Monday, March 10, 2014

A Slap in the Head

Sometimes life hits you upside the head and sets you reeling. That happened to me recently and I thought I'd write about it. I know I haven't been a steady blogger of late but I really do have to write about this. 

Last week my cousin Kathy died. The thing that made this so difficult was that I never believed it would happen even though she'd spent the last four decades fighting melanoma. She treated her cancer as something to live with rather than something to die from and that is how I came to think of it. When her health faltered and she didn't send out her normal Christmas missive I believed it to be just a hiccup on the road to a new treatment or therapy that would keep her going. This time she wasn't that lucky.

Kathy was eleven months younger than me and the first of our generation in the family to pass away. That may not seem like something to be noted, but when the first in a generation is lost you know that you truly are mortal. Up to that point you can say to yourself "Well s/he was older than me. I have time yet. No need to worry." It's at that point that you realize, maybe for the first time, that it could have been you. It wasn't this time but it might be you the next time. Are you ready to let go? Is anyone?

If you haven't yet felt that slap from life let me assure you IT WILL COME. At some point when you least expect it you will be reminded of your own mortality. You'll wonder if you are as happy as you could be. Have you loved enough, laughed enough, done anything on your bucket list? Do you even have a bucket list? Will you be missed? Will you be mourned?  

Now I need to digress just a bit. While I was writing this blog today I received a note from my nephew. He is twenty-nine, single, fun loving, and a fine man. He was with us this weekend to say goodbye to our cousin and after returning home he learned that a close friend, a member of a close knit circle of friends, had committed suicide. Can there be anything worse than to think that perhaps if you had said or done something just a bit differently that you may have prevented a suicide?

I've always gone with the thought that, in most instances, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I think that you have to be desperate and at the absolute end of your rope to even think about it. I feel sorry for the friends and family the young man left behind. They will never think of all the joy that was shared with him without also feeling confused and betrayed by his final act.

After all of that I come down to the original point I wanted to make and that is to enjoy life to the fullest while you can. Tell those you treasure that you love them. Spend time with them. Don't put it off. You think there will be time but unless you are the proud owner of a crystal ball or a time machine how can you be certain of that? If it's a question of dusting a table or playing with a child and you pull out the feather duster then I feel sorry for you. You will live in that child's memory as someone who brought joy to their life. Will the table remember that it was dusted?

Enjoy your life. Kathy enjoyed her life despite her cancer and there were hundreds of people who attested to that fact the other day. Hers was a sendoff full of laughter as well as tears. If life is hitting you upside your head use my cousin as an example and live your life to the fullest. Tell folks how you feel about them and don't put it off until tomorrow or the chance may pass you by.

A recent shot of Kathy and my Uncle Jack.  


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

July 3rd

As I begin this blog it is a bit after midnight and the calendar has officially moved from July 3rd to July 4th. What is now yesterday would have been my mother's ninety-third birthday. It is the first birthday that has gone by without one of us, her children, bringing her up and talking about her and remembering her among ourselves. That's not to say that we all didn't think of her. We just didn't call each other out on the memories or reminisce with one of the many stories we could tell to honor our Mom.

I think the thing that got my memory really stirred up this year was the fact that it was the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Back in 1938 my mother, along with her father and brothers, was in Gettysburg for the 75th anniversary of that battle. She would have been eighteen, newly graduated from high school and preparing to attend nursing school in Philadelphia that fall.

My mother and her brothers had lost their mother five years earlier and in an effort to keep his kids together my maternal-grandfather sent his children off to boarding school in McSherrystown, PA under the tutelage of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. He thought that was the only way his children would be able to be together because he did not feel capable of caring for them himself.

That time in boarding school made my mother yearn for the stability of a family and she got that for herself when she married my father and eventually had four children of her own. I'm not saying that she was the perfect mother or that we were the perfect children but she instilled in us an appreciation for the closeness of family that so many of my contemporaries seem to lack. We all truly care about one another, like one another, and love one another; that was her doing.

Just one more related little story about Mom and Gettysburg...One of the nuns that taught my mother at St. Joseph's Academy in McSherrystown was a granddaughter of General George Pickett who led his Confederate troops in an ill planned attack against the Union forces on July 3, 1863. I guess that shows that we are not really as removed from history as we would believe.

Were my Mom still with us she would love things like facebook and cell phones. She was all for reaching out to keep in touch with friends and loved ones. Imagine  what facebook would be like if everyone who used it had a parent or grandparent watching over their posts. It would certainly be more civilized don't you think?

So that's it from me for now. Happy belated birthday Mom! Thanks for everything. We still give you the only present you ever asked of us. You have kids who love each other.    

Go and celebrate the 4th with Fireworks and barbecue and if you think of it stop for a moment and thank the powers that be for giving me a fantastic Mom.

Thomas, Arthur, Mary and Jack. Summer 1938. McSherrystown Pa just a hop a skip from Gettysburg.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Authors & Admiration With a Bit About My Mom

This past week one of my facebook friends, who is a full time author, posted on facebook that authors should not be admired. After all they are only doing their job when they sit down and write. I respectfully disagree.

Think about what authors, and others who work in the arts, give us. They give us worlds that they have created form pure imagination. Think of the world that you see in a painting or hear in a song. Think of the worlds you enter when you open a book. Can you create like that? I've tried and it isn't easy.

Writers allow themselves to share hopes and dreams that they hold dear with folks they have never met and will never know. They share their inner life. They write out the hurts that have made them cry in the middle of the night and others get to share that pain. A writer lays bare their own soul for the entertainment of others.

Think of the Dementors in the Harry Potter books. We all knew the feelings of desolation and soul sucking depression but JK Rowling gave those feelings a form and a name. Margaret Mitchel created the world of Rhett, Scarlet, and Tara and has set imaginations ablaze for seventy-seven years. I've been to medieval England, Hawaii as missionaries landed to convert the natives, on manhunts for homicidal killers and in the mind of a woman as she discovers love for the first time. How can I help but admire the wonderful authors who have made me privy to all that?

So if you're an author, when someone says they admire you just say thank you. You're being complimented by someone who has paid their hard earned money and invested the time to read your work. Let them be a fan. After all, isn't there someone that you admire who thinks that maybe what they do isn't really all that special?

And now, since it is Mother's Day a few words about my Mom. She is the reason I read. She gave me a love of books and when I was nine gave me the keys to the kingdom by allowing me to go to the nearest library on my own. The stories I discovered that summer of 1958 have stayed with me forever.

When I was in high school Mom let me read the books she had here in the house. There was "The Caine Mutiny", "From Here to Eternity", "Gone With The Wind" and others. I became a fan of authors like Irwin Shaw, James Michener, and Leon Uris. It wasn't until I was in my twenties and out working in a large office with a lot of other women that I found out about writers like Danielle Steele. For a while I was hooked on romances but then I discovered mysteries. Memberships in mail order book clubs always guaranteed that there was a hardback available to keep me busy.

Over the years I have bought more books than I care to count. Each and every purchase was because of my mother.

She was a woman who loved movies too and we spent many a hot summer afternoon in our darkened living room watching on television the movies she and her friends had seen when they first came out. Think of movies like "So Proudly We Hail", "The Fighting Sullivans" and "Orchestra Wives". Since Mary K. loved movie magazines I not only got the movies but the stories that went along with the actors and actresses that appeared in them. She gave me a trove of trivia that has stood me in good stead over the years.

We had out arguments and disagreements but there isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss her.

Happy Mother's Day Mom. Thanks for the books.  




Saturday, April 6, 2013

Social Media and Saving Memories

Social media, facebook for me, is a wonderful thing. It has changed my life and broadened my horizons immeasurably. From the comfort of a chair in my living room I have made friends with people around the world. There are people who bring joy to my life every day that I have never met but they hold a treasured place in my heart. In cyber space there are no borders. A friend can be thousands of miles away or the other side of the city.

I started thinking about this when I saw a post on the Repeal of DOMA a couple of weeks ago. The majority of Americans, in all age groups, are now in favor of marriage equality for those who are part of the LGBT rainbow. What is most surprising to me is how quickly the barriers are falling on this issue. Had you asked me ten years ago how long it would take for marriage equality I would have asked "What's that?" Now we are at a point where it seems inevitable. A question of not "If" but "When".

Social media is responsible in a large part for the change of public opinion. It breaks down borders. Borders that are not only physical but are ideological. We hear about the child of a friend of a friend who is bullied or beaten because they are different and we say "that should not be" and we change and we influence the people we contact to change. We see reports of loving couples torn apart and families broken because the couple is gay and we say "this should not be". We see an LGBT character in a TV show or movie and we see that they are really no different than we are and we change.

The shift toward marriage equality is a change whose time has come. The day that it does we need to say thank you to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zukerberg and Jack Dorsey. Thank all the people who took the time to put up a post or click like in support of the organizations that fought and lobbied for change.  

I look forward to the days when my friends and I have the same rights as everyone else. In the meantime I'm going to pull up my favorite electronic device and have a chat with some friends.


I am a fan of music, particularly the music that is now known as "The Great American Songbook". Give me Cole Porter, Irving Berlin or Jerome Kern and I'm a happy girl. Throw in Richard Rogers and his collaborators and I'm in musical heaven. Add some Broadway and movie scores and I'm in your debt forever.

I just watched, again, Michael Feinstein's American Songbook. The first episode of this season talked about how easily so much of Broadway history was lost. The magic that is Broadway resides mainly in the memories of those who saw a show. Original scores were tossed and cast albums were clipped and compressed to fit the time available on the records of the day. Cameras were not allowed to record a performance so history went unrecorded. There are snippets here and there of show highlights but we will never see Gertrude Lawrence in "The King and I" or Ethel Merman in "Gypsy". So many of the wonderful singers , dancers, actors and actresses that I grew up with are gone and they are being forgotten.

The point of all this is to say 'save what you can'. Save the music that means something to you. Those one hit wonders that no one but you remembers. Tell your kids about the things you saw on TV that made an impression; see if you can find clips on You Tube and share the love. Treasure what you love and pass that love on. (My poor nieces and nephew have been inundated with the movies and music my siblings and I love. This was not a bad thing for them. They are trivia champs among their friends. Go figure.)

Share your books and those CD's, records and tapes. Don't toss all your memories out in the trash. Save that copy of "Goonies" and that playbill from "Wicked".    

Save and share the love.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Grandmom & Boardwalk Memories

It happens all the time. You're chatting with someone and one little thing is said or you see something that captures your attention and your conversation or your train of thought goes off in a whole different direction. That happened to me the other day. A friend posted a picture of someone at the beach near a boardwalk. That boardwalk reminded me of the summer days I spent as a kid under or close to the Wildwood boardwalk. (Those of course were the days when at high tide the water came up under the boardwalk in Wildwood. People today look at that beach and find that hard to believe.) Those memories made me think of my Grandmother. Since her birthday had just passed she was on my mind.

My Grandmother was a remarkable woman. Far from perfect but strong and unbending to the end. She lived in South Philadelphia, not too far from Second Street,  for all of her ninety-two years with more than sixty of those years spent in the small garden front twin house she moved into with her husband and small son around 1922.  

Ann left school at either twelve or thirteen and got a job working in a tinsel factory. She moved from there to one of the huge sugar houses along the Delaware River where she sewed large bags of sugar shut with heavy white twine. She also used that twine to crochet and made tablecloths and table runners as well as doilies and antimacassars that would grace her home for years to come.

While her husband was off at war she worked sanding Victrola cabinets at RCA Victor Company in Camden and when he came back and went to work at Curtis Publishing she kept house for her son and husband and went to her parents house regularly and took car of that house as well. After her mother died she announced to her husband, my grandfather, that they would be selling their home and moving back to her father's house so she could take care of Pop and her brothers. My Grandfather bought that house from his father-in-law and my Grandmother ran and took care of it until she was the only one left.

Sometime in 1940 my grandparents bought a neighborhood bar. While taking care of her home she took care of cooking for their business too. It was a hectic time and business during WWII, in a neighborhood that served longshoremen and factory workers, was booming. Life was good but it had ups and downs. There are stories about the time my grandparents had a fight and she picked up a bar stool and threw it over the bar at him. Ann was no shrinking violet.

Her son, my Dad, fought in WWII and returned home and went to work for his father tending bar. He married my Mom and they lived in the apartment over the bar while they saved to buy a house. When I came along my grandmother had a girl in the family to spoil and spoil me she did. My siblings do not let me forget that.

My parents moved to a house in Northeast Philadelphia when I was two and with no car in the family it was an hour's trip from our house to South Philly where my grandparents lived but it never seemed to be a problem and my Grandmom would hop the bus and trackless trolley and make the trip often.

As a kid, for me, the highlight of the summer was spending a week at her house. We went to town and shopped and went to the movies and if the timing was right we went to Wildwood to visit her sister Helen who was staying at her son's home there.

And here we are back to the Wildwood Boardwalk. Those days in Wildwood were happy ones for my Grandmom. She laughed a lot and relaxed more than she was ever able to at home. We went to the beach during the day and did the amusement rides with my cousins at night. Basically we all had fun.

She lived a good life and a very long one. She was a tough woman who loved her family and friends. She worked hard and played hard too. She was my Grandmom  and I loved her and whenever I think of the rare summer days I spent near a Boardwalk I think of her.

Ann   Easter 1956

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Few Thoughts On My Catholic Education

Something sort of funny occurred to me last night while I was posting on facebook and it made me think that it was a subject worthy of a blog.

I'm part of a group where we discuss a slew of topics that range from anything to everything and a good time is usually had by all. Last night one of the ladies posted a link for a page that has the title "24 Signs You Went To Catholic School". Some of the observations and pictures were spot on and rather funny. A result of the posting was a discussion with friends about the merits of a Catholic school education and the nuns who taught in them all those years ago when I was a student.

The thing that most surprised me about the conversation was the fact that I was slightly insulted by someone who had never attended a Catholic school making light of it. I could only compare it to how you feel if you hear someone making fun of one of your siblings. It's perfectly fine if you do it but god help the outsider who does it.

I was born into a Catholic family in 1948 and am part of the huge Baby Boom that has been making waves worldwide since it began in 1946. I grew up in Philadelphia, a city that is proud of its history of Catholic education. There was never a question about where I would go to school. I would go to the parish school and then onto the all girls high school in my area.

In the fifties and sixties I would guess that 95% of Catholic school teachers were nuns. As with any large group of people there were some good and some bad apples in the barrel of teachers I came in contact with over the years. There were definitely women who were too old to be standing in front of a classroom everyday and there were others who were too young and inexperienced. The thing is that it was because of the sacrifice of these women that I received a great education. I grant you that there were nuns who were quick with a ruler over the knuckles but they were keeping control of classrooms bursting at the seams and without their discipline it would have been chaos.

Think about the fact that there were between fifty and sixty of us in a classroom and one nun did all the work. There were no aids or helpful moms who were there  to lend a hand. Sister had to handle it all herself. In the grade school I attended there were six classes in each grade. That's a lot of kids. In my eight years there I had one teacher who was not a nun and there were only two lay teachers in the school. If one of those poor nuns was too sick to make it from the convent to the school there was no substitute. The nuns in the rooms on either side assigned desk work and traveled back and forth to make sure all was quiet and orderly.

When I went to high school it was a whole new world. From dealing with one order of nuns I now had eight orders of nuns to deal with. Again there were very few lay teachers. In my four years of high school I had three lay teachers (and one of those was for gym). Think about the fact that there were eight periods a day plus home room and that's a lot of teachers. Nuns were the backbone of the Catholic school system. I'm of the opinion that these women, some of whom still give me the willies, provided me with a great education. Any weak spots were mine and not theirs. Looking back I can see that many of my teachers were probably in their late twenties to mid thirties when I was in high school and were, for the most part, very nice women.

I graduated high school in '66 and did not go on to college. I went to work, as did most of my friends, and missed much of the upheaval of the late sixties and early seventies. While folks in colleges were protesting the war in Vietnam I was volunteering at the USO. While my contemporaries were "Turning On, Tuning In and Dropping Out" I was working hard and saving my money so I could travel. But I digress.

While there was social unrest in the cities there were winds of change blowing through the convents too. In the seventies many of the women who had donned habits took them off and left their orders and their classrooms behind. They found that they could do social work and help others without being bound by a habit and vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Lay teachers became the rule rather than the exception. Catholic schools went from being the default educational choice to being a luxury that most families could not afford. Those absent nuns were replaced by lay teachers who needed to be paid and insured and the only way a school system could do that was to charge ever increasing tuition. There was a chain reaction that took place that is still being felt today.

I have to say that having gone through twelve years of school with nuns that there was a time I considered that life. I found I enjoyed having a bit of freedom and some spending money more. I had over thirty high school classmates that went into religious orders and as far as I know only three remain.    

What it all boils down to is that while Catholic schools and the nuns that manned them may be a source of jokes they were also a gift. I firmly believe that the education I received is far superior to today's. I think that the thousands of women who were in school when I was would, for the most part, agree. (There were between three and four thousand girls in my high school while I was there from the fall of '62 to the late spring of '66.) If I had the chance to go back and do it all over would I? I honestly don't know. I certainly wouldn't be the woman I am now without the schools I attended and the women who taught me.

Thanks for reading. The link to the site that started all this is below.    
If you look at #7 you'll see a Sister of Saint Joseph and a girl wearing a uniform almost exactly like the one I used to wear. (Our jumper was Air Force Blue with a 'Blessed Mother' blue blouse.)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Another Sunday

I don't have a lot to say but it's been so long since I've done a blog I'll just riff a bit and we'll see if there's enough worth hitting the publish button once I'm done.

This week saw the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday. I must sat that day is barely a blip for me any more. At my age I no longer feel compelled, nor am I required, to follow the rules concerning fasting; that and it's been more than a dozen years since I attended mass regularly. I never would have believed that I would turn away from the church where I was raised but I realized that the church and the men who run it turned away from me. The do not recognize that women are equal to men in the eyes of God. They refuse to realize that in this day and age a disease that can be spread via intercourse can be prevented by the use of a condom. They preach that the use of one is wrong and how many useless deaths have there been because of that? They preach 'artificial' birth control via a pill is wrong but say nothing about the fact that a man can take a pill to ensure an erection. To me that is hypocritical. I won't go into the scandals that have rocked the church. Their treatment of nuns who provided support and charity to LGBT youth is not only unkind it is ridiculous.
I know that there are people who read this that will despair or feel sorry for me. Don't. I love God and I think S/He still loves me. I pray and I treat the people around me with love and respect. The Church is different than the faith. Jesus told us to Love one another. I figure that as long as I'm doing what he said to do I'm Okay.  

What else about this week....??? Valentine's Day was Thursday. I've never been a big fan of the day because I never really had a reason to be but this year was a little different. It was the first year that there was a hope that someday I might have a reason to celebrate the day. I have seen friends find love and blossom because of it. It's wonderful to know that the possibility exists.

One last thing and you can resume whatever it was you were doing before you got sucked into reading this may surprise you to know that I'm making a concentrated effort to spend less time on the computer and less time on facebook. I've missed reading. I've been missing the thrill of losing myself in the theater of imagination that a good book provides. I still love facebook and will still be there every day working on my group page and touching base with all my friends but the time will be less. I have a host of stories that I'm anxious to read and the only way to do that is to cut back on something and that something can only be the computer.  

So my friends go and enjoy the rest of your day. As the song goes "Live, love, laugh and be happy". As for me I hear my kindle calling my name.