Thanksgiving

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien

The day after Halloween I was a bit dismayed to see a complete and immediate shift in focus to the Christmas holiday season. They were even playing Christmas Carols at my dentist’s office…in October!

Thanksgiving seems to have been skipped right over. I can only suppose that’s due to its continued resistance to commercial viability. No Thanksgiving gifts to be bought. Only modest pumpkins and wreaths decorate our front entryways. And, no matter how retailers try, they just can’t seem to get more than a few of us to send Thanksgiving cards. The only ones who can be sure of an uptick in sales are turkey farmers.

November Tomato Harvest

I agree totally with J.R.R. Tolkien whose quote I stumbled upon in this morning’s newspaper. Now, that’s the spirit of Thanksgiving, isn’t it? It’s all about food and good cheer, even if we don’t sing Thanksgiving carols. I love Thanksgiving and I  want to celebrate it in my heart every day this week. Christmas will be here soon enough.

And I have so much to be thankful for. Just like the first celebrants in 1621, this year I give thanks for a bountiful Fall harvest, especially for my tomato plants. I still have plants that self-seeded mid-summer producing tomatoes–in November! Now, for that I am truly grateful.

A Monarch Butterfly Visit to my Zinnia Patch

Also, every year I grow Zinnias in my flower beds, and for the second year in a row, I have been treated to rather lengthy visits from pairs of Monarch butterflies who seem to delight in the nectar of their colorful blooms. Last year there were two butterflies. This year there were six. Perhaps I’m kidding myself, but I like to think that I’m now an official stop on the Monarch Butterfly migration trail and as the years go by, I’ll be visited by more and more butterflies as they journey southward.

Finally, I’m profoundly grateful to have reached my full retirement age this year in good health. So wonderful to be able to just live, enjoy life and do all the thing there was never enough time for when I worked every day. Hallelujah!

I hope you have time this week to truly enjoy and savor it. I wish every one of you a day of good food and good cheer, surrounded by the people you love. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Writers Block

August 14th — How did that happen? It seems like just yesterday I was planning my trip to New Jersey to attend a family wedding and heading up to the Catskills for a reunion with my book club of 30+ years. I missed my July blog completely and now I’m wondering how to get in all the summer delights like baseball games and pool time in the few remaining weeks of summer.

Yesterday I stopped mid-chapter 41 of Book 2 in my Holly and Ivy mystery series and was eager to get back to it this morning, but in addition to planning summer pleasures, I’ve got this growing list of things to do, and at the top of the list for days has been a note to post an announcement about the wonderfully inspiring speakers, Anna Katherine Freeland and Carole Gallagher, who presented at our Sisters in Crime local chapter on August 3rd. Then I remembered I’d previously written a blog about The Writers Block, a workshop these two women facilitate at Perry Correctional Institute, a maximum security detention facility here in South Carolina. I decided I had to sit right down and get this blog out to the world.

Every Tuesday Anna Katherine Freeland and Carole Gallagher drive to Perry and work with a group of men who are part of the prisoners Character Based Unit, a program initiated by prisoners and “composed of men who have indicated a desire to make changes in their lives, even if they will spend the rest of their lives there.” The two women co-facilitate a weekly writing workshop where the men write in response to writing prompts, and the entire group participates in reading and discussing each piece, offering constructive critiques, starting with the strengths of the pieces they share.

Available at: www.thewritersblockproject.org.

The Writers Block has published Didn’t See It Coming, an anthology of their work. Reading their words, I find it just a little heart-crushing on this cloudy morning thinking that perhaps if these men had such inspiring teachers as Anna Katherine and Carole when they were in school to help them articulate in writing their universal feelings of anger, frustration and despair, they might not have committed the crimes they did.

The fact that these men now write to express their deepest feelings is quite moving. The fact that they do it so well is downright awesome. Learning that the men in The Writers Block write with a limited library, no internet access, no computers, with pen and paper, I am ashamed of my all-too-often, self-indulgent complaints and excuses for procrastinating when I know I should be writing.

In a blog I wrote last October, I was voicing the lamentations of a writer riddled with self-doubts, “wringing my hands, feeling like a fraud and a failure, wondering what in the world makes me think I can write.” That’s when I read the poem below written by Arimatia Buggs, a member of The Writers Block, in response to the writing prompt: “I write because”.

I write because I must
I write to release
To bring inner peace
To make sense of confusion
To focus life’s kaleidoscopic illusion
To mend the souls of those broken kindred spirits
Who feel what I feel and see what I see
But never penned the words so it was left up to me
I write because I must
I write because of peace, love, joy and pain
Stress, hurt and strain
I write to appreciate
I write to innovate
I write to reveal
What I see, know and feel
To cry and to vent
To forgive and relent
To reminisce of time spent
I write because I must
I write to breathe
I write because I believe
You can achieve everlasting life when you write
Living forever on a page
Then reincarnated–through reading–through windows of
The soul to stand again upon life’s stage
I write because I realize I am who I am because of words.
Words that moved me, taught me, grew me
Made me into the man that I am
I write because I must.

Inspiring words, indeed. To get a copy of Didn’t See it Coming (only $15), to donate to the project, or to learn more about The Writers Block, visit www.thewritersblockproject.org.

Paul Simon — He Blew That Room Away

On Saturday, June 4th, my sister, brother-in-law and I attended a Paul Simon concert at Heritage Park in Simpsonville, SC. Fantastic!. His mix of new and old songs did not disappoint. Some songs left me exhilarated–some caused a nostalgic ache for a past long gone. Through it all, I marveled at the connection I felt to this man whom I know only through the words of his songs.

And what words he wrote! Words that painted pictures so vibrant that to hear them brings back vivid memories, real and imagined. I was fairly mesmerized when Paul sang America. As he crooned the words, “Kathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh”, describing their bus ride and “counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,” I could see the scene so clearly, I felt certain I’d been on that bus trip with them in 1968. I guess, in a way, I was…we all were.

Me and Julio Down by the School Yard makes me laugh out loud whenever I hear this line–“Mama looked down and spit on the ground every time his name was mentioned.” Can’t you just see her? With words, Paul creates an indelible picture of a woman who demonstrates her contempt for someone wordlessly.

I still remember first hearing The Dangling Conversation when I was in high school. The sound was so new, the words so thought-provoking. I followed Paul as he made the transition from Simon and Garfunkel to his solo journey. I crossed with him the Bridge over Troubled Water, and more than 20 years after I first heard his words, I was again blown away by Graceland, one of my all-time favorite albums.

Paul Simon has written so many words and phrases that have become part of our lexicon. If I say “Mrs. Robinson” in describing a woman, need I say more? Who doesn’t know about the “50 Ways…”? And as we age, don’t we have to smile when we hear the refrain, “Still Crazy After All These Years”?

When I came home after the concert, I couldn’t just go to bed. I pulled out my Essential Paul Simon CD’s and sat listening, amazed at the memories they stirred in me and how much a part of my life those songs are. The best is that Paul Simon continues to write and sing his songs. Thank you, Paul, for a lifetime of unforgettable music and poetry. Rock on!

Try not dancing or at least wiggling as you listen to Paul sing Late In the Evening.

 

In Search of Silver Linings

Oh, give me a home
Where the Buffalo roam
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard
A discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

–“Home on the Range” Lyrics: Dr. Brewster M. Higley, Music Daniel E. Kelley.

I love that lyric. Must have been all those Westerns I watched as a little girl that instilled that dreamy longing in me for a place where the sun always shines. Can’t you just imagine how wonderful it would be to never hear a discouraging word?

Well, if you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know I’m an incurable optimist always seeking the silver lining in the darkest clouds. Some weeks it’s harder to accomplish than others. I finished reading J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy last week, and while the author is an example of the power of hard work and perseverance, his book left me a bit despairing. The senseless bombing at the Ariana Grande concert this past week also left me feeling –well– quite frankly discouraged.

But then I read about Keren Taylor, founder of WriteGirl, a Los Angeles based nonprofit that connects teenage girls with mentors to empower girls to express themselves in whatever genre suits them–poetry, journals, screenwriting, playwriting, etc. The goal is to provide support for  girls through whatever problems or challenges they are facing.
Taylor says, “There might be a storm raging, but we are here to be fierce protectors of these young women and their future. It’s not easy but sure feels good.”

Writegirl has a 100% success rate in getting girls to apply to college. That is an amazing statistic. Best of all, the program is expanding to include boys and is even reaching out to correctional facilities. Again, it may be the Pollyanna in me, but I don’t see how anything but good can come of this. [For more information: http://www.writegirl.org/keren-taylor/]

Then yesterday I read about the remarkable singer-songwriter, rapper, record and film producer, Pharell Williams, and his commencement speech at NYU. He said:

“This is the first generation that navigates the world with the security and confidence to treat women as equal. You are the first ever. Our country has never seen this before. It makes some people uncomfortable. But just imagine the possibilities.”

And just this morning, The Greenville News reported that the Nicholtown Presbyterian Church, a predominantly black congregation in Greenville, received $2,000 and a letter in their mailbox last week. The donor wrote there were two reasons for the bequest. “First, I am white and used to be a terrible racist…” The donation signified a “heartfelt apology to the African American community.” The second reason ? To show that “miracles, just as in Biblical times, still happen today…” Encouraging words, indeed

Who Wrote Shakespeare?

On Sunday evening, June 26, 1977 I sat down at the desk in my room at Wroxton Abbey in Oxfordshire, England. The next day I would attend the first of my master’s level classes at Wroxton College, the British campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. That summer we would be reading Henry VI, Parts One,Two and Three. Later in the summer, we would be attending all three of these Shakespearean history plays performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theater in Stratford-upon-Avon.

My sister, Mary Ellen, and me on a return visit to Wroxton Abbey, Summer 2011.

I still remember the thrill I felt when I read that the setting of the first scene was Westminster Abbey. I had just been there the day before. Yes, I loved Shakespeare before, but my three summers at Wroxton would transform that love into unconditional adoration.

Imagine my horror when I picked up the newspaper this past October and read the following headline: “Oxford says Shakespeare will share credit for Henry VI.” Wait…what? That’s right. Oxford University Press’ new edition of Shakespeare’s works will credit Christopher Marlowe as co-author of the Henry VI plays. [Are you rolling in your grave, Will?]

Gary Taylor, a professor at Florida State University and the principal investigator of the new edition crowed, “Shakespeare has now entered the world of big data.” He and a team of 23 international “scholars” used “computerized data sets to reveal patterns, trends and associations— analyzing not only Shakespeare’s words, but also those of his contemporaries.”

Seriously? Why would anyone do that? Have modern scholars run out of original ideas and thoughts to explore and research? This reminded me of one disappointing lecture by a tutor at Wroxton that focused on the number of active and passive verbs Shakespeare used in his plays. After listening to visiting Shakespearean scholars lecture all semester, providing brilliant insights into Elizabethan life and times and inspiring interpretations of Shakespeare’s writing, I found the verb identification exercise rather uninspiring. And now, computer analysis of Shakespeare? Positively dispiriting, not to mention yawn-inducing.

It’s no secret that writers often seek the advice of other writers, and in Elizabethan England, there was “a demand for new material to feed the appetite of the first mass entertainment industry.” I’ll concede that the small group of writers working at that time probably consulted one another and may have even collaborated. As a writer myself, I participate in classes and critique groups where members of the group provide wonderful suggestions about editing my phrasing, language, and even plot, and I have amended my work based on their suggestions. Does that make them my co-authors?

It’s hard to account for the obsession with discrediting a beloved and venerated writer who’s been dead nearly 500 years. Historically, there have been writers, scholars and critics who questioned Shakespeare’s ability to have written all the plays that have traditionally been attributed to him. Some say Shakespeare simply didn’t have the experience to write about the subject matter he covered. In response to that James Shapiro, author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? writes:

“What I find most disheartening about the claim that Shakespeare of Stratford lacked the life experience to have written the plays is that it diminishes the very thing that makes him exceptional: his imagination.”

The Bard

So, my question to the scholars using “big data” to analyze Shakespeare’s plays is what imaginative contribution have you made to the world of literature? Even if you’re right, does it really matter that Christopher Marlowe, a poet and playwright himself, may have written some scenes in the Henry VI plays, perhaps to help out a fellow writer trying to meet a deadline or because he needed the money?

Will any one of the scholars who completed this study be quoted 500 years from now? Methinks the answer lies in the Bard’s own words. Compared to Shakespeare, the scholar using computer analytics to define his work is:

“…but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.” Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

And as for his computer study, well:

“ It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.” Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

Long live Shakespeare! Long live the Bard!

Let Nothing You Dismay

Earlier this month my sisters, Jane, Mary Ellen,  and I attended a play at Centre Stage in Greenville entitled Let Nothing You Dismay, a delightful  comedy about a couple awaiting the birth of the baby they’re going to adopt.  Yesterday, my mother, Mary Ellen, and I attended Miracle on 34th Street at the Greenville Little Theater.  At the end of the first act, when Kris Kringle has been remanded to Bellevue Hospital because he’s been deemed insane for saying he’s Santa Claus, the music playing  was…you guessed it…God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. As the actors scurried off stage in disarray and the lights went down, the music seemed to stop on exactly that line…”let nothing you dismay”.

That kind of sealed the deal for me. Right then and there,  I decided that my mantra for this year will be “Let nothing you dismay.”  Whenever I feel discouraged or blue, I will remember those words and carry on.  After all, no matter how bleak things might seem on any given day, there is always something to be glad and grateful for.

The Pollyanna principle is a subconscious bias towards the positive.

The Pollyanna principle is a subconscious bias towards the positive.

Now, I’ve already admitted in previous blogs that I am a Pollyanna, and to my chagrin, my cheerfulness over the years has sometimes been dampened with that chilly glass of frosty words, “Oh, it’s easy for you.” Maybe.  I won’t deny that I have been extremely fortunate in my life. I never take that for granted and every day I feel a profound sense of gratitude for my good fortune.  But my life has not been free of tough choices, and a bit of hard work and determination have also been part of it.  I may be wrong, but I also think my constant search for the silver lining doesn’t hurt. Let me give you an example.

This Fall I was hard pressed to find the silver lining in a notification from our local Department of Public Works that the city would no longer be collecting glass for recycling because manufacturing new glass was now cheaper than recycling it.  At the time, I scratched my head, questioning this logic. I thought we recycled because we wanted to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills and save our environment,  not because we made money doing it.  Recently, as I put a glass bottle in the regular trash, I shook my head and asked the air, “Doesn’t anyone do anything unless they’re making money anymore?”  A dismaying thought indeed.

www.simpsonvillegardenclub.com

www.simpsonvillegardenclub.com

Well, I thought about it and I am pleased to say I came up with an answer.  My garden club works for no money to fulfill its mission “to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs; to encourage civic plantings and recycling of solid wastes; to aid in the protection of nature’s plants and birds; to promote the study of gardening, landscape design, flower arranging/horticulture and environmental concerns through schools and non-commercial flower shows; and to encourage the love of all phases of garden club work among youth and seniors”.

That’s right. All of that is accomplished by a dedicated band of woman who generously volunteer their time and work tirelessly for the sheer joy of gardening and a deep-seated belief that what they are doing is good for the environment  and good for the community they live in.  The Simpsonville Garden Club:

  1. conducts monthly meetings, free to the public, with speakers who teach us how to be better gardeners
  2. plants the garden outside of the Police Headquarters in Simpsonville
  3. maintains an eco-friendly planter donated by the club and placed in front of Simpsonville’s historic clock tower
  4. conducts a yearly garden show at the South Greenville Fair that members of the public can participate in for free, and
  5. conducted a tour this summer of home gardens volunteered for viewing by members of our community.

So my feelings of dismay are dispelled by my fellow gardeners. I salute you, Steel Magnolias, who give so much to so many, asking no money in return for the work you do. You are the silver lining I was searching for.  I am cheered knowing  that no matter what gloom and doom is reported in the news today, no matter that you won’t receive a penny for the work you do, you will continue “to touch the earth and make it grow”.  Tidings of Comfort and Joy!  Merry Christmas, Everyone.

sam_1209

My pointsettia from last year survived and bloomed again this year. Life’s good.

The Definition of “Tough”

My friend, Nina Augello, shared with me something she wrote while at Elmhurst General Hospital with her father last month. I’m pleased to be able to share it with you.

What does it mean to be tough? Archetypes like the 6 foot 4 inch cowboy battling the elements in a lawless landscape come quickly to mind, but they’re probably a bit simplistic. I am sitting besides my 90 yr. old father in his hospital bed where he has been wrestled into submission by 4 injections of sleep medication and a powerful tranquilizer. He doesn’t want to be here and he is periodically still yelling orders in his sleep. Yesterday when it finally hit him that he was in a hospital, he looked me in the eye and in the most lucid tone told me that I had no brains for bringing him to a place like this.

In many ways he was right on point because the ER was a noisy beeping madhouse of the screaming unwashed with no Mother Theresa in sight and I was supposed to be the smart one—so there was no greater insult he could hurl that would hit me where I live. He has always been a take no prisoners tough cookie.

To say that my father is strong willed is a laughable understatement. Even as his dementia has progressed he has maintained a strict schedule of grooming and exercising and hasn’t relented in his demand for home-cooked meals prepared to his specifications. I am strong-willed too and as the first born and the “son” he never had my childhood is littered with many a clenched jaw confrontation that I am surprised to say didn’t cause us to pulverize our back molars—apparently our teeth are strong-willed too.

Notwithstanding the breathing problems that sent him to the ER, he is at once whistling in his sleep and then asking for coffee in Italian. Last night (his first day in the ER} he asked me if I had prepared dinner and do we have enough to feed all these people–a perfect coda to my running joke that when I was growing up, my family cooked enough food to feed Nebraska if it dropped by unexpectedly.

The electrical system of my father’s heart is winding down and there is a circling the drain effect on his lungs and kidneys. Being old is not for sissies but being “old” old is a whole other deal that no amount of jaw clenching is going to ameliorate. At some point soon I will be faced with difficult choices and will have to decide in proxy when it’s time for him to stop fighting the good fight.

In the coming days I’ll get to see just how tough I really am.

In Memory of Angelo Augello

1926-2016

Angelo Augello passed away Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2016

 

Equinox

September 22 was the autumnal equinox. Here in South Carolina the weather has felt like summer throughout September, but that day there was just a touch of Fall in the air. I know many people welcome the cool, crisp days of Autumn, but for me, they come with wistful sadness that the carefree days of summer are over.

equinoxThough I’m sure I learned it in school, I realized I wasn’t absolutely certain of the definition of equinox, so I looked it up.  Wikipedia states: “An equinox is an astronomical event in which the plane of Earth’s Equator passes through the center of the sun which occurs twice each year, around 20 March and 23 September. On an equinox, day and night are of approximately equal duration over the earth’s equator.”

I wanted to know more, so I surfed around the internet and found an article entitled: All you need to know: September Equinox by Deborah Byrd in Astronomy Essentials/September 26, 2016. (What did we do before the internet?) One of Byrd’s observations that interested me most was that because early humans spent more time outside than we do, they used the sky as both a clock and a calendar. She writes:

“Our ancestors built the first observatories to track the sun’s progress. One example is at Machu Picchu in Peru, where the Intihuatana stone, … has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The word Intihuatana, by the way, literally means for tying the sun.”

The Intihuatana stone – also called the Hitching Post of the Sun – at Machu Picchu in Peru. It was used to track the sun throughout the year. Photo via Imagesofanthropology.com.

The Intihuatana stone – also called the Hitching Post of the Sun – at Machu Picchu in Peru. It was used to track the sun throughout the year. Photo via Imagesofanthropology.com.

I continued to surf my way through a few more articles that talked about equinox traditions. No surprise that autumnal equinox celebrations, for obvious reasons, are associated with harvest time and involve giving thanks for a successful harvest.

One article that made me pause stated, “It is a time to give thanks for the summer and to pay tribute to the coming darkness.” Hmmm. The idea of paying tribute to darkness stumped me. Then I wondered why, if we experience almost equal day and night, is this phenomenon named equal night and not equal day? (The word equinox drives from Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).

The day before the equinox I  finished reading Anna Quindlan’s Miller’s Valley. This wonderful book, the life story of Mimi Miller, recounts her life’s journey, from her earliest recollections of growing up on her family’s farm to a glance backward in an epilogue where she reveals her age as 65. In her lifetime Mimi experienced her share of both joy and sorrow

One of the most painful chapters for me involved helping her mother pack up their house to move. While I read that chapter I had a memory of a stack of books on the desk in my living room in New Jersey. That recollection was so vivid that I remembered one book in particular, how the curtain hung behind the desk and how the rhododendrons looked through the window. And in that moment of recollection I felt a profound nostalgic ache for the home of 25 years that I left behind and a part of my life that was over.

At the same time, I looked around my condo, grateful for this new home, so happy to be here for this new chapter of my life. How is it possible to feel an aching, longing for the past and complete pleasure in the present simultaneously? Equal day…equal night. Bittersweet. Perhaps I, like our solar system, can hope to achieve balance only once a year. The rest of the time I will give thanks every day for the light and try my best to honor the darkness.  Farewell, Summer. Welcome, Fall.yinyang

Dolce Far Niente

Livingston ManorSummer is coming to a close. Even here in South Carolina the weather has cooled just a tad. School actually started last week in the Palmetto state. This morning I awoke early and saw a school bus picking up students at 6:25 AM. That is so wrong!

I feel total sympathy for these youngsters, deprived of the last two lovely weeks of summer. I know summer technically ends in September, but growing up, Labor Day always signaled summer’s end and the days leading up to it were savored, held on your tongue like that last piece of penny candy fished out of a little brown paper bag.

I’m an adult and I know I should be writing, but even I, of iron self-discipline, had to force myself to start writing this blog. The only thing that made me open my laptop this morning was my horoscope in today’s paper that warned, “You are committing daily acts of self-sabotage.” Ominous words, indeed! I haven’t written anything in weeks.

Still, I can’t stop rolling around in my mind a fabulous Italian phrase I learned from my friend, Nina, this summer. “Dolce Far Niente”… the sweetness of doing nothing. Yes, that to me is what these last, languorous days of August are for. Not for weeding and pruning, but for sitting on the porch or patio, sipping a cool drink, watching the grass grow. Not for swimming laps, but for bobbing on a noodle in the swimming pool. Not for working, or even planning, but for the sheer pleasure of doing nothing.

“Unlike aquatic species, the turtles have the ability to travel upland and estivate for the remainder of the summer.”

“Unlike aquatic species, the turtles have the ability to travel upland and estivate for the remainder of the summer.”

Another new word I learned this summer from my subscription to Wordsmith.org is estivate which means “to pass the summer in a dormant state”. If you read my January blog, New Year’s Confessions of a Retiree without Resolutions, you may remember I lamented the fact that I felt like a tortoise in a world of gnats and humming birds. How apt that Wordsmith’s sample sentence used to illustrate usage of the word estivate was this: “Unlike aquatic species, the turtles have the ability to travel upland and estivate for the remainder of the summer.” It’s official. I’m now adopting the turtle as my personal mascot.

Right now, I invite you to indulge yourselves, my friends. No matter how crazy, busy your life has become or how accustomed you are to constantly being on the go, take at least one day to sit down in the shade and reacquaint yourself with the sheer pleasure of doing nothing. September will be here soon enough. Estivate while you still can!

Happy Father’s Day!

James Francis Handley 1925-2000

James Francis Handley
1925-2000

In August 1945 my father, who was 20 years old, was on board a US Navy minesweeper bound for Japan preparing the way for marines to launch an invasion. The invasion became unnecessary when President Harry S. Truman and his advisors decided to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending the war with Japan. It’s hard for me not to applaud that decision.

After serving in the Navy, my father returned home to Pringle, Pennsylvania, married my mother and joined his father as a loom fixer in a textile mill. Back then fabrics were still being woven and produced in factories in the Northeast. My grand-father lived with us and he and Dad worked both day and night shifts at the mill. I remember because sometimes they slept during the day, and we had to be quiet as we played.

When Dad was not working, we did just about everything as a family…food shopping, church on Sunday, television at night, trips to the lake for swimming and picnicking in the summer and ice skating in the winter. I don’t remember interacting with my father alone much in the early years of my life. My mother was the disciplinarian, making most of the decisions regarding my two sisters and me. She didn’t work outside the house until I needed braces when I was in sixth grade, so my mother was the day-to-day “supervisor” in our world…not my father.

Galway Bay, 1980.

Galway Bay, 1980.

When the textile mill closed in the early sixties, my father got a job with J.P. Stevens at a small research facility they maintained in Garfield, New Jersey even after all the production mills moved to the unionless South. I remember my mother telling the story of how my father got the job with the very real conviction that it was part of God’s divine plan. My mother and father were out at a local bar one Saturday night. A man, I don’t recall whom or his connection with my father, came into the bar and struck up a conversation with them. He worked in New Jersey. When he learned my father was looking for a job, he said he’d seen an advertisement for a loom fixer in the paper and that he had the paper out in his car. He actually went out and brought the paper in for my father…further evidence of God’s hand at work.

Dad could fix anything and was always working when he came to visit.

Dad could fix anything and was always working when he came to visit.

My father applied for and got the job, and for the next four years he commuted to New Jersey. At least, back then, that was our idea of commuting. He lived with my cousin Carol and her husband in Rutherford, NJ during the week and only came home on weekends. Monday mornings he would leave our house in Pringle at 5:30 AM and drive straight to work in Garfield. Monday through Thursday he stayed at my cousin’s. Friday after work he’d drive back home to us. We all knew when he was on his way up the street because our dog, Sparkle, would start wagging her tail in excitement even before any of us heard the car.

Reflecting back on that time compared to now, I wonder how many men would do that for their families today? Four years? Would they do it for six months even? It is remarkable to me now looking backward. Never mind not seeing your family or sleeping in your own bed four nights out of seven. The weekly drive alone was grueling and hazardous. Today’s interstate highways have changed all that, but in the early ‘60’s Route 80 didn’t exist. The drive consisted mostly of windy, two-lane roads through the Pocono Mountains to the Delaware Water Gap, followed by Route 46, a slightly better road because it was a divided highway, but the going was slow because it had lots of traffic lights. In the winter, the Friday night journeys through the Poconos back to Pringle were downright treacherous. In spite of all that, I don’t remember my father ever not coming home for the weekend.

As I mentioned, my mother was our most constant influence, but there were a few occasions when she turned us over to my father. The day of my cousin Marie’s shower that my mother was hosting at our house was rather memorable. My little sister, Mary Ellen, was only about two years old, so she got to stay home, but my mother must have instructed my father to take my older sister, Jane, and me out for the day. We were probably five and nine. My father took us to a local bar with him. It was a great day for us. Coca Cola and candy bars flowed freely and we played pinball sitting on top of bar stools. All the men got a big kick out of us and kept supplying us with coins to play. What a great day!

Jane, Dad and me at the amusement park.

Jane, Dad and me at the amusement park.

I don’t remember how my mother found out where we went that day. I vaguely remember being told something like “Don’t tell your mother.” I didn’t. But we lived in a town one-mile square where we were related to just about half the people in town. Someone told. The next time my father took us for the day, we went to Angela Park, a now-defunct, but then brand new, amusement park. That was fun, too. But to this day, I believe I owe my great fondness for sitting at bars to that first time. In restaurants with a bar, I actually prefer to eat at the bar than at a table, much to the dismay of some of my female friends, who, in my opinion, missed out on going to a bar with their fathers, a rite of passage generally reserved for boys.

I have lots of memories of my father driving us places. Along with the textile mills in the North, Sunday drives with the family have also become a thing of the past. Hard to imagine a time when just getting in a car and driving around country roads for an hour or two was considered a pleasurable way to spend the afternoon, something adults and children alike looked forward to. My favorite memory was a drive on the old Chase Road near Huntsville Dam one Sunday afternoon. A little black dog started to run alongside the car and my father stopped and let her in the backseat with us. That was Sparkle. She was just a puppy without a collar, who picked our car to run after…apparently another divinely ordained occurrence. Our first dog. Another great day!

My father died from Alzheimer’s in 2000. A few months after the funeral, my younger sister, who along with my mother, cared for my father to the very end, asked me about Dad’s Days at Douglass College where I went to school. I hadn’t given much thought to those uniquely, all-girl college experiences in years. I told her how my father drove down to New Brunswick by himself every year, and how we would spend the day at various activities around the campus. I would choose our agenda. I vaguely recall bus tours of campus, but in general whatever we did was largely forgettable. One instance I do recall, however, was a really lame performance by a young woman who forgot the words midway through the Ave Maria. I remember a polite exchange of glances between my father and me, and our laughing about it afterwards. I also remember having lunch with my first year college roommate and her father, a college graduate himself. Later my father remarked to me how good it would be to be a professional like my roommate’s father. That evening long after our fathers left campus, my roommate told me her father said he wished he could be like my father who was so personable and easy to talk to. I remember thinking to myself that I was the luckier of the two of us.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

As one of three sisters and part of a family that always did most everything together, I have only a few memories of experiences that my father and I alone shared, those four Dad’s Days among them. I knew the concerts and lectures we attended on those days were not exactly the kinds of things my father enjoyed doing, yet he came all four years. I asked my sister what made her ask me about Dad’s Days, and she told me that she was going through his things after he died. In a box in my father’s drawer, he had saved the pins he’d gotten each of those Dad’s Days. At that moment I felt sorry for those who inherit only money and property, lesser gifts than the simple, yet certain evidence I received that day that my father loved me and treasured moments that he and I alone shared. What a great day!