WELCOME TO THE PERILS OF EILEEN

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow Ireland

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow,  Ireland

This could have been a short story. When I was born, my parents lived in Highland Park, Brooklyn, a hilly area not far from my Beatty grandparents’ home in East New York.  Family lore 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 by someone walking up. There was more to come.

As we all do in time, I’ve had my share of “dangers, toils and snares” along the way.  But I’m still here, in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in — very grateful to have come this far. And I sing a rousing rendition of “Amazing Grace” at Sunday Mass, probably startling those around me.

I’m 79 now, the same age as Grandma Moses 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, have always wanted to be a writer. (Does a blog count?) George Eliot’s: “It is never too late to be what you might have been,” is taped to my refrigerator. Though gymnast would be a stretch! (Intended)

A while ago, I began to to think I might have earned a memoir, even if only 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. I’ve learned that God’s bargain package deal for our amazing journey covers blessings and trials. There’s no free ride.

Among my blessings: Loving parents.  Happy childhood.  Comfortable home. Some true friends. Tuition free Queens College degree.  Marriage at 38, before it was trendy.  At almost 42, after tears, tests, surgery and prayers, gave birth to “a perfect baby boy,” as the doctor said.  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 early illness and death. Struggles with depression since adolescence. Breast cancer, mastectomy, chemotherapy, poor prognosis 32 years ago. My husband among 1,000 downsized by AIG in 1991 — could barely get an interview at 60. His pancreatic cancer and death in 1994.  Our son’s Hodgkin’s disease (now called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) the next year

.And  . . . the drama with my brother and sister after our mom’s death — for family peace, won’t go into details. I was heartbroken, wanted to keep busy, prayed for guidance — and returned to Queens for an M.L.S., a Master’s in Library Science.  Mentioned to the Rockville Centre library’s children’s librarian that I was enrolled in library school — and she asked:  “Would you like to work here?” Of course!  So there I was, a librarian trainee — in a building across the street from my mom’s apartment. The Lord’s mysterious ways.

Haven’t had time to tell my tale — too busy clinging to the proverbial cliff, just jotting occasional notes.  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 wicked guardian’s dastardly schemes to 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, 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 a 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 — trying to blow out trick candles on a birthday cake.

Kieran was earning his living as a waiter in Pittsburgh restaurants.  I’d encouraged his dreams and ambitions — he was blessedly alive and well again.  A bonus — he met his future wife at a Friday’s, working part-time there 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 when they grow up? He writes scripts in his spare time.

Being a librarian was a perfect fit for me.  I’ve loved books and reading since childhood, often by flashlight, under the covers, past bedtime. From “The Bobbsey Twins,” to “Little Women,” to “Jane Eyre.”  Later, wrote several poems and children’s stories — none ever accepted. But Greenwillow Press sent a lovely rejection letter for “Kieran’s Climbing Tree,”  saying I wrote well, they’d like to see other work. Didn’t get around to that.

However, I’ve had  the thrill of seeing my name in print. The New York Times published my terse opinion on “W” Bush’s Iraq fiasco.  And Long Island’s Newsday printed two letters — one about the LIRR Woodside fatality, another about breast feeding lessening the incidence of breast cancer.  A study had recently found that pollution wasn’t a definite factor in the island’s alarming rate of the dreaded disease.

And Santa Fe’s Mothering magazine almost printed my article, “Missing Link:  Vital Connection” about nursing’s little known protective effect. I’d researched the subject in medical journals, with the guidance of a librarian at The La Leche League, an advocate for breast feeding. It was to appear in the November issue, but was pulled before.

Before I found my true calling, I had a rather motley career.  After college (B.A. in English, minor in Philosophy) I was hired as a file clerk in TIME magazine’s Letters to the Editor — once a stray tear fell in a folder. Had taught myself to type on an old upright, learned shorthand, called myself a secretary, and the next year transferred to the new Sports Illustrated magazine’s advertising department.  My file cabinet now held a selection of advertised brands of liquor in the bottom drawer.

Seven years later  ( got itchy) found a more meaningful job at MEDICO, founded by the celebrated Dr. Tom Dooley and another doctor to help the sick poor in Laos. When Tom tragically died at only 33 years of age, the office became tense and unpleasant, the two factions vying for control.  So I worked at IBM as a secretary in Communications, then the president’s office, then as a correspondent in Stockholder Relations.

Tried being an elementary school teacher in the South Bronx —  briefly — had enough Education credits to earn a Common Branches license, but no student teaching, assigned to a mostly Spanish speaking third grade. Soon told the principal I couldn’t cope, ended the year doing clerical work in her office.

Followed by seven years as secretary to a partner at Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn, Esqs. — during which time I married and, at last, became pregnant — leaving at six months, in danger of miscarriage. Five wonderful years as a full-time mother — best job in the world! When my son started kindergarten, part-time work near home, in the Rockville Centre and Oceanside school districts. (Amen!)

I’m rarely at a loss for words, as you can tell.  I’m 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. 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.

Fabled, beautiful 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 sunny, gorgeous afternoon, wandering alone 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. Barbara, a Dubliner, was much taken with Honey — no dogs were permitted in the park.  She took her picture, saying she’d write about our chance meeting on her blog, “Just Add Attitude.”

When I read the post I knew that’s how I’d share my story. Seems I’d taken exactly the right path that day.  Barbara quoted Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” and I’ll cite Herman Melville’s Ishmael  as he 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.”

Those wise words didn’t make an impression when I first read “Moby Dick,” but 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 cautioned us not to judge careless homemakers  — we don’t know what may be distracting them. In effect, we’re shipmates on the same voyage 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. Promise to be briefer next time.)

 
 
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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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