s office via busy highways. Marilyn, who delivered kindness and casseroles, and  treated me to dinner at Applebee’s. My angelic pet Angel.  But first, last and always — God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GENDER ON A BENDER

I’m confused.  Not about my own orientation — starting with an unrequited crush on Jimmy Mannion in St. Mary Magdalene elementary school — a bigger crush on my ten-year-older, handsome first cousin, Jim Beatty, after my dad died — romances with Dick Cunningham, then Paul Glynn, in college — and casual dating for too many years before finally finding my husband. I’m baffled by the rapid redefinition of sexual identity.  Archie and Edith Bunker of “All in the Family” — admittedly, not the most enlightened people on the planet — would be in shock.  In their good old days, “girls were girls and men were men.”.

Laws vary in different states, but in 2014 the New York City Council passed an ordinance permitting transgender people to keep what used to be called their private parts, yet change the sex on their birth certificates. Corey Johnson, who introduced the bill, said: “Gender won’t be about your physicality.”  Mind boggling! And it’s not bigotry — it’s about anatomy. Removing external body parts doesn’t change what’s inside. And hormones may be harmful.

God created all men and women equal, deserving  the same dignity and protection of their human rights. Crimes against those perceived to be homosexual or otherwise sexually different should never be tolerated in any civilized society.  But we don’t live in an ideal world — some will always reject and react against what seems abnormal or immoral. It was a revelation to hear Pope Francis say:  “Who am I to judge?”  I believe God is more loving and tolerant than most religions portray Him to be.

I’ve come a long way from my clueless 20’s when I naively asked a friend:  “What do they do?” She laughed and enlightened me — to my amazement. But the media’s current increasing  focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and especially transgender issues seems out of proportion.  This is an organized campaign now that the battle for same-sex marriage has been won, sanctioned by The Supreme Court.

On July 9th The Times printed an editorial:  “The Struggle for Fairness for Transgender Workers.”  Elaine Mendus, a 6-foot-3 transgender woman in the early stages of transitioning, has had a hard time finding a job in New York.  (In all fairness, her attached picture wouldn’t help her cause.) Though hiring by looks is prejudicial, it’s a fact that employers do consider appearance, especially if the employee deals with the public.

On Sunday, August 30th The New York Times featured a story on page one, with a large picture of a  statuesque “woman” in judicial robes: “Once a Pariah, Now a Transgender Judge.”  Front page news?  (As Seinfeld said: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”) The article continued for two full pages. Phyllis, formerly Phil, Frye married his college girlfriend, they had a son, he was forced to resign from the army for transvestism, and his wife divorced him when she discovered him cross-dressing. Phil fell in love again and is still married to his second wife — who agreed to accept his wearing women’s clothes as long as he didn’t have gender reassignment surgery.

The publicity and praise for the courage of transgender people like former Olympic athlete Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner and Laverne Cox of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” has captured public attention. These celebrities lead so-called glamorous lives, while many trans people are poor, homeless and harassed.

On September 4th, The Times put “Who Gets to Play the Transgender Part?” on page one of the Arts section — part of an aggressive push against filmmakers who star non-trans actors in transgender roles. There’s been criticism of casting Elle Fanning in the coming film, “About Ray,” and Eddie Redmayne in the new movie “The Danish Girl.”  The studios are meekly apologetic, but explain they need well-known actors for the films to be profitable. But LBGT activists have hailed the Amazon series “Transparent,” starring straight actor Jeffrey Tambor as a retired professor transitioning to female.

On September 5th, The Times ran an op-ed piece:  “Why Is Science So Straight?” The author advocates sexual diversity in the workplace, and wants more LGBT people hired in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics since they’re presently “underrepresented” in these fields. (Quotas by sexuality?)

On September 7th, The Times published an op-ed piece by Charles M. Blow, who identifies as bisexual: “Sexual Attraction and Fluidity,” recommending we rid ourselves of “superannuated notions of attraction” and freely enjoy both same and opposite sex relations.  He noted that more young men and women are “liberating themselves” from the “outmoded ideas” of older generations.  Rather than just expressing their honest selves, as Blow says, this sounds more like hedonism overdone.

Adolescence and early adulthood are confusing enough. Teenagers and young adults are being encouraged to experiment with their still maturing minds and bodies.  One of my daughter-in-law’s bridesmaids, a close friend since kindergarten, broke up with yet another boyfriend and began a relationship with a young lesbian, her guest at my son and his wife’s wedding — wearing pants, shirt and tie. She left her for another lesbian. Bethany’s friend is dating men again.

I was reminded of the 2001 movie, “Kissing Jessica Stein,” about a young woman, tired of dating losers, who answers a lesbian’s ad to meet, tries out the lifestyle, but finds true love with a man in the end.  A 2005 film, “Brokeback Mountain,” tells the story of an apparently heterosexual married cowboy initiated into a homosexual relationship by another cowboy — and mourning him the rest of his life when he’s killed hustling. In the 2010 film “The Kids Are All Right,” a “lesbian” character has a fling with the man who donated his sperm for her own and her partner’s child.  After some anguish all is forgiven, and the partners and teenage son and daughter are happily reunited.

The American Psychiatric Association no longer lists homosexuality in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, though many psychiatrists and psychologists protested this decision. But it seems a consensus has been reached by most in the mental health profession that sexual orientation is inborn and immutable, as advocated by LGBT activists. But no reliable studies to date have shown homosexuality to be biologically determined. The nature versus nurture conflict continues. Some homosexuals do seem to be “Born This Way,” as Lady Gaga sings. But some may have learned to like what tickles their “fancy.” (Forgive me.)

Mothers are often blamed for feminizing their sons, smothering rather than mothering, becoming too attached, preventing attraction to other women.  But indifferent or hostile fathers may be more at fault for rejecting them.  A dad should hug, play, even roughhouse with his sons from infancy.  No baby or toddler is gay.  And daughters need to bond with their moms.

My unscientific theory:  A little boy’s first love is his mother, and he wants to become a strong man like his dad. A little girl’s first love is her father, and she wants to grow up to be like her nurturing mom. When he was about three, my son paid me a sweet compliment: “Mommy, I’m going to marry you when I grow up,” he announced. But by thirteen he hardly wanted to be seen with me. It only hurt for a little while — and I knew this was healthy, normal behavior.

As I’ve written, I have a beloved gay nephew, and if he met a man he wanted to marry, I’d dance at their wedding, A civil union would cover their human and civil rights, but the LGBT community wanted the name of marriage, too. However, a homosexual partnership will never be the same as the union of a man and a woman. It/s always about anatomy. Taking the name of something else doesn’t change anything’s essential nature. Even the enigmatic lesbian writer, Gertrude Stein, wrote:  “A rose is a rose is a rose.”

By the way, Jimmy Mannion grew up and married Mary Deegan, another classmate —  who in first grade filched an unusual pencil box I brought to school the day after my Aunt Florence gave it to me —  in the shape of  a very large pencil that actually wrote — with space inside for other regular size pencils. The next morning it wasn’t in my desk, and Mary was showing it off, claiming her aunt had given her one just like mine. I was too dumbstruck to tell Sister, and when I complained to my mom, she said  “Let it go. The Deegans are having a hard time.”   She must have reformed later in life. I heard one of her sons became a priest.

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