Thursday, April 7, 2016

Residual Pain

I wish I could find an appropriate way to transition from Book 2 into Book 3 but I avoid it whenever I think about it.  These were perhaps the most painful days of my life and it’s easier to keep them buried with my dark secrets.  But this exercise would not be complete or honest if I didn’t add the bad with the good.  Unfortunately this period is painful to remember but a very real part of who I am (I like to think who I “was”) so I ask you to try and understand.  They were strong and true demonstration of that part of me I try to forget but they did happen and I bear responsibility for that weakness.   It was part of my fractured life and it must be brought to light if this essay is to have any truth in its entirety.  Those days encompassed a dreadful slide down a slippery and treacherous slope.  I live with the bumps and bruises in my twilight years and I’ve yet to find a reasonable explanation for my failure.  I can, however, offer a weak excuse to help you understand.  I don’t entirely understand it myself but I will go to my grave exploring the what’s, why’s and wherefores’.

 I turned sixty years old; the kids were at varying stages of their teenage years and we were all facing new challenges every day.  Teenage years are difficult ones for growing and changing bodies.  Hormones were running wild in young bodies and my aging post menopausal body was less able to handle the evolutionary hills and valleys ravaging so many different personalities.  The boys were busy trying to identify and prove their manhood while the girls were approaching womanhood determined to remain “cool” while proving their femininity.  I, who had been so involved with their development up to this time, found myself in the background.  I was totally unable to get my arms around what they were doing and with whom they were doing it. I worried no less and felt more and more frantic watching their new lives emerge around and without me.  It was that old feeling again of abandonment and not being needed or wanted.  While I recognized it as a necessary phase and normal part of the growing up process, I longed for inclusion.  In my uncertainty and exclusion, I worried more.  I felt sidelined and worried about what they were doing, with whom they hung out, and more specifically where they hung out.  My imagination was exploding with fast new generational divisions.  I feared they were ill-equipped to handle increased sexual and emotional demands challenging their young minds and bodies at such an alarming rate.  The boys became more and more independent, reaching further away from the homestead, stretching their good looks and fearlessness to the limit. And the girls?  They became more beautiful, secretive and aloof than ever before.

  My beloved husband and father, John, never missed a beat in the family sagas playing out.  He was the gentlest most accepting man in the universe.  He was a veritable “blue bird of happiness”.  I don’t believe it was in his ken to ever have a negative thought about anything.  He remained always trusting and upbeat.  His belief and mantra was ”not to worry; everything will be okay; worry never solved anything; these kids are great; they love us; and we love them; they’re just going through a teenage phase of growing up.”  He insisted I worried too much and that when or if I ran out of things to worry about, he’d give me a new list to think about.

I supplied him with what I felt were more than enough to make me crazy.  The girls were enrolled in a private all girls school and had few friends their age in the local co-ed public school.
Consequently there were few afterschool activities in which they could participate.  The boys found their own amusement.  With no names mentioned, one of them took great pleasure in “streaking” the local high school girl’s basketball finals tournament.  As the crowd silenced for a needed winning free shot, he and his red-headed friend ran across the gym floor with nothing on but face covering ski masks.  (They were easily identified by their red hair )  Another of the boys had great fun jumping the ice cakes on the Hudson River after school to “rescue” a stranded deer.  Thankfully, he was rescued by our local police and EMS.  Another ‘s activity involved drinking illegally obtained (stolen from home?) beer under the bleachers at the high school football field.  Yet another was suspected with urinating in the hot air ducks of the high school heating system.  Many calls from local high school officials believing illicit smoking of “funny cigarettes” was taking place.  Included in those calls were reports of some forged absentee excuses (they were able to sign my name as well as their own!)  At one point evidence was indisputable that one of the girls was too familiar with marijuana and we decided she needed outside counseling.  We contracted with a local “drug counselor” only to find out his idea of counseling was to smoke pot with the student during their weekly session!

With love and solid family grounding we somehow survived those rocky roads.  However, I do believe the worst was yet to come.

I began to drink each day to get through the bad times.  It felt good.  I could ease the pain and guilt.  I didn’t feel it so much when it was buried in a fog of liquor.  I adored these children and loved my family.  How could I be so stupid myself to abuse liquor? I surely didn’t want to feel the pain and guilt of those times.   And it was patently easier to numb the pain with a few scotches and to enable myself to believe that we were okay.

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to admit much less put into words.   And because it is so painful to remember it’s even more painful to write.  I can only credit Almighty God and that mystical, mysterious guardian angel assigned to me at birth.  Sometimes they whisper in our ears; other times they scream and shout.  Mine whispered in my ear on the day one of my beautiful grandchildren was born.  She told me  I deserved better than I was treating myself and certainly worthy of more love than I was denying myself.  She told me forgiveness was the greatest gift we can give ourselves.  And the greatest gift we can receive.

I’ve not had a drink since that fateful day some 25 year ago.  Nor have I wanted one.  I pray I’ve learned my lesson.  It’s so much better to face demons than to bury them.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Lesson Learned - Letting Go

At that moment I wanted to die.  I had never been so shocked and worn down as when my beautiful Em walked out of my kitchen, slamming the kitchen door and looking over her shoulder as she shouted “Fuck you.” 

She was my second daughter and I loved her from the depths of my heart.  She was an adorable child, always smiling and laughing and making us smile.  We had a rocky few teenage years as she and I struggled to keep our selves on reasoned and straight paths  These years can be tumultuous at best but they were particularly thunderous for both Em and me.  She was so clever and daring that I often didn’t know what to tell her NOT to do.  She was light years ahead of me in imagination and curiosity. Em was a free spirit who felt  strangled by a mom who couldn’t understand or who didn’t have the energy, time or inclination to deal with her roller coaster emotions through these  troubled teenage years.  Parents everywhere were overwhelmed with the society’s life altering choices offered to unsuspecting young people.  Drugs were rampant and readily available, sex was advertised and free for experimentation and something to play with before one was mature enough to think about or deal with the consequences of such new found freedom.  It was in the awful 60’s and early 70’s when youth culture was advertising and preaching “anything goes … make yourself happy … love easily … be free mentally and emotionally ...   Ignore anything that annoys you and embrace everything that delights you.  You are special and should make yourself happy and satisfied in all you do and feel.    The mantra of the day was “if it makes you feel good, go for it, life is short and we are entitled to complete satisfaction as we give and receive love.”  We anesthetized our minds and bodies to diffuse any and all pain.  

We lived in a small, close knit community where everyone knows everyone else.  Joanne, a friend of mine, passed Em as she marched toward the train station dragging a suitcase behind her.  Joanne honked the horn to wave and noticed that Em was crying and clearly distraught.  She slowed the car and asked her if she wanted a ride.  Em simply shook her head as the tears continued to flow down her young and tortured face.

“No thanks..  I’m going to the train station,” 

“Are you all right Em?  Can I help you with that suit case?” 

Em didn’t even slow down.  Joanne said she looked straight ahead and resolutely kept walking and said,

 “Nope, I’m fine.  Thanks anyway.”

Joanne was a licensed clinical therapist who sensed something was wrong.  As my long time friend, she turned around and came to my door to make sure things were okay at home.  She found me sitting at the kitchen table, head in my hands, trying to stop the tears, 

“My God, Maggie.  What happened?  I just passed Em walking to the train station with a suitcase and she was clearly upset and crying.”

“Nothing Joanne.  She and I just had a final and awful fight about her recent bitchy behaviour.  And with those words, the tears started to flow again. 

“She refuses to follow any household rules, answers back, shows no respect for any one in this family and defies her father and me at every turn.  She didn’t even come home last night and refused to tell us where she was or what she had been doing.  
And her ridiculous eye rolling and shoulder shrugging set me off on a nasty tirade.  I told her if she couldn’t or wouldn’t play by the rules, she would have to leave.  She looked me straight in the eyes with such hatred and said quietly “okay”.  I continued trying to engage her in a reasoned conversation and pleaded with her to talk to me.  

She walked without a word to her room and came back a few minutes later dragging her suitcase behind her.  She glared as she walked past me and reached the door.  She opened it, looked over her shoulder and said,

“Fuck you” and slammed the door behind her. 

“I couldn’t  catch my breath for a minute.  This was my cherished baby, my joy and my toy.  I loved her unequivocally and couldn’t believe what had just happened.  My heart was hammering and the room - really my world - was spiraling out of control.  I was terrified and numbed with shock.  I collapsed into Joanne as if her body could absorb all this pain.  She embraced me silently, murmuring the eternal words of comfort in an effort to console me.

“Shh, shh. … let it go, Maggie … “ 

And we rocked there together until the sobbing and tears subsided.  I was left empty, deserted, somewhat insane and scared to death. Joanne’s presence and caring embrace made me shake and cry convulsively.  She was smart enough to hold me silently and let me empty my soul of all those tears.  Had she spoken any words, I would not have heard them.  I was drowning in fear and sorrow, pity and regret and crippling fear and anxiety for the future.

Then, after God only knows how long, I was consumed with thoughts about Em’s safety and was able to focus on her instead of the awfulness of what had just happened. 

“My God Joanne, she’s only a kid, 17 years old.? Where would she go?  I don’t think she has any money. I don’t think she has any friends in the city.”

I was just about to call people who knew her and who might have an idea of where she would go when the phone rang.  It was her sister, calling me to tell me Em was safe and not to worry.    She had listened to Em’s story and knew I would be frantic with worry.  She told me Em needed to think things through in her own mind and to give me space to do the same.  She said Em promised to call me in a few days and that she was okay and would be staying with her until things calmed down.  These days were sheer torture for me.  I was consumed with worry and guilt for all the things I could have, should have, would have done had I been smarter and more understanding.  I’m afraid I had been so frightened by what might have been that I lost track of what was actually taking place.  Em was fighting for independence and emancipation.  She had always been a few steps ahead of me and this was but a  continuation of that journey.

We spoke on the phone several times and after several weeks we agreed to meet for lunch as a small intimate cafe and had a very long over-due soul baring.  Without going into the minute details of our exchange, suffice it to say it was the very first time she and I had been completely honest and open with each other.  All the expected words of remorse and deep rooted love for each other flowed easily and without subterfuge.  We loved each other despite our differences.  We freely acknowledged a clear generational gap in what was considered acceptable behaviour.  And if the truth were known, it became clear that we needed to each decide on our own what was right and not impose rules and regulations on each other.  Our lives were our own and each of us was free to choose the paths our journeys would take with clear and open understanding and acceptance of the differences.”

This honest give and take was the healthiest conversation Em and I had ever had.  Acceptance, understanding, openness and truth dominated through tears and anguish.  She recognized my chagrin and worry about what night happen in this new and unknown world of the 60’s and 70’s  If Em was willing to experience, explore and live these exciting adventures with full awareness of possible pitfalls then so should I.  I would support her always in her mature decisions, worry endlessly about her activites and safety, and love her passionately through it all. 

And she actually expressed gratitude for my acknowledgement of our new roles.  She was a mature woman who was confident in her responsibility for her choices and particularly for the tools she had been given to handle them.  I would remain always as her loving mother.  Nothing could change that.  But we both came to the realization that we needed to communicate better.  We could no longer fear disapproval from the other.  We were no long having mother/daughter agreements or disagreements with one another but now would be having mature, adult exchanges.  Differences would be discussed and accepted or not based on individual evaluations.  Our conversation would be adult to adult with both trying to grasp the wisdom and lack thereof of each discussion. And if not, then so be it and move on.

This cafe discussion were part of time earned wisdom for Em and me.  Mine or may not be accepted by Em as hers not be right fort me.  But they were real and our own to cherish, treasure and share with one another.  Time heals, changes, grows, disappoints, reveres, appreciates and loves whatever is ours to own. 

Friday, November 29, 2013


Sometimes there just is no way to explain how and why events happen.

 Abby and I were enjoying a wonderful, leisurely drive through the country side.  The sun was shining and enormous fluffy white clouds floated easily across the impressive blue sky. We had our favorite tunes on the radio and marveled at the lush green meadows.   The fat lazy cows munching on the new growth beneath their heavy feet created a sumptuous countryside scene that might have been painted by any one of the great American painters.  “God was surely in His heaven and all was right with the world.”

And then all of a sudden, without any warning whatsoever, it happened.   

I was locked in place.  I looked to my left and right and tried to twist around to look behind me but I was bolted securely in place.  I’m tried hard to stay calm and concentrate on what was happening around me but just couldn’t figure it out.  Men, women and little kids are working their way down the long narrow aisle separating rows of seats.  They are dragging packages and small suitcases behind them.  The line stops moving forward every few minute as someone reaches up and hoists a package up to one of overhead cubicles.

I tried to focus on what was going on and suddenly realized I was sitting on a plane, strapped into my seat with a seat belt.  But what the hell am I doing here?  Where am I going?  I would never take a trip without Abby.  And where is she?  Has she gone ahead of me or is she still coming?  I am very confused and frightened, feeling abandoned and alone.  Why am I sitting solo on an airplane?  How did I get here?  Where am I going?   Why can’t I remember? Am I crazy? Where is Abby? She always travels with me. Where has she gone?

Where is that lovely lady who brought me here?  Why didn’t Abby bring me? Why is that strange lady sitting next to me in Abby’ seat. Why am I strapped in like a prisoner?  I have to get out of here.  I begin to wrestle with the straps holding me down.  I’m locked in tight with a dog-like harness holding me down. I can’t release the belt and was just about to cry out for help when I heard an enormous roar.  The plane lurched forward and shook with such violence that it threw my whole body back against the seat.    

I continued to struggle with the damn straps holding me down.  Holy God … what is that roaring noise? And why are we moving so fast? We’re going much too fast. My heart was thumping rapidly and I began to really panic.  I struggled to get up but the straps had me locked in place. Someone, help me please, I shouted.

The lady sitting in Abby’s seat reached over and placed her hand over mine. “Shh, shh, shh, … “it’s okay,” she said patting my hand as she gently placed her hand over mine.  “It’s the plane taking off. We’re going to be just fine.   Try and relax and we’ll be safely in the air in just a few minutes.” She stroked my hand and arm and smiled at me as she whispered comforting words. I was happy to have her next to me.  I looked into her wide trusting blue eyes and while I had no idea who she was, her presence calmed me.  

She was very pretty, with shocking white hair that framed her kind, wrinkled face. She had a sweet smell of lilacs about her that reminded me vaguely of someone I knew a long time ago. Her piercing blue eyes held such deep sadness that it unnerved me a bit and it was difficult to hold her gaze. She continued to caress my hand and I could feel my anxiety slowly drifting away . I put my head back against the headrest as the plane slowly climbed safely in the air.  I drew a deep grateful breath and fell into a welcomed sleep.

I awakened to the Captain’s strong voice telling us we were fifteen minutes from our destination, Denver, Colorado. He told us the temperature on the ground was a mellow 70 degrees and it was a beautiful day. He thanked us for flying Delta and wished us a trip. I opened my eyes and stretched my cramped arms and legs. Abby turned tentatively to me and said, “Hello there … how are you feeling?” “Just fine,” I answered. “It was a very smooth flight, wasn’t it?”

She nodded her head and asked me if I remembered feeling confused before we took off. I replied, “Of course not. … why do you ask.?” She smiled quietly and gently reminded me that sometimes Alzheimer’s plays funny tricks on my mind.

She took my hand and said “Okay, love, let’s go home.”

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Pretty Darn Good

I’ve just returned from a wonderful, peaceful and relaxing time at the ocean where the only requirement was to arise each morning, walk gently through the new day, with absolutely nothing needing to be done; no tasks, no chores and no place to go. Sitting on the beach watching the waves break at my feet, systematically and relentlessly repeating themselves every few seconds piqued my imagination and forced me to think about the continuity and unending flow of life. I was comforted thinking about all the years that had gone before and those yet to come. And then, I suddenly felt very old. I made a conscious decision to honestly search my soul and focus on discovering my true and innermost thoughts about this process of aging. I had this unexplained desire to understand where I was in the moment and how I would or could face this last chapter in my life..

I hadn’t previously thought a whole lot about it, but as I began to search my thoughts I reached an amazing discovery. As I pondered how I felt in the very core of my being - not surface stuff like aches and pains - but deep down in my heart - I experienced an epiphany of sorts.

Certainly my life had been filled with many things; some good, some bad; some happy, some sad; some disappointing, some uplifting. But in spite of all those things, I hadn’t been aware that time was moving as quickly as it did. The last time I looked, I was twenty years old, blond and blue-eyed and I weighed a mere 120 pounds. I awoke one morning and the “me” I saw in the mirror was someone else. I didn’t see it coming and suddenly it was here. I still didn’t feel old but sure enough, I was.

Old age, I decided, might be a gift. To be finally close to knowing who I am, probably for the first time in my life, is a startling revelation. It’s refreshing to realize my physical body has little if anything to do with it. After so many years of worrying and fretting over appearances it finally just doesn’t enter into the realm of what’s important. It makes no difference whether I’m tall or short; whether I need to lose 5 or 50 pounds; whether my skin is taut or wrinkled; whether my hair is perfect or my clothes are fashionable. It certainly makes no difference whether I’m rich or poor because there’s not much left on which I want to spend my money. I have all the material things I need. I’m getting too tired and feeble to travel afar and many of my old traveling companions are gone. I’ll still hold my stomach in when I have my picture taken and I’ll still try to look my best to “impress” others but I no longer despair over my body. I no longer count on my bras and underwear to provide support. Comfort is what I most desire . Perhaps I should burn my bra now even though I never thought of it in the 60’s when it was the “cool” thing to do. I’ve worn my last pair of high heels and fashion boots. I choose to sleep in and old t-shirt rather than a black negligee or nightgown. I no longer agonize over how I look. It is what it is and it makes little difference in the total picture. As the saying goes, “I’m comfortable in my skin.”

I certainly would never think about trading my loving family or amazing friends for a flatter belly or fewer age spots on my hands and face. As I've aged, I've become more accepting and kinder to myself. I’m less critical and like myself a lot better. I'm freer to eat what I want and behave the way I feel. I’m pretty much completely honest with myself and others and don ‘t hesitate to say exactly what I’m thinking. People have every right to shake their heads and comment “don’t let her bother you; she’s old and says whatever comes into her head.”

I’ve become my own best friend. I don't always make my bed, and I sometimes buy some silly, stupid thing just because I like it. I’ve earned the right to be lazy, messy and extravagant. I’ve seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon before they’ve felt this unbelievable sense of freedom that comes with age.

I can read deep into the night and not get out of bed the next day till noon. I can live in the past and remember the good music, the special teacher in 3rd grade, my first boyfriend and first kiss. Yet I often can’t remember what I had for breakfast that morning. I can rejoice or weep at those memories. I’ll forget a lot of things in my past but then some of them are best forgotten anyway. Sometimes I’ll even remember the important things and either laugh or cry over those memories. Over the years my heart has been broken and then miraculously, somehow been rejuvenated. I’ve lost loved ones and seen great suffering. This has served to strengthen and enrich my compassion. How can you not feel and learn from the suffering and pain of those we love? Broken hearts are mended by understanding and acceptance. How can we know pure joy if we never experience deep sadness?

I am blessed having lived long enough to have grey hair. The lines forever etched in my face are either hard earned groves or delightful laugh lines. How many people never have the opportunity to laugh? How many die before their hair turns grey? As I get older, I sincerely don’t care what others think of me. I don't question myself as much and know I've earned the right to be wrong.

Being old has set me free. I like the person I have become. I won’t live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. For the first time in my life, I don't need a reason to do the things I want to do. If I want to play games on the computer all day, lay on the couch and watch old movies for hours or don't want to go to the beach or a movie, I have earned that right to say “no.” I put in my time doing for others, so now I can be a bit selfish without feeling guilty.

How many of us put off things we wanted to do because we had no time? How often have we turned down our favorite dessert because we’re watching our weight? How often have we said to our kids “later, honey, I’m busy now?” Life has a sneaky way of accelerating as we age. Days get shorter and our lists of “things to do” get longer. And then one day we awaken and realize we may not have the time or the energy to accomplish everything on our list.

So, I’m going to get up off that couch and take a ride on a merry-go-round. I’m going to watch the sun set at night and rise in the morning. I may even try para-sailing. I’ll listen to the song birds sing and the wind rush through the trees. I’ll count the circles in the lake made by the rain drops splashing on the water. I’ll call an old friend just to say “hello” and I’ll have ice cream for dessert at both lunch and supper. I’ll kiss my husband of 53 years and tell him I love him more today than I did all those many years ago.

I feel sorry for the young. They face a far different world than mine. We feared the law, respected our teachers, listened to our parents, prayed hard and I almost never felt the need to use gutter language. “Father knew best” and mom was our best friend. We relied on our parents, teachers and God to mold and form our young minds and knew nothing about mind-altering drugs.

Life was much easier. We weren’t faced with 30 plus choices of cereal or cookies or fruit at breakfast. We ate what we were served and if we didn’t finish it we believed it would be sent to far-off lands to feed the hungry. We expected our President to tell the truth when he spoke to the American people and we certainly expected our priests to keep their zippers up. Arithmetic wasn’t considered fun; it was hard work learning those times tables. We ate together as a family at dinner and talked about what was important to us and learned key lessons about the importance of leading good and fulfilling lives. We cleared the table and did the dishes. We did our homework and went to bed without having television violence and trauma uppermost in our young minds. Our lives were slower, more serene and incredibly simplistic and peaceful.

I am grateful to have been born in a kinder, gentler world. I read somewhere (and now that I’m old I can’t for the life of me remember where it was or who said it) but it’s a great line that I wish for all us old folks – “We’re born kicking and screaming and everyone else in the room is smiling. May we live our lives so that when we die, we’re smiling and everyone else in the room is crying.”

The above is but a mere compilation of all that I've seen, experienced, discovered, read or learned from others. Old age is not too bad!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hi There Georgie Girl

I try to capture in a few paragraphs an idea of who I am and from whence I’ve come.  This will not be an easy task.  For reasons not totally understood by me, I have blocked out huge portions of my life not the least of which is a total and complete lack of recall for my early childhood years.  I will share with you what I do remember and hopefully you will gain a little insight into who I am.

Now in my 80th year I become more and more interested in the previous 79 years, particularly the earliest years for which I have litle or no memory. Often, instead of looking ahead as we so often do in our earlier years, I find myself looking back in time.  It’s as if I began to live, not as I entered the world kicking and screaming, but on the day my mother died when I was 12 years old.  Her death was so wrenching for this young pre-menstrual, bewildered, and frightened child that every protective mechanism I possessed kicked in.  An impenetrable wall surrounded my broken heart so no one could ever reach it again.    The scars remain and to this day I try to remember my early years.   What was my mother like?  Was she short or tall?  Did she like to sing and dance?  Did she knit or sew or paint?  Was she happy?  Did she like being a mom?   There is a lingering and ever present search for buried memories that will only be satisfied when she and I are once again united in eternity.  

One thing is eminently clear as I reflect.  A mother is the center of a family, the glue and tape that holds things together, the protective mat that cushions every fall.. Without a mom, the basic structure is fractured and splintered.  No father, sibling or relative can capture that bond in the same way.  We need her presence to make us whole.  I buried my beloved mom and I never fully recovered from the shock. 
I was packed up bag and baggage and, without a great deal of fanfare and no understanding and I found myself in a convent boarding school in Albany, NY.  I was terrified.  To my young and confused mind, overcome with sadness and grief, this was yet another painful abandonment.   Distant relatives choreographed an extraordinary effort to ensure I would be not only protected and educated, but also molded into a polished and sophisticated young woman.  well versed academically and socially.  Family members possessed strong ties to the religious order of the Madams of the Sacred Heart and clearly wielded a great deal of authority. “ “Tickets” from friends and contributors to this elite organization of educations and my admission to this special academy was effected.   I was, bewildered, frightened and crippled by loneliness as I arrived at this strange new place where I would spend the next five years of my life.

The Academy of the Sacred Heart at Kenwood was one of eight exclusive and elite boarding schools for young ladies from privileged backgrounds.  It was run by the religious order of the Madams de Scare Jesu, or the Madams of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Their dedication to providing the highest level of education to young woman and their lofty goal of charity and service to God combined to build a foundation for my future.  Unquestionably, the five years spent in their care was the guiding force in making me the woman I became. My classmates were daughters of the wealthiest American, European and South American families. We were vigorously immersed in academics and were challenged and stimulated at every turn.  There were no electives for us.  We were required to study math, science, English, history, and all the romance languages in addition to four years of Spanish and French.   We were taught to diagram sentences endlessly as well as become proficient in “critical things for ladies of privilege to know”;  how to set a “proper” table; how to curtsy, sit up straight, say please and thank you and address our elders in a respectful and lady like manner.  Every evening we were required to dress for dinner and an unwritten dress code for genteel ladies was understood and strictly enforced.
While the first few weeks were sad, frightening and very lonely, I soon responded to the care and concern so consistently present.  I was wrapped in the loving arms of these holy women who surrounded me with comfort and solace. I came to love every minute of my time there and credit them with molding me into the person I am today. I will be forever in their debt.  The day I graduated, at the vulnerable age of 17, I begged the Mistress of Novices to allow me to enter the convent.  I was terrified to be out on my own and lose the comfort and support I’d come to expect. She smiled sweetly and calmly suggested that I test the real world and the waters of life more fully before making up my mind.  She sent me on my way with hugs and encouragement.  My story gets boring and unimportant for the next 3 years as I struggled to find my path.  In the 50’s, young women simply did not live alone.  After graduation typically, one went on to college, lived at home with mom and dad, or got married.  Since there was no mom or dad, no money for college and no young man to marry, I found an apartment and a job and entered into the very lonely next phase of my life.  

I was all of twenty years old when I met and married my wonderful husband .  If the truth were known then, I would have married the first decent guy that came along.  I was longing to love and be loved. Some one or thing was watching over me when John came into my life.  He has been my true soul mate, friend and love for over 50 years. We have 8 wonderful children and 18 marvelous grandchildren. Clearly I would not have made a proper nun!

My twilight years are now ones of reflection.  I continue to try to resurrect childhood memories that are tucked away deep in the darkest corner of my soul.  It has been said that if we live long enough our lives come full circle and by looking back we’re able to better understand who we really are.   I suspect we can live a lifetime and never discover the whole truth.

It remains my hope and dream for this last chapter of my life.

Friday, August 23, 2013


For well over a year, as I walked my dog, I passed a curious little old man sitting alone on the same park bench every day both in the morning and the evening.  Did he stay there all day?  Was he someone’s husband, father, or grandfather? Did he live alone?  Did he have friends?  Was he stiff and sore with the aches and pains of old age?  Could I have occasionally brought him a nice hot cup of coffee or a morning pastry?  What if he was lonely?  Would he have enjoyed a friendly chat with someone just passing by? What did he eat and where did he go for lunch? I never found out, and now, too little too late, I’m sorry I didn’t. 

The seasons came and went but he remained a constant.  On hot summer days he appeared to be enjoying the welcome shade provided by the huge Maple tree behind the bench.  The Fall offered a sweet cushion on the hard bench and under his sneaker-clad feet .  Over his head and behind him a blanket of nature’s spectacular brilliance of Fall foliage danced around him with each gentle gust of wind. I walked my dog along the same route day after day and he and I had reached a certain familiarity over time.  Allthough we never actually spoke, it had become a morning ritual for me to smile at him and mumble a “good morning.”  He, in turn, would smile back and courteously tip his hat and respond with “and a good morning to you too.”  In the evening the ritual was repeated.

He was always dressed neatly and looked very well cared for.  His ever present hat changed with the seasons but always sat with a certain dignity upon his head.  Some times a few gray hairs peeked out from beneath its brim.  In the summer he wore a tan canvas fisherman’s hat.  As the weather begin to chill, he changed to a dark green corduroy one with a little brown and gold feather tucked into its band .  He wore tan chino slacks in the warm weather that seemed to be staples in his wardrobe .  They were always clean and pressed with a sharp crease down the legs.  The difference in cooler weather was that the slacks were a dark charcoal or a deep forest green.  Some even had a touch of plaid flannel visible from beneath a turned up cuff.  He wore colorful red wool socks under his immaculate white sneakers.  Finishing off his dapper dressing was an obviously hand-knit wool scarf wound neatly around the neck of his heavy canvas jacket.

Even his posture as he sat in his special seat was consistent.  He sat up straight, with one arm over the back of the white wooden bench and watched nature change daily in his little slice of heaven in the park.  In the spring, he fed the ducks crumbs, tossing them from his gnarled arthritic hands. Some he had even given pet names and he called
them softly by name,  …   “here Sadie, here Max, here Junior.”   As they waddled toward him he admonished them to share and play nicely; not to grab and squabble over the crumbs; he told them he had enough for everyone.  When the crumbs were gone, he would shoo them away and caution them to be safe.  In the fall, he simply sat silently and watched the leaves turn color. 

He had captured a little slice of heaven for himself and it was a peaceful and gentle gift to those of us who witnessed it.  The sight of this old man made me hesitate for just a minute to take a deep breath and thank my God for all the beauty sourrounding me that I fail to notice.  It became my morning prayer for all of us who rush frantically through our busy days not taking the time to see that beauty, love and compassion all around us.

And then, suddenly the day came when my friend wasn’t there.  I didn’t know his name; had no way to find out where he lived; or whether he was alive and well.  Yet, after a few days of missing him I stopped at his spot on the bench and sat in his special place.  The leaves had all fallen from his tree and some were now lying curled and crunchy on the ground beneath my feet. I did this for a few days and it has become my morning chapel.  It’s a special place to think, to meditate, to heal, to laugh and to cry.  It’s a haven for me to look at and evaluate both the good and the bad things in my life.  I sit there in his special place on that white bench in honor of this friend and stranger.  I have slowed down, I take deeper breaths and I appreciate the beauty around me and take the time to “smell the roses.”  What a treasured gift indeed.

I cherish his memory and hope that wherever he is, the sun shines brightly on him and his beloved tree .  I will always feel its warmth sifting through the summer fullness and the bountiful autumn leaves. I have a deep sense of sadness for the loss of my special friend.

But then I have my happy tree!