I’ve been thinking about the Pope. Not the ex-Pope who just “retired.” That’s just a man. I’ve been thinking about the notion of a Pope. The Office of the Pope that has thrived over the centuries; not the office that sits empty today.
I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools for 11 years. I never knew much about other religions beyond the fact that they existed. As a young adult I became disappointed with the dogma and hierarchy of the church and opted out of the whole idea of God, lacking the sophistication to separate the Baby from the bathwater. I could not support an organization that believed I was inferior based on my gender or an organization that seemed to be losing touch with how difficult it is to be human.
Yet, somewhere deep down in the rubble of my religious foundation, a few threads of emotional wiring are still connected and I find myself feeling uncomfortable about that vacant office in Rome. It’s the answer to why it is vacant that makes me uncomfortable.
As I look around at all of the beautiful Catholic churches and their associated schools that are also empty, the pedophile scandal, the chastisement by the church of the good women who work so hard to bring hope and spirituality into the lives of the desperate that live among us and now this physical retreat by Benedict, it is the end of the Catholic church as I knew it. Will it be redeemed? Will it rise from the ashes like a Phoenix?
It seems to me the only road to its survival as a viable religion is to go back to its roots; to do what it has always demanded of its followers, to go into that little brown booth and confess and ask for forgiveness. To stop trying to hide its “sins” and stop pretending there’s nothing wrong. Stop worrying about its wealth and power and go back to the beginning, to forgiveness, peace and love.
Since I believe all religions speak to the same God, and I have no idea what that God actually is, I believe in the end it really doesn’t matter what bucket we carry our faith around in, whether it’s Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Jewish, etc., yet, if we do chose to tie our faith to a particular star, we want to be damn sure they practice what they preach.
In the end, what sees us through is faith, regardless of what, if any, formal religion we choose; faith in the basic goodness of being human and faith that we are never truly alone.
I don’t understand why anyone would want the job of President of the United States.
It’s a 24 hour a day job, 7 days a week. The fate of the world and the lives of every living thing on the planet rest on the shoulders of post A-bomb presidents. Their lives and the lives of their families are spent in a glass house that is constantly being pelted with stones tossed by the news media, the opposing political party and anyone with the ability to type and who has a social networking account.
Having grown up during the presidencies of Eisenhower and Kennedy, I was raised in a world where presidential personal indiscretions were off-limits to news reporters. I didn’t know Eisenhower had a war-time mistress or Kennedy was a womanizer until Eisenhower and Kennedy were both long gone. I was too young to care about politics and grew up trusting the Office of the President would protect me and my family and trusting that it would represent America as a decent and fair member of the world community. America was the hero that always came to the rescue.
Now, of course, I’ve seen too much to put my head in the sand and ignore the consequences of abuse of power, misjudgments and the vindictive nature of politics. I believe the news media should let us know if there is unequivocal evidence that our elected officials have cracks in their character but there should be no tolerance for conjecture in order to sell newspapers or online advertisements.
During the last presidential election many of the comments and posts I saw on our social networks that were directed at our President by American citizens were obscene and many without relevant content. While I respect the right of a person to speak their mind, there is such a thing as responsibility and certainly all Americans should, at the very least, respect the Office of the President if they cannot respect the person occupying that office.
As for the President’s family, I know since Jackie O we’ve all become more interested in how a president’s wife looks and dresses and I like to think interested in the good works accomplished by our first ladies, but many of today’s “news stories” about the President’s family have entered into the realms of are you kidding me and who cares? During the last presidential election I saw comments and photos about Michelle Obama, with absolutely no campaign related information, that would have been tolerated only in the back alleys when I was a kid. Recently, I heard some idiot suggest that if the President wants to take guns away from citizens then why not take the guns away from the people who are protecting his children; two girls who potentially would be prime targets of any number of terrorist kidnapping and assassination scenarios.
I don’t understand why anyone would want the job of President of the United States.
The President earns a $400,000 annual salary, along with a $50,000 annual expense account, and a $100,000 nontaxable travel account. We’ve all heard of athletes and entertainers who spend that kind of money on a long weekend. The Presidential office has not had a raise in 12 years, since 2001.
I don’t understand why anyone would want the job of President of the United States.
Yet, there have been great men who fought for the job and who rose to face history head-on while making hard decisions that formed the country we are today: George, who stepped out of the ranks of our founding fathers, Abe who saw us through the Civil War and started us on the long road to equality before he was shot to death because of the job he held. Woodrow guided us through WW1. Franklin’s “new Deal” that got us through the Great Depression and his signature on the Declaration of War after the attack on Pearl Harbor that committed us to WW2, a war that ended when Harry made that fateful decision to drop the A-Bomb. John’s cold war stand-off with Khrushchev when we learned that hiding under our school desks would protect us from the fallout from the atom bomb and John’s assassination that broke our hearts. And, Jimmy’s attempt to hold countries accountable for their civil rights decisions in order to qualify for US support.
I use their first names not out of disrespect, but to emphasize they were human beings like the rest of us who made the choice to accept the world’s most difficult job. Whether history has proven that the decisions made by these men, and the men that preceded and followed them into the Oval Office, were right or wrong, they had to carry the responsibility for the consequences of their decisions, a responsibility that is unimaginable to most of us.
That’s why I respect our presidential office even if I did not always respect the man who worked there.
Why do men seek and accept the job? Some think it's all about ego, some men may have been swept into office by circumstance. I like to think many of our Presidents accepted the job out of patriotism, love for our country.
So, on this Presidents’ Day 2013 I am thankful to all of the men who tried their best to protect us and lead our country forward and … wait for it … I am looking forward to the day when America is ready to give us women a crack at it.
Happy Valentine’s Day! I know many people think it’s a frivolous day created by Hallmark to make money and no doubt they do, but I like Valentine’s Day whether I’m with someone or not. Love is in the air.
Charlie Brown, his face as red as a tomato, hands a Valentine card to the little red haired girl. The high school jock sheepishly pulls a red velvet heart-shaped box of chocolates out of his blue duffle bag and hands it to the sweet young girl who is waiting patiently to receive her first Valentine gift from a boy.
The young man pats his pocket for the twentieth time in 20 minutes to be sure the small black velvet box holding the diamond ring that cost him three months’ salary is still safely tucked inside as he takes the steps to his girlfriend’s apartment two at a time, anxious to see the look on her face when she sees the ring he has selected and 99.9% sure she will say yes. She will say yes, won’t she?
The harried father who works long hours to support his family comes home at the end of the workday with a small bouquet of flowers he just bought at the corner supermarket and his wife smiles wondering where he found the time, but happy that he did, as she hands him the Valentine card she selected at the same supermarket two weeks earlier while the kids screamed at each other and dangled off the shopping cart. Their three children look at each other and smile, reassured that their parents are still in love.
The twenty-something who is the romantic one, rushes home from work and prepares a romantic dinner for his girlfriend who breezes in from work, enjoys the meal, then sits in front of the computer while he is left to clear away the remnants of his romantic gesture.
The thirty-something who wonders if it’s too soon in her new relationship to buy those heart-covered boxer shorts for her beau.
The empty nesters whose children are grown and out in the world who go to their favorite restaurant on Valentine’s Day and quietly spend the time watching the romantic couples surrounding them, safe in the knowledge that their hard work and determination has created a love and mutual respect that will indeed last their lifetimes.
The empty nesters who sit in the same restaurant with nothing to say to each other and watch the romantic couples surrounding them and long for that romance, having settled early on in their lives for the safe choice that isn’t enough anymore now that the hectic days of child rearing are behind them.
The old couple who have loved each other since they were children and who cannot imagine a life without the other who sit on their well worn sofa in their small apartment and hold hands, the single pink rose he bought her at the drug store on the corner tilting out of the small white bud vase he bought for her when she was fifteen years old.
All the single ladies and men who have chosen the single life or had the single life forced upon them by happenstance. Many don’t shy away from Valentine’s Day, but celebrate by enjoying the opportunity to let their family and friends know how much they are appreciated and loved. Some just ignore the day entirely and there are those of us who think Valentine’s Day is a lovely little day, but believe we should tell the people we care about that we love them EVERY day.
However you spend Valentine’ Day, I hope it's fun.
One way to recognize how different we are from each other is by noticing the things that bother us but do not bother anyone else. Does anyone really care if Beyonce lip synched the National Anthem at the presidential inauguration ceremonies on Monday? I have to admit, it bothers me. I watched the ceremony on TV and as I watched Beyonce sing, for a fleeting second it flashed through my mind that she was faking it but then I thought, no, she wouldn’t fake the Anthem on such a prominent national occasion.
Faking it at the Super Bowl might be forgiven, (apologies to all you football fans reading this) but not the National Anthem at the presidential inaugural ceremony. As she continued to “perform” I believed she was singing it live and she was nailing it but, in retrospect, as I looked at the footage and photos of the expressions on the faces of the people near Beyonce as she “sang,” they are priceless. Mostly they look perplexed.
I noticed when she walked back to her husband, Jay-Z, he hugged her and congratulated her. I thought how nice, he’s congratulating her for performing so well under less than perfect conditions. When, in fact, he was congratulating her for getting away with it.
So, where was the superstar? In my opinion the superstar was little Kelly Clarkson who stepped up to the microphone and belted out My Country, Tis of Thee. Kelly Clarkson is a popular singer, she has a voice to be protected, but it’s obvious she possesses a few things Beyonce does not, authenticity and chutzpa.
The Washington weather had been cold for days and everyone knew ahead of time what the weather conditions would be like. Maybe Beyonce didn’t want to give up the opportunity to say that she sang the National Anthem at a presidential inauguration. Ironically, the best she’ll be able to say is that she stood up to a microphone in front of the President of the United States and the rest of the country and faked it. Maybe, in the end, Beyonce was afraid if she sang live she wouldn’t do as well as Kelly Clarkson.
Shame on Beyonce for being such a bad example for all the little girls and young woman that admire her. If Beyonce wants the title superstar, the least she can do is act like one.
I understand on a scale of 1-10 the importance of this blog is -10, but I feel better now.
The first music I remember hearing was the sound of my mother’s voice singing the Irish lullaby Tura Lura Lura to me when I was very young and sick in bed. Mom sang that lullaby to all her babies.
Dad enjoyed singing and had a wonderful singing voice. When I was no more than four years old I remember sitting near him while he played the Mills Brothers’ albums on our old record player. I especially remember dad singing their song, “Daddy’s Little Girl.” Before I was five years old I could sing all the words to the Mills Brother’s song, “Paper Doll” as well as “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and the Notre Dame Fight Song. Our house was usually filled with the music of Bing Crosby, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Glen Miller.
At school I was taught new songs from McNamara's Band to the national anthem and “God Bless America.” I joined the children’s choir, although “joined” may be misleading since all of us kids were required to be in the choir where we added even more songs to our repertoire, including many we sang in Latin.
In the meantime, my older sister and her friends began buying small 45 records, mostly Elvis Presley recordings, and playing them on small portable record players. I can still see them sitting around the record player in the parlor in their long, full skirts (yes, some even with poodle appliques), black and white saddle shoes, white ankle socks and blouses with round Peter Pan collars, usually a scarf tied around their necks. The whole emerging rock and roll music scene was of no interest to me at that time, it was simply a part of the background music of my childhood.
In second grade I began piano lessons. One dollar paid for a half hour of instruction from Sr. Cecilia. Since I had no interest in learning how to play the piano I am sure I was the bane of Sr. Cecilia’s existence. Week after week, month after month, year after year the poor woman sat there and told me the same things over and over again. Speaking of over and over, we did not have a piano in our house, but my mom’s best friend, who lived a few doors away from us, did, and every day after school I’d go to her house and practice for a half hour. For years I sat there and played the same song over and over and she either never realized it was the same song or she felt it wasn’t her job to make me play something different.
At some point mom and dad bought a piano for our house. And it was magnificent. It was an old player piano. That means the piano had a mechanism that accepted long rolls of paper with raised markings similar to sheets of braille read by the blind with their fingerstips. Somehow when the roll of “braille paper” turned inside the piano, the piano keys played songs by themselves. No pianist needed … my kind of piano. We had many different rolls of music and it was wonderful.
When I was a sophomore in high school Sr. Cecilia suggested I might enjoy singing lessons rather than piano lessons. After eight years of being tortured by my disinterest, mom finally gave up and allowed me to quit. Ironically, years later, when I furnished my first home, I bought a piano and began buying sheet music. On quiet afternoons and evenings I’d sit at the piano and try to remember the instructions Sr. Cecilia gave me. There’s still a piano in my home and I can play a mean version of “The Impossible Dream.” Sr. Cecilia would be proud of me … shocked no doubt, but proud of me.
What teenager doesn’t like music? I was no exception. Mom always found it frustrating that I could sing every word of most songs on the top 40 list, but couldn’t remember how to spell half the words on my weekly spelling list. Perhaps if the spelling words were put to music it would have been easier.
Rock and roll music was perfect for us teenagers, it beat to our restless hearts, we were always in motion, always looking for the next best thing, always falling in and out of love and experiencing the angst of first rejections and disappointments.
As a young adult I went to my first Broadway play and discovered show tunes. The elaborate productions were fascinating; the beautiful and powerful voices of the actors blended with the music from the orchestra and reached out and touched me as I sat in the dark theater. From Westside Story to Jersey Boys, I’ve enjoyed them all.
Then I saw my first ballet. How could I not fall in love with classical music once I fell in love with the graceful and elegant ballet? Sometimes I sit in the audience at a ballet performance and close my eyes just to listen to the violins and French horns.
Isn't it interesting that no matter what the genre, music carries our memories. Hearing a certain melody brings us back to people, places and events in our lives whether we want to be reminded or not. On the other hand, new music engages us, it asks our opinion; it asks, “Do you like me.” If the answer is yes then it’s a happy meeting and like meeting a new friend we tend to go back again. If the answer is no, then we walk away better for the experience.
Music is timeless and never-ending. Timeless because a piece written 500 years ago is brand new the first time we hear it and never-ending because today or tomorrow someone can be inspired to put musical notes together in a brand new way and come up with an engaging brand new sound.
Music distracts me when I'm writing. Mid-sentence I may hear a tune that reminds me of something from my past and off my mind goes following that thought. Or, I may catch a few notes of a song I've never heard before and off my mind goes to hear more. Right now my house is completely quiet but usually there's music.
I remember watching Mary Ann Mobley crowned Miss America in 1959 when I was 12 years old. Although I suspect I watched the Miss America Pageant more than once, that’s the pageant I remember. Twelve years old must have been the year when I became aware of the importance of being pretty and “sweet.” The importance of having a good figure and looking perfect in a bathing suit while remaining asexual. I became aware that people judged me by how I looked. And here she was, Miss America, walking down the runway at the end of the program while Bert Parks assured us she was “our ideal.”
Of course, at 12 years old I was anything but Miss America material. I was in a state of transition though. I was still playing sports with the boys in the housing project where I lived and saw no reason not to compete and win, but there were certain boys that I’d known most of my young life that were “different” now, there was a “feeling” about them. That was probably around the time I became aware of how I looked and acted and began searching for clues about how I “should” be looking and acting. My friends and I began walking around with books balanced on our heads so we could walk like Miss America.
In addition to the Miss America Pageant, there were other clues. Magazine and TV commercials told me what I “should” look like and how to overcome my 12 year old “flaws.” So for the first time I became aware of the bathroom scale and what I weighed. Hair and eyelash curlers, mascara, lip gloss and blush became a part of my vocabulary. I took another look at how I interacted with the boys I knew and tried some of the techniques in Seventeen Magazine. Of course, mom and dad could tell me I was perfect just the way I was until they were blue in the face but deep down inside I knew they didn’t understand. And so it began.
I guess I see the Miss America Pageant as I see the Olympics. Are the women and athletes the best this country has to offer, of course not. The number one requirement for both competitions is a good financial base. I suspect for most Olympic sports there’s a young athlete living in America with no financial support that could beat the pants off the guy or gal standing on the Olympic podium.
For the Miss America Pageant there are gowns, hairstylists, personal trainers, competition fees and heaven knows what other expenses to be covered before a young woman walks on the stage in Atlantic City. I suspect there just might be another young woman sitting on her front porch somewhere in the US with a more beautiful face, and a perfect figure that would outshine any primped and pampered “official” Miss America contestant.
The criteria for selecting Miss America have changed over the years. The educational scholarships awarded have increased. While doing a little research for this blog, I came across a video of a Miss America contestant in the late 1950s who was asked this final question: “How would you get a boy on a first date to begin a conversation?” Her response: “Well, most boys play sports so I would ask him what sports he played. If he didn’t play a sport I would ask him what his hobbies were. If he didn’t have any hobbies I guess I’d just be quiet for the rest of the night.”
The new Miss America selected last night, 23 year old Mallory Hagan, was asked if armed guards should be in our schools. Her response, “We should not fight violence with violence;” a good answer to a question that would have been inconceivable 50 years ago. Who knew questions asked at Miss America competitions could reveal so much about the evolution of our society and the evolution of women’s role in dealing with the serious issues we are facing.
The new Miss America’s focus is preventing child sexual abuse; if one child is spared that trauma because of her celebrity then that’s a good thing. Yet, the Miss America Pageant is still a beauty competition where contestants smile their perfect smiles as they walk their well-choreographed walk across the stage in their skimpy little bathing suits showing off their perfectly sculptured little bodies telling all little girls watching that this is how the ideal American woman should look. That is not a good thing.
Another New Year’s Eve is here already. The older I get, it seems as though each year flies by more quickly than the last. Some of those years presented events that were uplifting and life changing, a graduation, a promotion, the start of a romance, a marriage, the birth of a child; other years were life changing in a sadder way, the loss of a loved one, the end of a friendship, a change in financial fortunes. Most years were a mix of both.
How I celebrate New Year’s Eve has changed over the years. As a child New Year’s Eve was always a family event. My sister, two brothers and I dressed in our party clothes and the evening began with the six of us sitting around the kitchen table enjoying a feast that mom prepared. After dinner and after the dishes were washed, dried and put away, we gathered in front of the Christmas tree and watched holiday programs on the black and white TV. Although we were allowed to stay up until midnight, we all fell asleep way before the midnight hour and dad carried us upstairs to our bedrooms one-by-one as we each lost the struggle to stay awake.
As a teenager I begged to spend the night at sleepovers at friends’ homes where we would make prank telephone calls, eat too much junk food, drink too much soda and listen to the latest records on portable record players.
After high school and during the early years of my marriage New Year’s Eve was date night, a time to buy a party dress, expensive shoes and join five or six other couples for a night of dancing, good food and way too much to drink. Eventually there came a time when getting dressed and going out into the cold, cold night was less inviting and staying home sitting in front of the fireplace and sharing a few glasses of good wine was more appealing.
Then I discovered skiing and spent New Year’s Eve in snow covered lodges. Although my body was weary from the day of exercise the warmth of the roaring fire, the comfort of the overstuffed chairs and quiet conversations with friends made for memories I will never forget.
When my son came along we celebrated New Year’s Eve in Lake Placid, NY, for the first five years of his life. I can still see him lying in the snow making snow angels, bundled up in his light blue snowsuit, wearing big red “moonboots,” red mittens snapped to his cuffs and a scarf tied tight around his neck. After a late afternoon nap we would walk around the village on New Year’s Eve looking at the holiday lights and watching the huskies pull sleighs filled with tourists across the frozen lake. As my son grew up, his dad and I divorced, and I went to work full time. While my son spent New Year’s Eve with friends, either at their homes or ours, I found myself lapsing into my childhood days of falling asleep before midnight.
Since then New Year’s Eve has been spent at small house parties, maybe dinner and a movie with family or a friend, an occasional date, but mostly, I like New Year’s Eve at home. One more quiet night in front of the Christmas tree before it’s taken down and the decorations are put away until next year.
However you spend New Year’s Eve I hope you have fun and stay safe. I hope 2013 brings you happiness and joy, good health and prosperity. With all its surprises, may 2013 be a good year for all of us.
The soldier was just beginning to sleep through the night again, although he had been home from the war for almost a year. The horrors he had seen no longer occupied his thoughts during his waking hours, but the images often returned with a vengeance while he slept, the sound of his own voice yelling into the darkness waking him before dawn.
The soldier’s wife lay next to him each night, her stomach swollen with the weight of their third child. Her husband’s night terrors no longer frightened her and she had learned how to calm him quickly so that their sleeping children would not wake up afraid. The child she was carrying, however, sensed the sudden surge of adrenaline in its mother’s veins and heard the muffled sound of its father’s anguish. How many millions of people began their existence like this unborn child, unlikely witnesses to the consequences of war?
Her husband did not have to go to war. He was almost 28 years old when he and a group of his friends enlisted. She was four months pregnant with their second child, their daughter was just two years old. She understood his desire to defend his country, and she could only imagine what he went through overseas, but she had also suffered, the two years he was away were the most difficult years of the young mother’s life.
On a crisp September morning shortly after midnight, their third child, a daughter, came into the world in the last delivery room on the right, on the second floor of a beautiful, Federal style building that housed the Leonard Hospital in the Lansingburgh section of Troy, New York. Mom and daughter spent ten days in the hospital before coming home, which was the custom at that time. During those ten days, they shared a large open room on the second floor, just down the hall from where the child was born, with eight other mothers and their newborns
The soldier’s daughter lived a happy life. A few years after she was born, her family moved away from Lansingburgh to the eastside of Troy. She returned to Lansingburgh most Saturdays during her childhood to visit her maternal grandmother. When she was a teenager, she traveled by bus to the Catholic high school in Lansingburgh which was a few short blocks from the hospital where she was born.
After high school, the soldier’s daughter took a job away from her hometown, married and began a family of her own. During the next 65 years she raised her two children, said goodbye to the soldier and his wife, sent her children off to college, watched them marry and have children of their own, said goodbye to her husband of 60 years and met her grandchildren’s children. When she was 84 her son, who had moved to Lansingburgh after a number of job promotions and transfers, found her an apartment in a newly renovated building dedicated to senior housing.
It was a small, but sunny apartment on the second floor of the lovely old building. Her great grandchildren were in high school at her old alma mater which was only a few short blocks away from her apartment and they would often stop by to say hello on their way home from school. She enjoyed spending time with her neighbors and felt particularly at home in the large community room a few doors down the hall from her apartment. She lived three happy years in that apartment until the morning of her 87th birthday when she simply did not wake up.
It was not until a year after the solder’s daughter passed away, that her son discovered that the beautiful building that housed the senior apartments where his mother spent the last three years of her life was originally the Leonard Hospital. He never found out that the bedroom where his mom passed away had been the last delivery room on the right, the room where she was born.
When I was a kid we made colorful American Indian headdresses in school around Thanksgiving time. We traced “feathers” on color sheets of contact paper, cut them out with small plastic scissors, and then, using Elmer’s Glue, attached the “feathers” to a foot long, 2-inch wide strip of paper that we formed into a circle, glued at the end and voila, we popped our “authentic” Indian gear onto our heads.
The American Indians pictured in the holiday cards and paintings I saw as a child were smiling, friendly people. The men wore leather britches and vests, beaded moccasins and feathers stuck in leather bands wrapped around their foreheads. The Indian women wore long leather dresses with fringe that reached to the top of their beaded moccasins. Their dresses were gathered at the waist with leather strips and their long, black, straight hair was loosely pulled into pony tails at the back of their necks. The women smiled while carrying large bowls of corn to the long Thanksgiving table in the open field.
The Pilgrims, dressed in black and white, looked more austere. The men dressed in short pants and black stockings, wore pointed black shoes with buckles and high heels, and large white square bibs slit down the middle. They wore tall black hats with buckles at the headbands. The Pilgrim women wore white cotton aprons tied at the waist over their long dresses, the hems skirting the ground. Their long hair was gathered at the back of their necks and covered with white cotton head pieces.
I was taught the “original” Thanksgiving was a celebration of a successful harvest, that the Indians taught the settlers what crops to grow and how to acclimate to their new climate. It all seemed so civilized until years later when I began to put the pieces together and realized the relationship between the Indians and settlers ultimately turned into a mutually destructive one in the short run, and devastating for the Indian nations in the long run. The settlers considered the land the “New World,” a country to be claimed, the Indians considered the land “Their World,” already claimed. We all know the outcome of that sad story, as a result of greed and inhumanity, the Indian’s land was taken from them by force.
Like so many of the stories I was taught as a child, in reality the story that supports the Thanksgiving holiday does not have a happy ending. Yet, Thanksgiving has taken on a life of its own and the premise of the holiday works well for me and millions of others. It’s life-affirming to have a day to give thanks. A day to remember all the good people who have come into our lives; some stayed, some left and some were taken from us. A day to be thankful for our families; the one we grew up in and the one we built ourselves. A day to be thankful for the roof over our head and the food on our table; to literally count our blessings and to appreciate our good fortune.
Thanksgiving is good for family continuity as well. So many Thanksgiving Day stories are repeated at the Thanksgiving dinner table year after year and they all begin with “Remember when …” Who can forget the year of the great blizzard when two feet of snow covered everyone’s cars by the time dinner was over, or the year Aunt Jan forgot to take out the packet of giblets before cooking the turkey, or the year the Garfield balloon flew away during the Macy’s Parade. The younger generations feign disinterest but eventually will repeat the best of the stories to their new families in the years to come.
Like everyone else, I lead a busy life and mostly take for granted everyone and everything that keeps me and my life together. It’s a good thing that once a year my world stops and forces me to look at who and what I have in my life and to be grateful.
I hope you have a memorable Thanksgiving Day; one that will provide happy family stories to be repeated around the Thanksgiving table in years to come.
One year ago today I nervously pushed the computer button that sent this website out into the cosmos. After weeks of preparation, it was a relief when my site appeared on my computer screen. All the photos were straight and the format looked as I hoped it would. I installed a counter to indicate how many times people visited. I installed it almost as an afterthought, simply because it was an option. Looking back I’m glad I did.
It’s a strange feeling to send stories and thoughts out into the world, not knowing who, if anyone would read them. After a number of months, I noticed the counter began to tell me things about my writing. When I sent a new blog out and monitored the counter I could tell which blogs people were reading and which blogs drew a lesser audience.
Sometimes the blogs that attracted the most visits were blogs that just flowed easily but in my mind were not my best. Other times I worked hard at finding the right words to express what I wanted to say and those blogs received a mediocre response. Sometimes it was the opposite. It’s impossible to know if the writing or subject matter, or both, were of interest.
What I do know is that as of this morning my website had 49, 182 visits this year; a mind-boggling amount to me. When the website started a year ago I was thrilled when the counter told me 30 people were reading my blogs each week. As the numbers kept growing I began to wonder who these people were, these wonderful people who were taking the time to stop and read what I had to say.
These people are you, of course. Whether you’re a personal friend I’ve known for years, a Facebook friend I’ve never met, or someone sitting at your kitchen table in your robe, slippers and pjs thousands of miles from me, you know me very well by now and I thank you for reading my comments and stories.
Many of you shared my sadness when Taylor, my beloved dog that was in my life for 15 years, died last November and then my joy and happiness when I adopted silly Riley, the littlebrowndog, from the local humane society. You traveled back in time with me to my childhood and read my rants and comments about current events. You read my stories about knights and dragons, movie stars, mischievous cats, ghosts and witches and Halloween.
Over the summer you came with me to camp. You spent time with me at midnight standing at the water’s edge watching the moon dance across the pond. On another evening we watched the Civil War encampment across the same pond and along with all of my camping friends marveled at the fireworks lighting up the summer night sky as the kids lay in the grass at our feet, tired from a day of swimming in the pond under the hot summer sun. You went to camp with the littlebrowndog.
And when my life got too hectic and I had no time to write you waited patiently for my return.
Thank you, again, for reading my words. It’s encouraging to know that you are out there and I’m looking forward to Red Geraniums on a Summer Day’s second year.
Halloween – Part III
The soggy toilet paper sheets clung to the cardboard roll, resisting being draped over the bushes in front of the dark apartment with the tell-tale flickering TV light. Frustrated in their determination to leave behind a message of disapproval, the three teenage boys checked their pockets for eggs and soap. The eggs were long gone, currently oozing down randomly selected apartment doors and car windows. Jeremy did find a piece of soap in the pillow case filled with candy that he carried over his shoulder and quietly scribbled an obscenity across the apartment door.
Mission accomplished, they casually sauntered down the sidewalk toward the next apartment building pushing forward against the wind and keeping their faces down against the pelting rain that made pockmarks in the hobo beards they had painted on their faces with burnt cork. Their conversation was peppered with every swear word and obscenity they had ever read or heard as they enjoyed the freedom of speech they were not allowed in their homes.
“Did you hear that?” Jeremy asked. “I can’t hear nothin but the wind.” Don replied looking over at Jeremy’s puzzled face. “Me either,” Mike second. “Funny,” Jeremy replied. “I thought I heard Timmy yelling something.” “Timmy wouldn’t be out in this weather this late on Halloween night,” Don offered, “Your mom would kill him.” “Sure, you’re right.” Jeremy agreed but he still looked up and down the street and across the big field.
Halloween – Part IV
Izzabell surged forward, stumbling through the underbrush beside the muddy path. Her muscles ached, but she had long sense stopped giving them any mind, the adrenaline rushing through her veins overriding any other feeling.
She knew she was near the top of the hill and would soon begin to see street lights but the panic that consumed her only allowed for one coherent word that played over and over again in her mind … run … run.
When she crested the hill the strong wind stopped her in her tracks, even forcing her to take a few steps back. Over her shoulder she saw the bright green eyes getting closer, moving faster now. Izzabell bolted, using every ounce of strength she had left; she put her head down and ran as fast as her 12 year old legs would carry her.
She ran across the soaked lawns of what appeared to be empty houses, then her bare feet hit the pavement of the road that circled the project. Should she stay on the well-lit road hoping someone would see her in the glare of the street lights, or should she take the darker route between the buildings that would get her home quicker?
No time to puzzle it through, she ran down the paved street, her image appearing and disappearing as she ran through the bright circles cast by the overhead street lights onto the surface of the road. Still running, in the darkness now, she looked over her shoulder and the breath left her lungs when she saw the large orange tiger, green eyes glaring, race through a circle of light and into the darkness in her direction.
Spinning around in the dark she took two steps and bumped into something so substantial she fell down.
“Izzabell!” “What are you doing running around in the dark by yourself?” Jeremy asked as he reached down and pulled his kid sister to her feet. “Jeremy is that really you?” were the only words Izzabell could speak. Then, “The tiger, where is the tiger?” “Tiger?” Jeremy echoed while Don and Mike chuckled by his side. “Timothy, she took Timothy,” Izzabell screamed. “Timothy? Who took Timothy and why would he be out so late?” Jeremy asked, while the memory of hearing Timmy’s voice in the wind just a few minutes before made the hairs on his arms stand up.
Outside the old house where Timothy was held prisoner, overgrown tendrils of bushes that had not been trimmed in years scratched at the brittle wood siding and the wind rattled the cracked windows in their casings. Outside the old house Timothy heard the footfalls of something big pacing back and forth in the yard.
Inside the dirty drafty house Timothy sat in the corner watching the ugly old woman use a hammer to break the wooden chair into pieces that would fit into the fireplace. “I’m scared,” Timothy told the old woman expecting her to sympathize as his family would. Instead she turned and looked at the dirty little urchin in the corner, “Of course you are little one,” she said in a honey sweet voice, “but don’t worry, it will be over soon.” Timothy did not feel better. He felt even worse when the lights went out.
The old woman cursed the storm and began rummaging through drawers in the dark. Talking to herself she momentarily forgot about the little boy in the corner who was now slowly crawling over the rough wood floor toward the front door. The black cat began meowing and ran to the old woman, spitting and scratching, trying to bring her attention to the boy, but the cat got kicked out of the way for its trouble, screeching as it flew by Timothy and bounced off the ancient worn out couch.
When he got to the door, Timothy stood up quietly, reached his small hand under the stained and tattered once-white curtain, found the door knob and turned it. Immediately, the wind rushed into the room slamming the door against the wall and missing the little boy by an inch. The old woman spun around, grabbed a knife from the counter and rushed toward Timothy who was frozen in place.
That’s when a hand reached into the room, grabbed Timothy by the collar and yanked him out the open doorway.
Timothy, Izzabell, Jeremy and his friends were already half a block away by the time the Cat Lady reached her front porch. By the time she found her broom and released the green eyed tiger they had crossed the road and were running in the dark between the apartment buildings. Don’s apartment was the closest so they ran there; all five of them rushing into the small living room at the same time and slamming the door shut behind them just as the Cat Lady flew over the roof of the building and the tiger leaped onto the concrete front porch.
Don’s parents were mildly amused by the Halloween story the kids had concocted and somewhat impressed by their acting skills, but when the story was done, they admonished the kids for making fun of the poor old lady that lived all alone across the street.
Parents were called and came to collect their kids while Izzabell struggled to come up with an explanation of why she and Timothy were out on Halloween night when she had told her parents they were going to a Halloween party at Pattie’s apartment in the next building. She decided not to tell them she had taken Timmy down the path to go trick or treating.
Of course, not one of their parents believed the story about the Cat Lady. When Timothy began having nightmares and didn’t want to sleep alone in his bed anymore Izzabell and Jeremy were grounded for a week for involving him in such a frightening story.
Meanwhile, inside the dilapidated old gray house across the street, the Cat Lady and her pets waited patiently for Halloween night to come again.
Halloween, Part I
The wind roared past her ears blowing coarse strands of her long brown hair into her eyes, forcing her to close them tight even though she feared taking her eyes off the muddy dirt path that twisted close to her hiding place in the old tree stump. She could still hear the old woman’s cackle as she swept down out of the pitch black and scooped Timothy off his feet pulling him 10, 30, 50 feet up into the black starless sky; one of his small shoes zigzagging in the wind and tumbling to the ground.
Now the small brown shoe bobbed in a deep mud puddle not five feet from her trembling hand, but she dared not reach for it. She huddled in the tree stump, pushing her body as far back against the rotting wood as possible, hiding, and afraid at any moment she would hear the rustling of the old woman’s filthy clothes and feel her wrinkled spotted hand grab at her hair.
The sky opened up and cold rain pummeled her head and shoulders; mixing with the warm tears running down Izzabell’s muddied face. Her brown flannel Halloween costume soaked up the water like a sponge and suddenly she began to shiver. Izzabell wanted nothing more than to give up, to curl into a ball and cry herself into oblivion. Yet Timothy’s sweet face as she last saw it, eyes wide with terror and begging her to save him, was burned into her memory and she could not desert him.
Wiping her nose on the damp sleeve of her costume, Izzabell fought to regain control, to overcome the immobilizing fear that gripped her. Slowly she raised her head and peeked over the raw edges of the tree stump. She could smell the wet dirt and moldy leaves all around her. The night was pitch black. The rain pounded to the ground and she could no longer see Timothy’s shoe or the puddle it lie in.
Without warning lightning struck a large tree on the opposite side of the dirt path. Suddenly there was white light all around her and as the light faded into dark again she watched the splintered tree tumble toward the ground and crash into the mud not a foot away from her hiding spot. Looking over the top of the fallen tree and across the dirt path, she thought she saw a pair of bright green eyes a split second before everything went black.
Feeling more vulnerable than ever, Izzabell crawled out of the stump and, crouching close to the ground, using the rain and darkness as cover, she made her way to the wooded area behind her, disappearing into the underbrush just as the next lightning bolt lit up the sky. She held her breath until darkness returned and muffled a gasp when the darkness revealed a set of bright green eyes peering out from inside the stump she had just vacated.
Unable to control her terror, Izzabell stood up and ran for her life, following the muddy path up the hill. Broken tree branches grabbed at her flannel shirt, clutching pieces of torn fabric in their jagged edges as Izzabell stumbled past. The more brazen and taller trees pulled out strands of her long, flying hair. Great sunken mud holes sucked at her worn brown shoes until she was barefoot, her icy feet now slapping the cold, wet ground. She threw a furtive glance over her shoulder and saw the bright green eyes following her, slowly, at a distance. The slow confidence of the pursuit only terrified her more.
Halloween, Part II
Timothy watched as Izzabell disappeared below him. He felt the long nails of the old woman digging into his neck, piercing through his woolen sweater, through the flimsy material of his Spiderman costume. He thought she might drop him at any moment, and at 5 years old he was old enough to understand what would happen to him if he fell to the ground as he and the old woman on the broom soared higher and higher.
In spite of the fear, a part of his 5 year old brain was intrigued by the fact that he was flying, looking at clouds below rather than above him. Looking down he saw the apartment buildings of the housing project where he lived laid out like disconnected dominos and he could see groups of older neighborhood kids still trick or treating. He yelled at them to save him but the night wind caught his words and blew them away. If only they had looked up, they would have seen the old woman on the broom, Timothy’s body dangling precariously from her hand, as they flew in front of the full moon that peered out from behind approaching storm clouds.
The old woman dug her nails into Timothy’s shoulder forcing him to stop screaming and bringing his attention back to her rambling, cackling, sounds. He heard bonfire, boy, cook, young and succulent. In a heart-stopping moment, he understood and prayed that someone would find him in time.
Abruptly the broom lost altitude and began to circle down around a clearing in the woods across the street from the project. The smelly old woman became more agitated and excited as they bounced to a landing. She dragged Timothy along behind her, rocks and sticks cutting his flesh and bruising his shaking body. Timothy heard the squeaking sound of a door opening, and then he was bumped over a threshold and tossed across a dirty floor sliding until he slammed into a wall.
Immediately the old woman hobbled to the fireplace that was smoldering in the corner of the room and began rummaging through the empty wood box. Realizing there was no dry wood, she screamed in frustration. The scream startled Timothy and woke the large black cat that had been sleeping on the room’s one wooden chair. Softly the cat slithered off the chair; frowning at Timothy as it walked by as though it blamed him for the old woman’s rage, then it crept into the dark shadows of the room hoping to hide from the old woman’s fury.
For the first time this fall, the furnace in my house kicked on early this morning. Evidently the inside temperature got low enough to trigger the living room thermostat. Even the low hum of the new furnace was loud enough to disturb my sleep. My ears acknowledged the unfamiliar sound, my brain processed what was causing it and then the rest of me rolled over and went back to sleep.
As an adult the furnace cranking up means increases in my utility bills, cold and snowy weather ahead and it prods me to begin searching for my warm winter coat.
It also reminds me of my dad walking from radiator to radiator in our house when I was a kid, bleeding the water from each four-foot high, white unit. The radiators always reminded me of pictures I had seen of the Loch Ness Monster, its serpentine back bulging again and again into multiple humps. I never paid any attention to how warm the house was when I was a kid or when the radiators began throwing heat. Warmth, food, clean clothes, and gifts from Santa and chocolate from the Easter Bunny were simple facts of life.
Another fact of life was that if I dragged my feet through the accumulated leaves on the sidewalks while walking home from school on crisp autumn afternoons mom would yell at me for getting my “good” school shoes dusty and dirty. Yet, those crunchy leaves were always hard to resist and most times I gave into the temptation, deciding the fun of skipping in the leaves was worth facing mom’s wrath.
My friends and I couldn’t get home from school fast enough in the fall. As we ran by the buildings in The Heights, the housing project where we lived, our fast moving little group lost one runner after another, each dropping out to rush into their apartment and change into “play clothes” vowing to meet up “in a minute” at whatever gathering place was the current “secret” location.
Of course, “in a minute” meant first gobbling down the snack our moms had waiting for us, answering all her questions about what kind of day we had at school, finding and changing into sweaters and sneakers and old corduroy pants, being careful to hang up our school uniforms, and finally keeping our fingers crossed that our moms wouldn’t ask, “Do you have a lot of homework?” In my house if the answer was “yes” to that question, mom’s response would be “Then you’d better do your homework first before you go out and play.”
Well, I had fallen for that ploy enough to know that the best response to the homework question was to lie. If I answered “yes” and started my homework, by the time the homework was done, the street lights would be on outside and it would be too late to go out and play. So I did what every red-blooded American kid would do. I looked mom right in the eye and with the most innocent face I could muster, I replied, “No, not much.” It all kind of balanced out in the end because those little white lies became fodder for the confessional on Saturday afternoons.
Once released by our moms, we would bounce our bikes down the concrete steps of our front porches and speed off to the “secret” meeting place, which was always easy to find because of the number of bikes lying on the ground in front of it. First we would begin building a huge pile of dry, sweet smelling leaves to jump in; each of us picking up armfuls of leaves that inevitably spilled in streams of colors behind us. Once the pile was as big as we were willing to spend time on, we would form a long row, hold hands, charge the pile and leap as our screams and laughter blew away in the late afternoon breeze. Occasionally, small heads would clank together, maybe a new tooth would loosen, but in the end those minor medical issues were a small price to pay for the sheer fun of it all.
Life’s pleasures as well as its disappointments are often the unexpected people and events that jump in front of us as we’re traveling along. Like road bumps we didn’t see and all of a sudden we’re being jostled and wondering what we hit. Always a relief to find it was just a road bump.
Over the past few months highway elves have been busy while I and the people in my community sleep. One morning it’s the same old exit ramp, the very next morning the exit ramp is shiny and new. Bright and straight yellow lines painted on a new black roadway that was laid down during the night. The three lane highway thousands of people travel during the day, suddenly one morning has a new black passing lane stretching down ten exits. That new lane beckons all the drivers to step on the gas, give it a whirl. It looks so inviting lying next to the middle and slow lanes that look dull and sluggish by comparison.
I suppose I could have educated myself by reading the newspaper articles about the roadwork but then it would not have been a surprise and I kind of like not knowing what to expect in the morning; takes some of the dull out of my morning commute. Therefore, it becomes a Good Unexpected.
On the other hand, I have been shocked by all of the unexpected advertisements that people leave on my website. They leave them in the Guestbook and leave them as comments at the bottom of my blogs. Hundreds of ads for shoes, hair loss, Viagra, knock-offs. It amazes me that people think it is okay to violate a personal website in such a manner. It feels like they’re walking up to my house and pasting ads all over it when I’m not looking. I, of course, have to spend my time deleting their ads, pulling them off the side of my house so to speak and cleaning up my website. Bad Unexpected.
Then, of course, there are the “Big Unexpecteds;” the 2am phone call from a stranded family member whose need for a ride requires us to climb out of our warm bed and come to the rescue, or the 2am phone call that brings more ominous news. Most of us have experienced the sudden and unexpected change of heart in a loved one that changes the trajectory of our lives.
One could say we spend our whole lives dealing with the unexpected. We establish routines and order in our lives, but we know deep inside that at any moment our lives can unexpectedly change forever, for better or worse, in a big dramatic way, or a smaller “isn’t that interesting” way.
For me, it comes down to finding a balance. To acknowledge that so much of my life is out of my control yet I can plan and dream and hope. I can arrange my life so that I spend most of my time doing with I enjoy, or earning money to finance what I enjoy. I have learned that living in the moment and being honest with myself helps me to be happy.
Living in the moment allows me to focus on and enjoy all the pleasures in my life “right now” instead of spending my time worrying about what might be coming around the corner or wishing to change the past. The past is gone and I will deal with what’s coming around the corner if and when it arrives. In the meantime, the cup of tea I’m drinking is warm and delicious and the music floating out from my CD player is incredibly beautiful.
Facing the events in my life as honestly as I can, knowing who I really am whether I like all of me or not, knowing what I really think and believe is always a work in progress, but at each stage of its development knowing these things allows some stability when the unexpected occurs.
One final word, faith. It is a huge step to accept the notion that where we are today is exactly where we should be, that all the good and bad events of our lives have happened for a reason. It’s a huge step to accept the notion that there is a benevolent force somewhere that cares about us and asks that we have faith that all of what happens to us will someday make sense. We can choose to believe or not, free will and all that jazz. I find it comforting to believe.
It didn’t hurt at all when She died. When She stepped into the street She was so busy checking the messages on Her cell phone that it wasn’t until She heard the screeching of the truck’s brakes that She looked up and, of course, by then it was too late. The look on the truck driver’s face was the last image She saw before She died. Remembering his owl-eyes and the “oh gods” he kept screaming as the momentum of the truck sealed Her fate and his, always makes Her smile although She knows She shouldn’t.
Of course, he was correct; God had everything to do with the accident, but not in a negative way. It was Her time to move on and his time to learn the effect of a few too many lunchtime beers on his driving reflexes.
Since that afternoon She has watched over Sam, the truck driver, as he struggles with guilt. Whenever She becomes aware that he is spiraling into a downward funk, She whispers in his ear that it was Her fault too and reminds him that since he has stopped the excessive drinking his life has improved. He realizes how important his wife and his children are to him now and no longer takes life for granted. She whispers that’s the lesson learned and encourages him to move on with his life.
She isn’t quite sure where She is. She only knows it is a good place. A place populated by the people She had loved and who arrived there before Her. They come and go when She thinks of them. There are no houses or streets or forms of transportation. She doesn’t sleep but is never tired. She never has a pain. She never has a moment of anxiety, anger, indecision, self-doubt or regret. She always feels calm, fearless and loved. There are no mirrors, and She has no idea what She looks like, but Her loved-ones look exactly as She remembers them so She assumes She does too and honestly, it really doesn’t matter.
It is more of an atmosphere than a destination. It is sunny without the sun, green, blue and white without the trees, grass, sky and clouds. It is always pleasingly calm and peaceful.
She quickly realized that She could still interact with the people She loved on earth. All She has to do is think of them, or, they think of Her, and She is standing beside them at the coffee shop, work, movies, doing laundry, wherever. Of course, they cannot see Her, but they can hear Her if they listen. She has become one of their many Guardian Angels.
For months after her death She was beside Margie, Her grieving sister. Night time was the hardest for Margie so She would lie on the bed next to her and repeat over and over that She was happy, that mom and dad were with Her and even Her dogs were there when She arrived. Eventually the message got through to Margie and slowly she began to recover from the shock of losing her sister.
As the years passed, She watched over Margie. When She was alive She knew Margie’s shy and sensitive nature was a handicap. Although Margie was smart, funny and beautiful, she never had confidence in herself and as a result often ended up in relationships with men who did not appreciate her and as one bad relationship followed another Margie began to give up on people and life, until she became so reclusive that she only left her house to go to work and take care of the details of her life.
She knew Margie was missing joy in her life and wanted that for her, but She could not directly interfere in Margie’s decisions, She could only be the voice in her ear encouraging her not to give up, to continue to look for happiness. Then, one night, Margie was on her computer and an unknown man popped on her screen to comment on something she had posted. Margie felt a spark of interest and She felt it simultaneously and found Herself leaning over Margie looking at the screen.
She wished that She had the power to find out more about this man but She could only sense people She had known before She died. Nevertheless, She whispered in Margie’s ear that he was kind of cute and seemed very friendly, maybe Margie should keep her eye on this one. Margie didn’t like being interested in this man; she had given up on that aspect of her life and didn’t want to get involved. Margie turned off the computer and went to bed.
She, on the other hand, was intrigued and had a good feeling about this guy. Over the next few weeks, he commented on Margie’s page and showed an interest in her. Margie kept her distance; responding only occasionally, not encouraging anything further. She did not give up, and as Margie fell asleep each night, She would whisper had she noticed that “the guy” had visited her page that day, shouldn’t she respond?
After months of whispered encouragement, Margie finally broke down and began to have conversations with Jim on the computer, which led to even longer phone conversations. The more they chatted the more they realized how much they had in common until the day came when they met in person and by “they,” I mean Margie, Jim and She.
She liked Jim right away and sensed that Margie did too. It was obvious the feelings were mutual. He was handsome, warm, friendly and straightforward. She knew Jim was going to be good for Margie and was happy to see Margie out in the world, laughing again and was thankful that Jim proved to be a kind and thoughtful man.
She did not have the ability to see the future which is why She was surprised when She sensed Margie’s restlessness with Jim. Now that Margie was back out in the world she longed to keep her options open and Margie and Jim soon drifted apart.
She was surprised to find that even though She did not know Jim when She was alive, She was able to bond with him and over the years She watched his life and sometimes whispered in his ear. She saw him marry, watched his children play, and then watched them grow to have children of their own. She watched him struggle in his marriage and start a single life when he was an older man. She watched him grow older and wiser and when the time came for him to leave earth, he left bravely and optimistically.
Then one day not too long after Jim died, he showed up in Her world and She was not surprised. Margie had passed years before and often visited Her and happened to be there at the time Jim arrived. Jim acknowledged Margie, but walked toward Her with a smile on his face as though they had known each other forever and She instantly knew that they had. Taking Her hands he told Her he was happy to finally meet his Guardian Angel.
You may have noticed that I call my dog the littlebrowndog. The reason I call him the littlebrowndog is because when I first saw him, that was my first thought. My two previous dogs were either 100 lbs. or heavier so this little 40 lbs. dog looks so small to me.
When the lights went up on the stage last night and I saw Bob Dylan in person for the first time, my first thought was Bob Dylan is the littlewhitehairedguy. Bob Dylan is a slip of a man, small and thin with tall white hair, except for his sideburns which are black. He wore loose white slacks and what appeared to be white sneakers and a black jacket over a white shirt.
He may be small in stature, but he is a huge talent.
I left the Adirondacks Sunday afternoon at 1 and planned to arrive at my motel in Liberty, NY by 3, take a quick shower and then drive the 12 miles to Bethel Woods with plenty of time to walk through the Woodstock Music Festival museum and check out the grounds before the Bob Dylan concert at 8. I had a plan. As we all know plans don’t always work out as we … well, planned. No problem up north, I zipped down the Northway until, ironically, I hit the exit that would take me home but, of course, I wasn’t going home. There was a car accident four exits south and I sat in my car in bumper-to-bumper traffic for one hour. As the time ticked away it became obvious it would be well after 4pm before I arrived in Liberty. The only thought that kept me calm was that if I had left up north at the time I originally planned, it could have been me in that accident.
Once I got off the Thruway at the Kingston exit, the drive became more interesting. I passed a penitentiary, drove through an Indian Reservation, and saw many signs written in Hebrew at the end of long driveways that led to pockets of small cabins that accommodate Jews who live in commune-like communities. I passed Swan Lake and White Lake. I passed the Swan Lake Resort which is closed and for sale and looks very much like the resort from the Jack Nicholson movie, The Shining. I knew I was getting closer to my destination when I began to see large hand painted signs that read: “Every day is Earth Day” and “Give Peace a Chance.” At 5pm I drove into the parking lot of the Days Inn in Liberty; which, by the way, I would recommend if you ever go to Bethel Woods. It’s located on a busy street but it’s surrounded by places to eat, the rooms are quiet and clean and it’s only a 12 mile drive to Bethel.
A quick shower and I was on the grounds at Bethel by 6. I had anticipated another round of bumper-to-bumper traffic but it was a smooth ride to the parking lot. It’s a huge parking area, poles and street lights where pastures used to be. Chunks of crushed stone define driving lanes in that parking area. A paved road that leads to “premium” parking spaces runs alongside the graveled parking lot. The “premium” parking is much closer to the Shed which is the venue for the concerts at Bethel Woods although even from that parking area it’s a hike down a brick walkway.
Bethel Woods Entertainment Center for the Arts was what I expected, but was not what I had hoped to find. There was a spirit of love, gentleness, peace and generosity at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival that I did not feel at Bethel Woods. From the $15 fee to go into the Woodstock Museum to the $25 fee for “premium” parking, to the booths with colored lights that lined the brick pathway to the music Shed, some selling “genuine Woodstock” paraphernalia, it all seemed almost contrary to the spirit of Woodstock.
Feeling somewhat disappointed, I found my seat inside the Shed and began to wait for the program to begin. The man at the end of the two empty seats beside me struck up a conversation. He knew a lot about Bob Dylan. He had seen him perform four times. He warned me that at age 71 Bob Dylan’s voice was pretty shot and that I probably would not hear many of the classic Dylan songs that most people expect at his concerts. I had heard both of those warnings before but was excited to see this icon for myself.
Before last night’s concert I admired Bob Dylan’s poetry and music but he always seemed to be somewhat of a snob; one of those moody intellectuals who might reluctantly acquiesce to entertain. Last night changed my mind. Within ten minutes, it seemed obvious that Mr. Dylan did not like the spotlight but that he loved making music. The few times he did take center stage, he seemed reluctant to do so. When standing center stage he has a habit of lifting one leg at a time, bending it at the knee and pulling his foot off the floor. The gesture reminded me of a pony that didn’t want to stand still.
He seemed most comfortable to the right of the stage at the keyboard, just another member of the band. And what a band it was; three guitars, drums, bass and a second keyboard. The music they played was straight up rock and roll, blues, jazz and funk. All the pieces had a definite rhythm that would pull you right in and just as the rhythm became comfortable they would crank it up and literally rock the house. It felt like I was sitting in someone’s parlor listening to them jam. Bob sang every song and it occurred to me he had finally grown up. He wasn’t the angry young man anymore; he was an accomplished musician who loved his work.
It also occurred to me that there were times when his voice sounded like Jimmy Durante doing an impression of Bob Dylan. But then he’d bring a word up to that high place where no one but Bob Dylan goes and I would smile to myself and think, yup, that’s Bob Dylan alright. I also developed a theory about his annunciation. It seemed to me that if he wanted the audience to understand something, he could be articulate. The best example is this: the band was rocking a song and Bob Dylan was singing along and I wasn’t sure what he was saying when suddenly, very clearly he sang, “Do you think I’m too old? Am I past my prime? Well, what have YOU got?” Brought down the house and he kept singing, didn’t miss a note.
Another interesting twist in the concert that kept everyone on their toes is he would sing one of his classics, with a totally different cadence and melody but the words were the same. He was at least a minute into Like a Rolling Stone before I heard him sing, “And say do you want to make a deal?” and realized what was coming next. I think it dawned on most of the crowd at the same time because a roar filled the Shed.
The concert lasted a little over an hour and I was sorry that it ended. He introduced the band, sang the last song and walked off the stage after a thank you to the audience and most of us felt, given his reputation, that it was over. Nevertheless, most of the audience kept clapping and much to my surprise Bob Dylan and the band came back onto the stage and sang an almost completely unrecognizable, yet fantastic version of Blowing in the Wind. One final bow and those pony steps, and he was gone.
I ended the day the way I started, in bumper-to-bumper traffic and fell right to sleep when I got back to my motel room at 1:30 this morning.
Before the Dylan concert, when I was chatting with the man next to me, he told me that the site of the original Woodstock concert was about two football fields away from where we were sitting in the Shed. He told me there was a plaque with the names of all the bands that performed at Woodstock and that the outline of the original stage was still visible in the open fields. How could I go home without seeing the original concert site when I was so close? I simply could not.
This morning I got up, packed my car and drove back to Bethel Woods. This time I drove past the museum and Shed down a small hill and pulled off into a small parking area. After walking down a short lane, there it was in the distance. Down at the bottom of the hill was a stage-sized defined area outlined in small stones, green and covered with clover-like plants. I opened the gate and took the walk down to the stage area where I stood in the middle looking up at the sprawling hillside and could imagine every inch taken up by happy music lovers doing their thing. I could imagine Janis Joplin standing there, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and Stevie Nicks. I watched a man about my age walking across the”stage” with a young couple. He had been at the original Woodstock and led them up the hillside to show them where he had camped. Two couples were walking down and around the hillside as though it was sacred ground.
Surrounded by the quiet, peaceful simplicity of the hillside, it felt like sacred ground to me. As I looked around, in that moment, Bethel Woods redeemed itself. While music certainly was the purpose of Woodstock, I do not think it is just the music that makes people like me visit the concert site, stand on that “stage” and feel something special happened there. That site resonates with the spirit of Woodstock, with everything good that was a part of my generation’s need for peace, tolerance, kindness and taking care of each other. This may sound naive in today’s cynical world, but the site resonates with the LOVE and HOPE that those kids believed in.
Those kids are the same kids that have created today’s world that in so many ways is the opposite of what they hoped for back then. Nevertheless, for me today was an epiphany. It reminded me of what was important to me back then and driving home gave me time to rethink some things and make new commitments. It’s never too late.
Directly overhead is a canvass canopy, semitransparent, white with blue stripes. Leaf-shaped shadows dance on the canopy to the music of the light breeze. And, oh, that gentle breeze cooler than warm climbing up the hill and pushing through the surrounding trees. It’s a clear, clean breeze forcing me to brush wisps of hair off of my face.
The branches of the pine trees are so delicate in the breeze, surrendering to its whims, gently rising then falling, swaying north than south. Next to the pine trees, the taller oaks and elms resist the breeze, firm in their centuries old resolve not to be effected, yet the persistent breeze coaxes and teases until little by little even their ancient leaves respond, reminding me of someone who unsuccessfully tries not to laugh while being tickled.
The early afternoon sun penetrates and lights up the leaves in its path creating lacy patches of green throughout the woods. The poor leaves on the sun’s periphery dull and dark in comparison, but their time will come as the sun slides across the afternoon sky.
At the bottom of the small hill, beneath the shadows of the trees, a stream of mountain water lazily wanders down a path it has been following for hundreds of years, trickling over or sliding around and under rocks and fallen trees and branches. Once beyond the trees, the stream is greeted by the afternoon sun and surrounded by marsh grasses of neon green. Frogs and snakes and occasionally a crane live in that neon green grass. They go about their business doing whatever they are inclined to do and every once in a while they thrill or frighten a curious camper. At night the frogs croak for hours.
I think the stream lingers there for a while, basking in the sunshine, but eventually is forced to move forward, out into the wide open pond. There the little stream is forced to join the other mountain streams that empty into the pond and becomes a part of a larger whole.
Rippling circles on the surface of the pond attest to the variety of fish that live there and once in a while a large snapping turtle defiantly creeps across the dirt road from the pond on its way to who knows where. Beautiful, iridescent blue and green colored dragon flies and small flea-like insects skip on the water’s surface just daring the fish to take a bite.
The breeze carries the sound of children splashing and laughing in the pond as well as the chirp from a chipmunk, a single tweet from a bird, the shuffle of little paws rushing across dried grass, the subliminal sounds of the crickets and all the other bugs and insects that live in the woods and the pond.
It is such a beautiful day here I couldn’t resist writing about it.
Can you go back to a place you have never been before? I think there are certain circumstances that allow that to happen. Take Woodstock, the iconic music festival of 1969, for example. That music festival was named after a small town in New York State. The festival was actually held on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, NY, 40 miles from the Town of Woodstock. I cannot tell you why the festival is remembered as “Woodstock” rather than “Bethel,” other than that it was promoted as "Woodstock ... three days of peace and music."
In 1969 I was 22 years old, newly married and living in Troy, NY, approximately 120 miles from Bethel, a relatively easy car ride away. I wanted to go to the Woodstock Music Festival to hear all the great performers: Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Joan Baez, The Who, Santana, Creedence Clearwater, Jefferson Airplane, The Band, just to name a few. I lobbied my new husband to make the trip with me. It was before I had my feminist conscience raised and it never occurred to me to go with other friends. Although he and I were the same age, I was already running down a much more open-minded path than the conservative road my new husband was on. The free spirited, love-one-another, stop-the-fighting, stop-the-war philosophy of the hippie movement made tremendous sense to me.
Ultimately, my husband refused to go to the music festival because he didn’t want to hang around with “all those hippies.” I on the other hand thought hanging around with “all those hippies” was one of the best reasons to make the trip.
My landlords at the time had an 18 year old daughter who took off for Woodstock with her friends early Saturday morning on the weekend of the festival. I was envious and wanted to go with them but back in 1969 in my parochial world, married young women didn’t just take off and leave their husbands behind. As it turned out, the three young woman were back home by six o'clock that night. They couldn’t get any closer than 10 miles to the festival site, and the local police told them to go home.
The bottom line is that although my body wasn’t at Woodstock that weekend all those years ago, my heart and spirit certainly were. Over the years I have visited the small town of Woodstock but have never been to the site of the original music festival. Now, 43 years later I’m finally getting the opportunity which supports my still evolving philosophy that if one lives long enough all past disappointments are resolved.
The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, an entertainment shed that hosts rock and roll performers past and present is built on the site of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. At the end of the summer I am going to a Bob Dylan concert there. In an interesting twist of fate, I am absolutely sure that at least one other person who missed the '69 Woodstock festival will also be there. Bob Dylan had to cancel his performance at Woodstock because his son was ill.
Fri., July 6, 2012
Just came back from a midnight walk to the pond. What a strange night. It's very still, not a whisper of a breeze. Even though the moon seems almost full, and a full moon usually lights up the dirt road, tonight the road was so dark I couldn't see my feet. Even the pond is in darkness. A Civil War reenactment group is camped near the beach and it was very quiet over there, just a lantern reflecting on the water. Oddly the moon wasn't reflecting on the pond. It was up there, a few sheer clouds floating in front of it, stars are out, but the moon is an odd color; a very pale yellow on a silver-white background. As I was walking back the light from a campfire just over the little hill caused the fog to be visible, just kind of hanging there among the trees. I passed a few neighbors still sitting at their campfires, but even they were talking in whispers.
Sat., July 7, 2012
Picture a pond on a summer evening at 9:15. The woods surrounding the pond are black against a dark blue sky. You're sitting on a lawn that slopes to the water's edge. Across the pond are multiple white tents from the Civil War era, a golden lantern lit in front of each tent and reflecting on the water. Then ... FIREWORKS!! Big, colorful, loud FIREWORKS!! Then ... a cannon goes off ... then ... more FIREWORKS!! A row of ten year old kids sitting side by side cheering and laughing, adults clapping, little ones holding their ears but smiling, the world's largest bullfrog making bullfrog noises beside you in the dark. That's how I spent the last hour ... what a perfect summer night! I love this place.
Mon., July 9, 2012
Beautiful weather up here. Sunny and breezy and my vacation continues. Most everyone has gone home after the weekend except for a few families. One small family with kids is still here. I like hearing their little red wagon full of beach supplies go by my window, it reminds me of my family when we were kids and of taking my little boy to the beach ... great memories. My one and only chore for the day has been taken care of ... I'm off to make new memories ... enjoy the day.
I like my people. His name is Andy, her name is Mom. I wasn’t too sure about Mom when they came to the animal shelter and found me. As soon as I saw them I started barking and jumping around because I knew right away they were my people and I wanted to be sure they noticed me.
Andy walked right over to me so I barked louder and jumped higher. Mom looked at me but said something to Andy and kept walking on by. She stopped in front of my neighbor, a silly little dog that sleeps a lot. Phew, I was relieved when she walked away from the Sleepy Dog. I started to bark more and threw in a few growls too, Andy seemed to like that, but Mom just gave me a what’s-wrong-with-that-dog look and walked across the room to the black and white dog with the big head.
I got even louder when Mom called Andy over to look at the Big-Head dog. “Oh, no,” I thought when they asked if they could take the Big-Head dog outside. I barked and barked. Andy smiled at me, Mom frowned in my direction. Relief again when they came back inside and the Big-Head dog went back into its pen. Andy walked over to me again and knelt down and started talking to me. I don’t know what he said, but it sounded nice. He called Mom over and said something nice to her too, but she asked if she could take the Sleepy-Dog outside.
When they came back in, I knew the Sleepy-Dog wasn’t going home with them because he was biting on the leash, almost dangling off the floor. Andy came over to me again and called Mom over. Reluctantly, Mom agreed to take me outside. I was so happy I was jumping around and couldn’t keep all four paws on the ground, at least until I saw the look on Mom’s face, than I began walking like a good dog.
The nice man from the dog pound led me out into a small fenced-in area, Andy and Mom followed. Once we were inside he took the leash off my collar so I took it as a sign that I could be myself and snoop around and jump if I wanted to. Then I found an orange squeaky toy and snapped it up in my mouth and tossed it at Andy who was sitting on the ground, hoping he would play with me. He laughed and held on to it so I climbed up on him. That’s when I saw “the look.
Andy looked at Mom and said something; all I heard was “good dog.” When I looked at Mom she was smiling at me for the first time and she said, “OK.” That was six months ago.
Mom and Andy go to something called “work” almost every day. While they’re away I sleep in Andy’s room. Sometimes I get bored and can’t resist gnawing on the TV remote, once I even ate a pair of eyeglasses, but you can be sure after Mom’s reaction, I’ll never do that again. The biggest problem is my addiction to birds. I see a bird and everything else fades away. I just have to chase it; which is how I ended up in the animal shelter in the first place.
Andy and Mom have something called a “car.” Lots of times Andy will let me go with him in his car. Last week he took me for the longest ride ever and when we stopped, it wasn’t at our house. It was dark outside the car. Andy had to pull me outside by my collar. I didn’t like this place. I could hear little paws walking in the dark and fifty frogs talking near the water. I couldn’t see the water, but I could smell it and I could hear the wind blowing through the leaves of hundreds of trees. Andy pulled me over to wooden steps that led to a big wooden porch. He kept telling me it was OK but it didn’t feel OK. I sat close to Andy’s leg when he opened the door to the new place. As soon as he opened the door, I could smell Mom and felt better.
I hopped up the steps and ran around the tiny house looking for Mom, but she wasn’t there. I still felt better knowing she had been there and knowing that if this was our new house Mom would be back. Andy turned the outside light on and I sat by the door and watched him bring things into the new house. Andy was tired and soon went to bed. He coaxed me up onto the bed and I curled up on a blanket that smelled like Mom and went right to sleep.
WOW … when I got up the next morning and looked out the door there wasn’t a fence in sight! There were lots and lots of trees and a pond. Andy took me outside and tied my really long leash to a tree then hooked me up so I could wander. The leash wasn’t long enough to reach the pond, but I tried. On the way I got tangled in bushes and wrapped around a tree or two. I could smell other dogs, but didn’t see any, too bad; it would have been fun to play.
Andy called our new home “camp.” I liked camp. We went on long walks, we went into the water and at night Andy would start a fire outside and I sat behind his chair away from the sparks. Andy said stuff like, “be careful,” “get out of there” “don’t do that” but I think he had a good time. We slept, we got up, I dug some holes in the ground, we slept, we got up, I chased a few squirrels and a bug flew up my nose, we slept, we got up and then we got back into the car and after a long ride, we were home again. It was good to be home and play with my stuff, I didn’t even mind the fence in the backyard, but I hope Andy will let me back in his car soon and bring me back to the camp.
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