Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sounds

I'm distracted, sitting at my desk, trying to work on a complex edit.

It's the birds... just outside the office window in the tree that was just a sapling when we moved here almost 11 years ago.

I don't know what kind of birds they are (I leave such things to my birding half-sisters) but each fall we find the remnants of a nest no longer needed on the ground beneath the branches. While they are in that tree, we are treated to early morning vocal concerts filled with trills and whistles.

We had birds near the Mt. Laurel condo in which we lived for 19 years before coming here. But living on the second floor, we didn't benefit from their songs as often or as audibly. Still, they were there, along with the noise of traffic on the roads in front and next to us and the incessant roar of landscaping equipment.

In Berlin, where the girls and I "grew up" together from 1978 to 1989, we had birds, the shouts of children at play, nonstop barking dogs and the meows and yips from our own pets. We also had music... all kinds of music playing at all hours, from classical Mozart and Beethoven on the phonograph to 80s rock 'n roll on MTV, the new craze everyone in our household followed.

As a child, I took piano and voice lessons, practicing at home the requisite half hour per day, walking into town once a week to either Mrs. Bozarth's cozy cottage with the huge baby grand in the living room or to Mrs. Ewald's home, the manse of the local Lutheran church where her husband was pastor and she ran through the scales in her lilting soprano.

My parents were music lovers and I was never criticized for playing my Elvis records over and over again. When they took dance lessons at Arthur Murray, my stepfather taught me to jitterbug, usually to one of Elvis' or Bill Haley's classic songs.

To this day, if I close my eyes and concentrate, I can hear the sounds of each place in which I lived. Voices of those I loved, long gone but never forgotten, are harder to conjure up. Sometimes only a single word or a snippet of laughter echoes in my mind before it slips away. The old home movies don't help much. They preserved the faces and the occasions, but left the voices to memory.

The birds are singing as I write. Someone's horn just blew as a car passed the house. Otherwise, it's quiet. Silence is good, but things like the gentle lap of the ocean, the roar of the waves in the wind, the gurgle of a happy baby, the deep laughter after a joke, the halting voice of an aging relative or the sweet murmur of a loved one's voice are the pieces of life we remember.

Sounds.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My mother

She was a beautiful lady, both inside and out. As a child, I often wished to be as pretty as she, but I settled for "smart" because it at least seemed something positive I could hang my hat on.

Mom went through life with an attitude that was part-positive, part-negative and part-resignation. She went about the business of keeping our home (when we finally had one of our own) as inviting and warm as possible. She wasn't big on cooking, and thus I didn't learn to be a creative cook, settling instead for feeding my family a steady diet of same-old, same-old. She kept the house neat, often reminding me that, if a house isn't cluttered, people will automatically assume it is clean. I follow that philosophy to this day.

With all the turmoil of my growing up (fears, insecurities, boyfriend troubles, etc.), Mom was the steady comfort I could always count on. When I dated a foreign exchange student from an Asian country, she masked her discomfort and welcomed him into our home. When later I chose a man 17 years older than I (and married), she spoke her mind but then allowed me to work myself through that traumatic period of my life.

Mom loved me unconditionally.

My stepfather used to say she would defend me if I committed murder. He was far too early for the Trump brag of the same nature, but he meant it in the same way. To my mother, I could do no wrong, even when I was very wrong.

She had her first mastectomy when she was 48. We waited out the five-year mark and rejoiced when it passed with no new cancer. But then, in the sixth year, another mastectomy, the spread from breast to bones to brain and after that year she died. Thankfully, the cancer destroyed the pain receptors in her brain so her last few hours were serene.

I'm told I look like her. That is a large compliment. I know I don't have her patience and her faith. What I do have is the legacy she left: it is possible to love without condition, without concern for self. Mom gave that to me in huge measure.

I think of her every day and wish she hadn't gone.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

An evening with old friends

The venue was the Spectrum, Philly's old sports arena on Broad Street.

It was the home of the Broad Street Bullies, also known as The Philadelphia Flyers hockey team.

My first date with Howard, a season ticket holder at the time, was a Flyers game on May 5, 1985.

Of course, I knew nothing about hockey... just that a bunch of men with long sticks chased a little piece of hard rubber around, trying to put it into a net at either end of the ice rink.

Still, I wanted to have an evening with this new guy, so I agreed, thinking it would be a boring night.

First period of the game, he explained the rules.
Second period, I watched the action and figured out how it was played.
Third period, I was on my feet, screaming my lungs out for our guys, the orange and black.

I was hooked.

One of the players intrigued me more than any of the others.
He was a defenseman, #8, Brad Marsh, and one of the reasons I became a fan. Brad was the only guy who played helmetless, his curly dark hair making him stand out.

In a later year, two Boston Bruins sandwiched him in a check that nearly took him out and we watched in silent horror as he was carried from the ice on a stretcher.

He recovered from the concussion, and wore a helmet from then on.

But he never changed his style.

An obvious leader, Brad went through the warmups, chatting with his teammates as they circled the ice and took shots at the goalie, Ron Hextall through most of my game years. Then, Brad would skate up to the net, rest against his stick and watch as practice wore down, then give Hextall an encouraging pat and skate off to await the game start.

No one else did that.

At the end of the game, it was again Brad who stood by the net, supporting his goalie, being a leader to the team.

I was sad when he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Howard bought me a Leafs jersey with Brad's name and number on it and when the Leafs played in Philly again, I met Brad and he signed the alien blue and white sweater.

Marsh now serves as the president of the Board of the Flyers Alumni, an ideal post for such a leader.

And last night I got to watch him on the ice again as the Flyers and arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins played a full 60-minute game to mark their 50th anniversary celebration.

I went way back in my closet, took the orange and black jersey off its hanger and prayed it would still fit. It was a tad snug after all these years, but I wore it proudly. It bore Brad's signature and I looked in vain around the huge crowd at the Wells Fargo Center for another like it.

When the team members were introduced, one by one they came out of the tunnel and were greeted by raucous cheers.

When warmup started, Brad did what he always had... he gravitated to the goal and gave his teammate an encouraging tap.

He still didn't wear a helmet and the dark curly hair is largely gone, but the skater on the ice hadn't changed much at all.

He played at least one shift in each of the three periods, usually more than one. If I didn't know by the number and the face, I would know it was he by the smooth rhythm of his skating and that little lean to the right he added when he glided on the ice.

The Flyers ended up tying the Pens in a classic game that featured so many of the players for whom I'd cheered and yelled back in the 80s.The guys seemed to be having a wonderful time together, and I hope they knew how much fun they were giving their fans.

It was 1985 all over; we were young and energetic and the world was a happier place. For a few hours last night, we were back there again.

Thanks, Flyers, and thank you, Brad Marsh! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Beginnings

Finally, after nearly 13 years of book-writing silence, I have just published a book!

Okay, so it's not that kind of book.

But it may be one of the best books I've produced and I hope its target readership agrees.

Last summer, as our family lazed on the Wildwood Crest beach, I told a story about my grandmother. Nothing special, just a snippet from the myriad memories that tumble around in my mind.

My older daughter commented that she'd never heard that story and then proceeded to admonish me (gently, of course) for not sharing tidbits like that with the family. After all, she didn't say, but I heard, Mom isn't going to be around forever and then who will know these things? Who will go through the boxes of photos, some faded and torn, and know who was in them?

That's when the idea came and on Friday, the result was in my mail.

I gathered photos from those bottomless boxes, selected from an old autobiography that lies fallow and incomplete on my hard drive, did some research and found blurb.com, selected a template and created "Where Did We Come From?" to gift my grandchildren and my daughters with a brief look into their ancestry.

While the book is 22 pages long, it could easily have been doubled if the cost had not been prohibitive. There are still many, many photos for them to look at some far-off day. I will have to deal with the pictures perhaps one cold, blustery winter night as I take on the next project... scanning, naming and cataloguing them all. Sadly, by the time I got custody of the photos, there was no one left to tell me who many of the folks who peopled them might have been. Many contain men and women who were directly related to my grandfather. They will wind up forever unidentified.

But the 22 pages of the book I created contains enough information to serve as a start on my effort to leave the kids a picture of their ancestors... the men and women I knew as integral parts of my life.

So even if the photos are a bit blurry or worn with decades of being shuffled from one album to another, from one box to another, I was able to tell them about my wonderful grandparents, my mom and dad and some of my own history. It's what I wish I had been given by my parents.

How silly we are, those of us who have a rich mine of photos or written histories, not to sit our grandparents and parents down, grab an iPad or iPhone or any of the amazing recording devices we have at our disposal and ask them to talk about their childhoods, their memories. Not only would we have a lasting record of their pasts but we would have the joy of hearing their voices and seeing their smiles long after they are gone.

It's too late for me to do any of that, so I did what I could. I hope that, even though there may be little interest in the book now, my grandchildren will some day dig it out from their put-away treasures and share it with their children.

That's what it was created for. That's what I wish for it.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

For once in my life, I am struggling to state an opinion.

I want to write about the 2016 presidential election. I want to find the right words to talk about how I feel about the candidates and their messages.

I've never been a Hillary Clinton fan, although I think her husband's presidency was good for the country if not for the reputation of the man.

I despise Donald Trump and everything he stands for (or not, considering he doesn't seem to actually have any principles upon which he stands).

Above both feelings, I am sad that Bernie Sanders didn't make it to the nomination. He started too late and then faced the obstacles set up by the establishment Democrats that made it impossible for him to succeed.

But he came sooooo close.

I remember back in the mid-60s when the resounding message of Bobby Kennedy began to echo around the country and he mounted his campaign for president. Like so many liberal-minded people, I was enraptured. He embraced every ideal I hold dear. He offered the kind of world that fulfilled the promise of peace and universal compassion and caring.

When Bobby was murdered, it seemed a pall settled over the land. Not only people like me, but legions of others who were drawn to his message, mourned and, I believe, entered a phase of depression, cynicism and doubt from which we have never emerged.

Bernie revived that hope, that yearning for what could be if only the system we have watched becoming more and more fashioned against us were changed. Millions of young people, for whom the name Bobby Kennedy probably only evokes a page in their history books, were caught up in Bernie's message just like I was at their age (okay, I was a tad older). Without the filter of cognizance of the progression from Kennedy to Obama, the millenials knew only that Bernie spoke to them of the way it could be and they loved it.

Now I wonder if, regardless of Bernie's efforts to help defeat Donald Trump, those young people will feel the incredible letdown we did post-Bobby. Will they believe the system is indeed unbeatable, unchangeable?

The next four years, no matter who wins in November, will be crucial, I believe, to the survival of our nation. Hillary, if she surrounds herself with wise statespeople and if she includes Bernie in the planning, might be able to fashion a new optimism and the changes needed. Donald Trump, if he wins, will, in his own unpredictable and frightening manner, lead the country into the kind of darkness and ugliness in which he thrives.

So, without a lot of enthusiasm, but with the terrifying thought of the end of America as we know it, I will vote for Hillary. It really isn't that I see it as a choice between the lesser of two evils. It is a statement that I can't allow the evil that is Donald Trump to triumph.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sometimes emotions surprise

I didn't think I would care.

Just last week, his wife of 30-odd years and my younger daughter drove to a dementia care facility nearby and admitted my ex-husband.

He's a victim of the same horrible disease that claimed Robin Williams ... Lewy Body disease, a combination of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's.

At various birthdays and Thanksgivings, I have observed his steady decline, both in mental capacity and physical appearance. It was gut-wrenching to see this once-athletic high school coach and phys ed teacher descend into such transformation.

I can only imagine how difficult the whole process has been on his wife, my daughters and their two half-siblings, the kids of my ex and his wife. Occasionally, my daughters shared their need to vent their anger, sorrow and fear at what was happening to their dad.

It was only a few years ago, 1998 to be exact, that he and I finally put aside our bitterness and pain and buried the hatchet. It was the day of our older daughter's wedding and we agreed that there had been enough anger and that we should apologize to one another for our respective parts in the ruin that had been our marriage.

So we had some good years when we could come together, laugh and reminisce about the times before the bottom fell out. We could enjoy our grandchildren. He was a wonderful grandfather, in his glory with the little ones hew could toss into the air and savor the giggles.

Like everyone in the family, I knew the disease was rapidly claiming him. I knew it would not be long before he required 'round the clock medical and watchful care. So I wasn't surprised when the day arrived. Very sad, of course, for his wife and the kids, all grown adults and prepared for the day.

That night, knowing it was his first night in a strange place, surrounded by unfamiliar furniture, sounds and people, I thought about what must be happening in that room, I knew he was frightened. Change is difficult for patients with such a disability.

And I couldn't sleep.

My heart ached for the way his life had turned. For the lost years he should have had, the memories he lost almost daily, the steadily vanishing knowledge of the love of his wife, his children and grandchildren.

I lay awake for a very long time, worrying about how he survived that first night without the comfort of his home and the woman who loved and cared for him so faithfully for so long.

I was surprised at my own reaction.

I didn't think I would care.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Even a house can be lonely

There is something special about a house.

Many times in recent years, I've driven past the house my stepfather built for my mother and me, looking for more changes and marveling at the memories that flood through me every time.

The white fence around the yard has been gone for years, as has the flagstone walkway to the big front door. The wrought iron rail around the porch is gone too and there is a new second story and an enclosed back deck where only a concrete patio stood. I often wonder what the inside looks like, whether the massive Jersey stone fireplace Dad's friend built in the living room is still the dominant feature of the house.

Memories are mostly all good about my years in that house. And someone still loves it... fresh curtains adorn the windows and the yard is maintained well. One of these days, I'll summon up enough nerve to knock on the door, identify myself as a former resident and ask for a tour. I hope I will be welcome.

I spend a lot of time looking at houses. Realtor.com is one of my favorite sites and I like to scout out possible places to live if we ever decide to put our house on the market and move.

I even look at real estate in my old home town, picturing streets on which some houses sit.

When I was a junior in high school, my date and I stopped by his house for photos before the prom. It was a home filled with love. In subsequent years, his mother nurtured a spectacular garden alongside the house, complete with gazebo, in which many a local couple posed for photos after their weddings.

I remember the address of the house just like I remember my own, so when I saw it on Realtor.com last night, I was filled with sadness. Whoever purchased the house after that lovely family dissolved through death or distance had left it a ruin, in the hands of a bank, described as "once-loved."

I can only imagine that the garden was also a casualty.

Call me crazy, but the once-sweet white cottage with its lavish landscape, looked forlorn and broken-hearted. All vibrancy was gone and only a sad remnant of what it once was sat there in the photo.

I recalled all the days I pedaled by on my bike, hoping to catch a glimpse of the boy I loved since I was ten. All the days I wished for a big family... brothers and sisters with whom to grow up. They probably took that house for granted...their safe harbor from childhood troubles.

Now it belongs to no one. Still there is something special about a house. Even now.