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!  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tight Sneakers

We laughed, we cried.  We celebrated.  We had fun.   We were oh so crowded but somehow managed to grab a little space to call our own.  Imagine!  Eight children born in a fast  thirteen years called this home.  A mom,(exhausted) dad, ever -fun-loving) always a mutt dog, usually a stray kitten, sometimes a gerbil and/or rabbit lived and loved in a really small Cape cod style house.  It sat at the end of a short dead-end street beyond a circle and just before a running stream. 

Strong allegiances were formed during those crowded days.  Private space needed to be protected from the ever present threat of the “others.”   Mel, Teresa, Susan, Christy and little Martha shared a bedroom on the second floor,  Four twin beds and a dresser or two for clothes created a real feeding ground for battling sisters.  “…..Don’t touch that; it’s mine; yes it is; no it isn’t; I put it there yesterday; you think everything is yours;  you used it yesterday…. MOM, make her give it back! …… and on and on. “  Miraculously, this closeness generated a bond of sisterhood that remains today.  It’s a precious and cherished tryst that turned into an all for one and one for all mentality.  They remain the best of friends even today.

The boys, Mike and John and Timmy shared an even smaller space on the second floor.  Mike and John in bunk beds and Timmy in a crib.  And I think perhaps there was a small dresser shared by all three but I can’ t really remember.  There was a long closet behind sliding doors separating the two bedrooms and I suspect that was used for everything else … hanging clothes, shoes, toys, and whatever was needed to keep it safe.  They were so close in age they could usually wear each others clothes and that caused many battles.  None of that “what’s mine is mine” nonsense -  first up was best dressed. 

Facts are facts facts and time hasn’t changed the reality of those chaotic but very special days.  The kitchen was small and the dining area for the 10 of us could only be described as an “eat in kitchen.”   But it was so much more than that.  We ate 3 meals a day there,   We sat on both sides of a a standard picnic table with simple benches on each side.  Three sat on one side, four on the other with the littlest one in a high chair pulled up to the corner. Dad and Mom of course had a chair at each end of the table.  Pretty damn crowded but one of the few opportunities of the day to laugh and cry together; to correct, scold, pout, and tattle on one another.  

House rules were established early and reinforced at every meal.  Hands in your lap! No talking with food in your mouth.  Chew with your mouth closed.  (No one wants to see what you’re eating.)  No milk, ketchup, or mustard bottles on the table.  (We put them on the floor next to our seats.)  Definitely no cereal boxes or jelly jars on the table.  Reading the ads caused coma like early morning stupor.  And finally, not all chewing a piece of celery at the same time and cracking up at the funny synchronized sound.  This was dinner time and not time for silly games. 

Thank God starting times at the high, middle and elementary schools varied somewhat so the mad scramble for the one bathroom was less than it might have been.  Do you realize no company makes a toothbrush holder with 10 holes for stand up brushes?    Ours were in a glass cup or simply lying on the sink top.  Don’t even think about colors - it simply was not possible to find 10 different colors so I’m certain even toothbrushes were shared!

The small coat closet by the front door was home to jackets, hats, mittens, sweaters, and boots.  (Think 20 plus boots taking up space!)  And at times (rainy days) it was a perfect hiding place for hide and seek.    All other gear wound up stuffed and shoved into that tiny space and landed on the floor.  The scramble to find matching mittens, shoes and socks was an exercise in futility even for those who  got there first. “Hurry up guys … you miss the bus and you walk to school … don’t expect a ride from me” was my morning mantra.  Somehow, someway you managed to get to school every day - usually on time - sometimes with only one sock (or none) - some times with red ears because you couldn’t find a hat in the stockpile, but always with a hug and kiss and my love.  One day, when I was especially frazzled and Mike couldn’t find his hat, I made him wear one of the girl’s big fluffy, furry hats with the tie under the chin.  He was mortified and I knew instinctively he abandoned it in the snow as soon as he was out of my sight!  (Damn, I liked that hat too - it was one of the better Christmas presents for the girls - big, soft and fluffy - adorable!) 

So many memories of these happy, funny times in our little slice of heaven.  Intertwined with the chaos, confusion, disorder and jumble there was enough love and devotion to heal the hurt, quiet the noise and calm the confusion.   

Our awesome dog, Waffles, was an ever present guardian of the chaos.  While she always stayed close to the youngest child, she never lost track of the others.  Only when she was standing guard beside a sleeping infant in the canvas carriage on the front lawn did she lose sight of the others.  She followed them everywhere and often had to decide which one needed her most. When the kids went their separate ways in this small village the poor dog broke out in hives with worry.  I never had to wonder where they might be because, wherever they were, Waffles was with them.  Sitting in front of Pop Berger’s in town, at any of the parks or playgrounds in the village, at Scoop and Judy’s or Elliotts Variety and at times right into the classrooms at school.    The ever patient and loyal Waffles was a constant guardian.  Many were the times I was called to school to pick up the dog.  She would wander the halls, checking into classrooms looking for whichever one she was missing.  Some teachers (the fun ones) welcomed her.  Others, (the dull ones) were not too happy with her entrance into their academic space!  And none of us will ever forget loyal and faithful Waffles  stubbornly planting herself directly on the hill directly in front of the red wagon that you planned on riding down the hill, through the circle and into the brook.  You would take turns getting out of the wagon and pulling, kicking, yanking , screaming for her to get out of the way.  She would sit down until you got back in the wagon and then she would move to the front to stop you from going.  This went on through many attempts to make her move.  But she stood firm.  She knew her job and she wasn’t going to let you risk life and limb going down the hill.  Such a sweet and loyal dog.  We all loved her to death!

And ahh, the kickball games in the street in front of our house.  Home plate was a piece of cardboard laid in the middle of the road between Nicol’s house and ours.  First base was the corner post of Nicol’s fence, second was the manhole cover by the circle, and third was the big tree at the foot of our front yard  There were always four or five little kids fighting for each ball behind the catcher at home plate. A miss by the catcher started a mad scramble for the ball so it wouldn’t roll into the brook at the end of the street.  “Batter up” and let the game begin.  The lineup always caused an argument.  Little kids wanted to “be up” first and the big ones wanted to get their “ups” before the inning was over.  Little ones got up to 20+ swings until they finally connected with the ball.  Running bases was more fun than hitting the ball!   “Big Hitter, Big Hitter” shouted the peanut gallery .  The big kid would smack the ball and the little guy on base took off, usually the wrong way.  If he was on 3rd, he’d make a beeline back to second; the little kid on first would turn and dart to home.  Mass confusion reigned as every one shouted and screamed directions.  The game usually ended with scores like 48 - 2 after probably 15 - 20 drawn out innings.  But boy did these kids play ball with heart and energy.

Happy memories beget more happy memories and it was tiime for us to move on.