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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19 Comments »

  1. Dear Eileen,

    Greetings from Ireland.

    I love your blog post, it is beautifully written and I look forward to reading more in the future.

    B x

  2. Ken Collins said

    Great blog, Aunt Eileen. I love it. Keep it up!

  3. Hi Eileen, thanks for your comment on my blog. Looking forward to the next posts. B

  4. Latrice Castillo said

    Hello Ms.Eileen,
    This is Latrice Castillo. My husband, daugther and I met you and Honey at the duck park today. I really enjoyed reading your blog. You surely have talent for writing. I look forward to reading more in the future. And I definitely enjoyed meeting and talking to you today.

  5. Kimberly Byers-Suzer said

    Hello Ms. Eileen,

    We met at the Petsmart today and we were talking about your BLOG. I read your blog and thought I was reading a book. You have a talent for writing. Take care and hope to see you and Honey again.

    Kim

  6. Mary Beeckman said

    Hi Eileen, Rec’d you NY’s card and was happy to see you’ve moved to a slightly warmer climate. My nepher and family live in Ellicott City which is more to the south in MD.
    I have all of Peg Bracken’s books (Ithink?) and have always like her viewpoint on life. Have you read her kitchen window over sink book?
    I am recovering from a detached retina – it’s always something.

    I am enjoying your blog and your pix in Ireland.

  7. Sandy Norris said

    Eileen,
    Enjoyed seeing you & Honey again today at Bed Bath & Beyond. And, please keep writing your blog. You are a joy to read. Hope to see you & Honey again soon.
    Sandy

  8. eileen frost said

    Hi, how are you? Hope you and Honey are well and happy. Are you a
    Nana yet? Let me know. Did you hear of Angies passing, three weeks
    ago…she was very sick for a few months but never complained. All is well here, busy at work and with family. xoxo

  9. Megan said

    Hi, Aunt Eileen! I LOVE your blog! It is FABULOUS! I know my family and I really enjoyed spending time with you and Honey yesterday and I couldn’t resist checking your blog!! 🙂 You really do have a talent for writing!!

    • Hi Megan: We writers need kind words to keep us going, and yours boosted my morale! Honey and I thoroughly enjoyed the Jackson Six’s visit on Saturday. Lots of love to you all, Aunt Eileen

  10. Peg said

    Berrer late than never! Finally got to it, Eileen, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. On to the rest… Love, Peg

  11. Hi Eileen,

    You left me a voicemail a last week and I switched cell phone carriers before I had the chance to call you back and lost your number! You left us the pie at our wedding back in December:) You wanted to know about business cards. I can certainly help you out there! Email me anytime: buerhausdesign@mac.com.

    • Hi Matt:
      Good to hear from you. But I couldn’t wait and ordered 500 business cards for my blog from Staples — with the pix of me and Honey — for about $40. (Hope I live long enough to pass them around!?!) Wanted to bring them to a Queens College (NYC) reunion in Potomac last Sunday. By the way, my wedding gift to you and your bride was an Irish soda bread, my specialty. Happy upcoming holidays and first wedding anniversary!

  12. Mary said

    Hi Eileen, this is Mary Eileen, I talked to you on the phone today. I haven’t read it all but I plan to. It was a pleasure talking to you

    • It was a pleasure talking to you — a live human being, not a robotic recording!?! Am looking forward to Series 7 of “Dog Martin” and the Martin Clunes coffee mug. His own mug isn’t conventionally handsome — but he’s adorable. Have a healthy, happy, blessed 2016. And welcome aboard my blog!

  13. Hello Eileen! I met you and Angel at the pond this week and thoroughly enjoyed our discussion. I’m now following your blog and can’t wait to read about your adventures!

    • I enjoyed meeting you,Abby. Meant to post by February 28th, but have been happily busy. Flying to Boston Saturday for annual St. Patrick’s party at my nephew’s in Natick. Good food, drink, company, usually including a fiddler or bagpiper, and best of all, loving kinfolk! Will post next week, God willing.
      Fondly, Wileen

  14. Sharon said

    I am so fortunate to have met you today. You’ve had a lot of pain in your life but manage to focus on the blessings. You’re an amazing, strong and lovely human being and an inspiration to anyone who is lucky to meet you.

    • I’m so glad we met today in Bynum Run Park. I’d just been praying to lift my spirits, and talking to you did that! You’ve had your share of pain, too, and have survived intact. Am working on a new post — You’ll be in it — keep posted!?!

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