Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Remembering John Clements

He was a sophomore in high school when he walked into my newspaper office.

Eager, enthusiastic and filled with self-confidence, he told me he'd be an excellent addition to my tiny staff.

To every item I threw at him... writing headlines, pasting copy on flats, making halftones, typesetting... he professed either an existing proficiency or a willingness to learn.

We agreed that he would come to the office after school three days a week and do whatever needed doing.

It never was three days. John literally became the indispensable right hand for all of us and he was there every day after school and often on Saturdays. He understood deadlines, learned everything we had to teach him and relished the pressure.

He managed to keep me from totally stressing out in a very stressful environment. His unfailing smile, his optimism, his we-can-do-this attitude lifted me up on the darkest of days. 

I missed him terribly when he went on to Rutgers in New Brunswick after graduating from Edgewood Regional High School as salutatorian with honors and a ton of awards. But in typical John style, he wrote often and turned up at the newspaper every weekend.

John lived with his grandparents in Medford, loving people who supported everything he wanted to do. So they happily agreed to allow him to have friends over for a New Year's Eve party on December 31st, 1978. He came bounding into the office with the news and with a wooden angel Christmas tree ornament for the tree in our foyer. Naturally, we would be happy to attend the party.

On December 29th, John let his girlfriend take his big old Chevy to a college interview. He drove her smaller car to Cedarbrook to visit his mother. He made it to the intersection of Tuckerton and Jackson Roads in Medford. Three men fleeing the police ran the light at a high rate of speed and send John's car 20 feet into the air. It landed on its roof. The men continued to attempt their escape.

John lingered in a coma in the hospital for a week at what is now Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mt. Holly before he died on January 5.

I still have a hard time writing about those days and the grief we shared with his grandparents for whom the light had gone out of their lives. I still choke up when I talk about John.

He was a young man of unlimited potential. He would have succeeded at anything he attempted and the world would have been a better place because he was in it. His teachers at Edgewood were lavish in their praise for him. Everyone who knew him spoke of his generous good humor, his dedication to his family and his love of The Journal. 

I think of John a lot, knowing how much he would have loved living in this time. He'd be almost 60 now, having fulfilled whatever career dreams he pursued, possibly raised a family and been a happy man just like he was a happy young adult. It saddens me to think of everything he missed.

We decorated the house for Christmas this past weekend. The tree is always the last to be finished and the last ornament to be hung is John's wooden angel. As he was hanging it that last Christmas, it fell from the branch and part of one wing napped off. John said it made the angel unique... an angel still smiling in spite of having a broken wing. 

So she hangs on my tree and reminds of me of John every time I look at her. I wish her were still here.


Monday, December 2, 2019

An impossible task

I need to make a list.
 Should be simple, no?
 I make grocery lists every week. I list to-dos on my calendar. I list the things I'm thankful for on a regular basis.
 I make lists of all my medications and the doctor visits I schedule.
 Easy then, right?
 Not this list.
 This year, my family has decided to stop buying for the sake of buying and do a Pollyanna, or for those unfamiliar with the term, a Secret Santa.
 We drew names at the Thanksgiving celebration. 
 Now Howard and I have to provide lists of what we'd like so whoever drew us knows what to look for.
 We like a lot of things we'll never use or simply admire for the sake of admiring them. 
 Like air fryers, universal chargers, slow cookers and air purifiers.
 But we don't want anyone buying any of those things for us.
We don't need anything. 
We have the home we love, all the bells and whistles we want in our cars and gadgets for smart tv's we don't even know how to work.
We don't really have hobbies aside from tv, gambling, reading and listening to music.
We don't even buy clothes for each other, let alone trusting others to get it right.
But we have to make lists.
Oh, and did I mention we can't ask for gift cards?
Nope, it's gotta be a thing... an actual gift of some kind.
So we are doing the only thing we really do well when it comes to requests like this.
We're procrastinating.
After all, it's only the 2nd of December and we have plenty of time.
Anyway, I've already bought my gift for the person I drew.
Can I be done?

Monday, September 23, 2019

Happy trails

It was an ordinary business trip for Howard last week. Up to North Jersey, consult with a customer or two, drive back on the NJ Turnpike and be home in time for dinner.

I got the phone call at about 5:15 p.m. Howard had just driven into our community, turned the corner toward our house when his car suddenly stopped.

It stopped.

No warning lights, no gradual shutting down, no coasting toward the curb.

Just stopped.

He called the dealership whose mechanics have cared for our cars for so long we've lost count of the years.

Have the car towed in as soon as you can, he was told. It would be checked out first thing in the morning.

Hours later, the car resting comfortably (and still quite dead) in the dealership lot, it hit me out of the blue.

What if that car had suddenly stopped, say in the middle lane of the NJ Turnpike, where cars routinely speed by at 75 or 80 miles an hour? I could envision a chain reaction crash involving as many cars as were behind him, or the cars he would have hit as he was being struck from behind.

Would he have survived? Questionable at best.

When the mechanics checked the car, they found that the fuse block, a piece of the car's equipment of which I'd never even heard, had burned and destroyed all the connections to the fuses that run the car... every function controlled by a fuse was stopped cold. They removed the burned-out fuse block and replaced it with a new one... there, problem solved.

Only it isn't. Not in my mind anyway.

There was no explanation of what caused the fuse block to burn out. Freak occurrence. Hardly ever see one of these. No idea why. Just one of those things when so much of what the car does is governed by electronics.

Gee, thanks.

The blame can't be laid on the make of the car or the model. As strong as was the inclination to leave it at the dealership and trade for a new one, in the long run it really wouldn't have mattered.

Nor would it have guaranteed the problem would never recur. Flukes are flukes. That's why they call them accidents.

So, a warning. Not that you can do anything to avoid the possibility that one day you may be riding along, listening to your favorite talk show, music play list or podcast when suddenly you stop.

It's the thing nightmares are made of.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Our 60th high school reunion

I recognized the first few people who walked in the door.

Funny, how after our high school graduation was 60 years ago, most faces look, if not exactly, much like they did then. Oh, there are some cosmetic differences... hair color change (a lot have gone to silver)... weight (most have gained, a few have lost). But I could walk down the Boardwalk in Atlantic City and recognize every one of my former classmates in a crowd.

There were only 62 of us to begin with. We have lost 12 to death and cannot locate three. There are a few who choose not to respond to invitations or announcements of events we plan, or who flatly refuse to attend, and I feel bad that they miss out on the warmth and genuine affection among us all.

We had 25 actual classmates attend the reunion on Saturday, September 24th, plus many spouses and significant others. Two of those at the party started school with us but moved, still maintaining affection for everyone and still coming to the reunions as if they had completed all four years with the rest of us.

Too many of our classmates who really wanted to attend could not be there due to illness. We remembered them and wished them well.

I wasn't what you would call popular in high school. I didn't have a very high opinion of myself and never felt that I fit in.

But I was academically successful and loved being part of the music programs, either as a pianist accompanist or as a vocalist. So, I was very much involved in the school.

And the reception I received from everyone who came to the party mirrored the way everyone was received... with love, hugs, smiles, laughter and reminiscences... kindness and friendliness, regardless of past history.

We were all members of the Class of 1959... we had memories in common: the teachers, the classes, the mischief, the seriousness and the sense that there was something good waiting for us someday when high school ended.

As Frank Anastasia said in his opening remarks as emcee, we were fortunate to have grown up with loving parents in the shelter of a small, South Jersey farming community (though some of us made the trip to Hammonton daily from Egg Harbor City where we grew up). We were naive, innocent and unaware that outside of our little corners of the world life wasn't as easy for many young people our age.

College, full-time jobs, marriage, whatever paths we chose after graduation changed all that. But we faced the world with a solid foundation of belief in ourselves and the knowledge that we were prepared to compete with anyone we encountered in the real world.

We will have another get-together soon. No way we will wait for the 70th... that's tempting fate. We are planning to meet to celebrate our joint 80th birthdays in two years, perhaps earlier in smaller groups with less organizing required. Everyone wants to do that. No one is content to call it a day at the 60th reunion.

That's how we relate to one another now and it's a joy to be part of it.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Never get complacent

I will turn 78 in August.
Nothing special about that, except that so many people are not fortunate enough to get there.

Thankfully, I've been in excellent health, with just a few exceptions... hypertension, diabetes and kidney disease.
Shrug all that off... be diligent, watch diet, take meds, stay on top of blood tests and good to go.
Until last week.

Both Howard and I contracted a gastrointestinal virus at the same time. We were really, really sick.
Thursday morning, as we debated what to do about our worsening conditions, I fell and hurt my left foot... badly.
The virus was more demanding, though, so we went to the hospital ER.
Howard was treated and released.
They kept me.
After a couple days of testing and IV drips to raise my blood sugar levels, on Saturday afternoon they sent me home.

Sunday my blood glucose level was critically low, so we went back.
While there, they x-rayed my foot and declared nothing broken. Just a bad sprain. Give it a few weeks to heal.

By Tuesday, blood sugar levels had reached safe numbers, the virus symptoms were all but gone and I went home again.

Still, the foot hurt like crazy, even without weight being applied to it as I hobbled around the house.
So today, my foot doctor re-xrayed and diagnosed a broken fourth metatarsal. Clean, clear through.
I'll be hobbling around in a heavy, cumbersome boot for six to eight weeks until it heals.

In the middle of May, I will have a battery of tests to determine the health (or lack thereof) of my heart.
EKG results were abnormal and we need to see why.

There is a lesson in all of this for me.

Never get complacent.

And I have been so guilty of that!
I've frequently expressed gratitude for the good health I've enjoyed.
I've felt deep compassion for people who struggle with persistent health issues.
And I've honestly believed I could go on through the coming years without any serious complications to the status quo.

No more.
Now there needs to be the humbling acknowledgment that age doesn't permit complacency.
I didn't see it coming and I'm not prepared for the tests and waiting for the bone to knit.
It will take some serious attitude adjustment.
I'll work on it.

Monday, January 21, 2019

About stuff

I was thinking this morning about stuff.

You know, the kinds of things we all accumulate over time. Family heirlooms we want to preserve, special trinkets we collected over our years, the pictures, videos, mementos and sheer junk that we find scattered around our homes.

I love my stuff.

What I see when I walk into my home makes me smile. I often say, "Hello, house. I love living here." Silly, isn't it?

But I recently got to wondering about stuff for a reason... so many people I once valued in my life also had stuff they cherished.

They went out the doors of their homes, often without a backward glance, to go somewhere... a doctor's appointment, a shopping trip, a vacation... anywhere... and never came back.

Their houses sat empty of their presence, but filled with the things they cherished. Quiet, abandoned and bereft.

Oh I know things don't have feelings. The beautiful crystal that my friend Doris left me doesn't carry any of her personality.

The china that was my mother's is mine now, not telling the story of how happy she was when she first brought it home.

But all those things, and so many more, make my home a place I prize, and one day I won't come home to it again.

My aunt Jean, whose house held stories in every antique in every room, whose view of the Mullica was mesmerizing and treasured, went to visit her doctor, had a massive stroke in his office and died the next day. Those of us who spent hours in her company had made our admiration for her stuff openly known... an antique ice box had my name on it, she told me often. I have no idea what became of all the stuff Jean cherished, where all the stories went when she failed to return to embrace them.

Change can happen in an instant.

It can alter the way things continue on in the next.

I still love coming home to my stuff, greeting my house aloud or silently, depending on who's with me.

Because I know that stuff will belong to someone else one day, I hope in the distant future, and I want it to remember the one who loved it.

Silly, isn't it?