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.
Hearing the hotel door quietly close behind her, he rolled over and pulled the sheet up to his shoulders. He thought about the young woman who had just left his hotel room and his bed. She was a beauty; shiny blonde hair to her waist and legs that went on forever. She had caught his eye at the club the night before and after years of practice he was an expert at picking out the women who would require the least amount of involvement. Of course, women had never been a problem for him. While he had spent most of his movie career trying to overcome the pretty boy image, he had to admit there were times when that handsome face of his came in handy.
Yet, all of the young women were beginning to look alike. He was beginning to feel as though he was in a long term relationship with a series of different women who all looked and sounded the same; always young, always beautiful, always willing, always the same. He knew most men would not see that as a problem, would envy him his lifestyle, but he was beginning to miss the steady comfort that comes from sharing a life and home with a friend, a confidant, a kindred spirit. The thought of his two children living so far away with his ex caused his heart to tighten.
The clock on the bedstand told him he had a few hours before his assistant appeared at his door and they would begin the daily routine required to keep him in the business of being a celebrity. Almost without thinking, he got out of bed but hesitated, acknowledging the throbbing in his temples caused by the excesses of the night before. He took a hot shower, wrapped a luxurious hotel towel around his waist and absentmindedly turned on his laptop as he walked by the desk.
He lit a cigarette, grabbed a dirty bread plate from the room service tray from the night before and plopped himself in front of the blue computer screen, typing Rock City Angel in the password box. He opened Google and typed in his name, Johnny Dunn. Shaking his head in disbelief at the results, over 38 million hits, the smile was wiped off his face when he noticed the first story was still a rehash of his split with his ex, a split that happened over a year ago. He didn’t always like the attention celebrity brought him, the foolish antics of some of his more exuberant fans, the ludicrous questions often asked of him, yet he remained gracious, recognizing his fan base was an important factor in the support he needed to continue his film career.
He had drawn lines in the sand, however. He never discussed his personal life publicly. Consequently, reporters felt compelled to make up the details and it always made him angry. As a young man he raged against the injustice of it, but now, at 49, he was much more pragmatic, unless his children are involved.
Switching from Google to Facebook he clicked on the AP that searches for pages that mention his name. Hundreds of thousands of comments scrolled down the left side of the screen, each author’s small, square photo popping up on the right. Most were the typical fan comments, “If only, would you, I want to, I love you.” Having scrolled through a dozen pages, he was on the brink of closing the AP when a particular post caught his eye. It was funny; the author mocking the notion that she would ever meet him. Just a little curious he opened the photo. Not beautiful, certainly not the taut, young face that he was used to, yet there was something in the smile that made him smile back, a refreshing genuiness that he could appreciate. Still smiling he snapped off the computer, pulled on a pair of faded jeans, a blue plaid shirt and slipped into a pair of black flip flops.
After the business session with his assistant he took a long evening nap as was his habit. At 9 his car picked him and his bodyguard up outside the hotel and drove them to the small, smoke-filled club where he was performing with his band. While he made his living as an actor, playing guitar in a rock and roll band was where his heart lived. Not feeling in the mood, he politely ignored the come-ons from the women he met, then, sweaty, exhausted and a little high, he packed his guitar and rode back to the hotel.
She was sound asleep when the phone rang. Jumping up she looked at the clock on her nightstand and her heart picked up speed. Phone calls at 3AM usually mean trouble. Reaching for the receiver on the cordless phone, she knocked it out of the cradle onto the floor and began searching with her hands in the darkness. By the time she aligned the receiver with her mouth she was repeating herself, “hello, hello” she gasped. A soft-spoken male voice with a slight southern drawl said, “Hi, is this Janice Niven? “ “Yes” she replied with obvious tension in her voice, “who’s calling?” After a moment or two of silence, she heard, “This is Johnny Dunn.” “I’m sorry, could you repeat that, I didn’t quite hear you,” she responded. “Johnny Dunn,” he replied, “This is Johnny Dunn.” “OK, that’s it, I’ve had enough of you little shits calling this house at all hours of the night. My alarm is going to go off in 3 hours and you think this is funny? If I ever find out who the hell you are I am going to rip your nose right off your face,” she blurted out before pushing the disconnect button. “Johnny Dunn, my ass,” she ranted after she hung up the receiver. “How did those little shits find out I’m a fan of Johnny Dunn?” she asked the empty house. Then she remembered the Facebook story she posted about him … “Damn.”
Meanwhile, almost 3,000 miles and 3 hours away, he sat laughing, staring at the IPhone in his hand. He was stoned just enough that he had forgotten about the time difference. “Well, she’s definitely feisty,” he said to himself. The next morning he came up with a more logical approach and had his business associate put together a dossier on her. It didn’t take long before he knew more about her than her family did. She was 10 years older than him, twice married, and a single mom. After reading the report, particularly her age, he tossed the file in the trash intending to forget the whole thing.
Three months later her home phone rang at a much more reasonable hour. A man’s voice at the other end asked, “Am I speaking with Janice Niven?” Skeptically, she confirmed he had in fact reached Ms. Niven. “My name is Frank Maloney and I am an employee of Johnny Dunn.” “Here we go again,” she said before he finished the sentence. Her voice rising she continued. “How did those kids talk you into this? You’re obviously an adult. You should know better.” “Wait, wait,” said the man on the other end of the phone, “don’t hang up.” “Mr. Dunn read your story about him on Facebook a few months ago, enjoyed it and was hoping to meet you.” “He is in Saratoga Springs for the next few days and would like to have dinner with you tomorrow night.” “We will send a car to pick you up at 8PM if your schedule allows.”
“This must be a joke,” she blurted out. “I assure you it is not,” he responded. “This can’t be true,” she said to no one in particular. “May we send the car, then?” he asked. “I can’t just jump into a car because someone on the phone said Johnny Dunn wants to see me,” she said; “If he wants to have dinner with me then he will have to come and pick me up.” She thought she heard a chuckle before the man said, “May we call you back later this evening, Ms. Niven?” “Sure,” she said, thinking she had successfully called his bluff.
She was wiping the makeup from her eyes when the phone rang at 11:30 that night. The cotton pad she was using slipped and the soap made her eyes burn. When she picked up the phone, a male voice with a slight southern drawl said, “Hello, may I speak with Ms. Niven, please.” “Speaking,” she replied. “Please don’t hang up on me,” the man said with a smile in his voice. “This is Johnny Dunn.” She sat down on the edge of the cold bathtub, speechless. After a few seconds she heard him speaking to someone, “I think she hung up on me again,” he laughed. “No, no, I’m here,” she said quickly. “Good,” he said, still laughing. “Are you free for dinner tomorrow night?” “I’m renting a house on Lake Lonely and will have my staff prepare something, what is your favorite dish?” Without thinking, she blurted out, “Salmon, I like salmon.” “Great,” he said, “me too.” “There is one problem however” he began, “I won’t be off the set until 8 which means I can’t pick you up until after 9 which means dinner at 10.” “Not a problem,” she managed to squeak out. “One more thing,” he added. “Please don’t mention our dinner to anyone. If word gets out it will start a media frenzy and disrupt our entire night.” Again, she managed an, “OK.”
“Great, then” he concluded, “I have an early call so I’ll see you tomorrow night around 9:30. I’m looking forward to meeting you.” “Ok” was all she could say. As soon as the shock wore off she started rummaging through her closet looking for something to wear. What does one wear when they meet a movie star she wondered, a gorgeous movie star at that. Two hours later she settled on an above-the-knee brown, beige and blue patterned dress with handkerchief sleeves and the new pair of tawny brown summer sandals with wedge heels that were still wrapped in tissue paper in the shoebox.
It was 4AM before she fell asleep on the couch in her living room. The sun streaming through the window woke her eight hours later. She slowly opened her eyes, stretching her arms and legs, until suddenly she remembered she was about to meet Johnny Dunn. There was something about the day that slowed everything down. She realized she wasn’t nervous, just excited. Originally she had thought she would call her hairstylist and beg for an appointment, but after thinking about it she decided she had such a good cut, she could do her hair herself. It wasn’t like it was a real date. He wasn’t even 50 yet and she was over 60, he was a world famous celebrity, she was not, she was simply a curiosity for him; idle entertainment.
By 9:15 she was dressed, powdered, and scented, sitting in the chair by the living room window overlooking the driveway. She was pleased with what she saw in the mirror. Her soft “blonde” hair falling perfectly into place and the wedge heeled sandals made her rather short legs look longer as they stretched up under the short skirted dress. She wondered what her neighbors might think when a limo pulled up to her house at 9:30 on a Thursday night. Just as the thought left her head, a navy blue BMW pulled into the driveway, its headlights traveling over her as she stood looking out the living room window.
She was sure her mouth dropped open when Johnny Dunn opened the driver side door and walked through the headlight beams heading for her front porch. She saw a flash of his dark shoulder length hair, a light blue button down shirt opened at the neck and tucked into worn, loose jeans with a chain looping from his belt to inside his left front pocket. She noticed all of this in a split second. She heard his hard soled shoes climbing the porch steps and felt reality slip away.
After he rang the doorbell she counted to 10 then walked over and opened the door. She was not prepared for this man. His face was more chiseled and even more handsome in person. He stood there with a big grin on his face, held out his arms at his side palms up and said, “Well, do you believe me now?” “Yes,” she smiled back, “I definitely believe you now.” Not quite sure what to do next, she asked if he would like to come in. Much to her surprise he said yes and then asked for a tour of her small little ranch house. She was SO thankful she had spent time during the afternoon tidying up.
As they were leaving, he held the door opened for her and said, “You are a beautiful woman.” She thanked him and tried to look casual as she grabbed the porch railing to steady herself as her legs buckled. He held the car door open for her than jogged around the back of the car and settled himself into the driver seat. He asked her to help him with directions just in case the car’s GPS didn’t work properly.
She will never understand why, but they were friends from the start. She soon forgot he was a world famous celebrity and only swooned when he looked at her directly. They spent most of the evening entertaining each other with stories from their lives, he mentioning names she had only read about in People Magazine yet he seemed genuinely interested in the events of her life.
He really liked her. She was not only attractive, but funny and articulate and smart. He hoped she would not be turned off by their age difference. At 2AM his assistant came into the parlor where they were sitting next to each other on large overstuffed pillows in front of the fireplace, enjoying yet another glass of his favorite German Riesling. It took the man a few minutes to get their attention because they couldn’t hear his voice over their laughter. “Excuse me, Johnny” he said, “but it’s 2AM and you have to be on set in four hours.” Shocked by the time, he pulled out his pocket watch to double check.
“Listen,” she said, “You must have someone who can take me home. That way you can get to bed now and get at least a few hours’ sleep.” He protested, but eventually agreed to the logic of her suggestion. “Only if you’ll come back tomorrow night for dinner,” he insisted. Looking at that magnificent smiling face she knew she would follow him to the ends of the earth, so returning for dinner was a given. “Yes,” she replied as he took her hands in his, leaned in and whispered in her ear, “I own this little island that I’d like you to visit with me, think about it and we’ll talk tomorrow night.” When she pulled her head away to look at him to see if he was serious, he stepped forward, took her in his arms and kissed her, leaving no doubt of his intentions.
As I sit here typing this, a bird is chirping outside the window. There’s something comforting about birds chirping. They are such little scaredy cats that when there’s a loud disturbance or a sense of danger there’s not a peep out of them. I imagine them huddled together on a branch or wire somewhere holding their collective breath. When I hear them chatting away it means all is well. Even if I’m not conscious of their chirping, I suspect I possess a genetic throw-back that’s tuned into that kind of thing and somewhere inside of me one or two muscles relax.
You know that wolf whistle sound that is most associated with construction workers, the whistle they make when an attractive woman walks by? Wish I could type the sound, here’s my best try: whooo – hooo. Well, I recently discovered that it is a misnomer to call it a wolf whistle, there is a bird that lives in the woods behind my house that whistles that tune all morning long and whenever I’m in the backyard and hear it, there’s a part of me that wants to say, “Why, thank you.”
There are so many sounds that I am oblivious to most of the time. Living in suburbia and working in the city, they are all just part of the background music. Emergency vehicle sirens get my attention only when I hear lots of them at the same time, or they stop close by, or when I’m expecting someone to arrive at my house and they are late. I am generally able to absorb the sounds of the lawnmowers, hedge trimmers, weedwackers and chain saws that ratchet up the volume in my suburban neighborhood when added to the sounds of barking dogs and children playing. Unless, of course, the lawnmowers start booming before 9AM on a Saturday morning, then I just want to reach over and change the station or, better yet, throw something out the window at the offending neighbor.
While driving to work this morning I passed an industrial-sized lawn mower cutting the grass in the median separating the two highways. Tooling along at 70 mph, I suddenly flew through the strong scent of just mowed grass and my thoughts immediately splintered. Simultaneously, I remembered lying in tall grass on a summer day as a kid, snapping off a fresh green blade of grass to chew, and remembered the peace I feel sitting on my front porch or back deck in the twilight of a summer evening surrounded by the smell of my fresh cut lawn.
At lunch time today I walked the paths and stairways on the campus where I work. It is different now that the majority of the students have left for the summer, classes finished until late August. The ebb and flow of thousands of people trying to get from A to B all at the same time has given way to the peace and quiet of a well planted and well manicured park. Everywhere I look there are different types and shades of flowering borders; yellow, red, lavender, white, orange, blue and ten different shades of green. Each weedless border stops where the thick, flat, dark green lawns begin and then those lawns stretch out to span the length of football fields or until they reach the next flowering border.
I wandered up and down small concrete pathways and short concrete steps shaded by infant trees, at least they were youngsters compared to the centuries old trees that towered over them. Finding a park bench I sat and looked at the view. The lawns were sprinkled with sculptures, as if the natural beauty wasn’t enough stimulation. Movement overhead caught my attention. The strong breeze was blowing white clouds quickly across the blue sky. I leaned my head back and tried to find an interesting design in the clouds, believing that on such a beautiful day, in such a beautiful spot Mother Nature would entertain me. Nothing, not a horse-drawn chariot, not a castle in the sky, not even a simple little puppy. There was something about the way the wind was churning the clouds, however, that made them explode like fireworks.
Walking back to the office, I couldn’t help but notice the bulletin boards throughout the campus. When classes are in session, notices of concerts, meetings, games, apartments and clubs are pinned or stapled to those boards three layers thick. Today the boards were empty except for hundreds of white speckles marking where all the notices had been ripped off, leaving hundreds of small chunks of paper still stapled to the boards. In a few months the boards will be full again. Until then, I intend to enjoy my quiet, private park.
My mom was extremely religious. She was a devout Catholic. She had a strong faith in God, the pope and the saints. Yesterday, when I read the statement of support for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious issued by the seven Franciscan Provinces in the United States my second thought flew to my mother. While mom loved the Virgin Mary and said her rosary every night, her favorite, very favorite saint was St. Francis of Assisi. She had a personal relationship with St. Francis and prayed to him whenever things hit the fan in our family. He was her last resort, her Ace in the Hole.
I’m sure mom knew everything there is to know about St. Francis, but she loved the fact that he was the patron saint of animals and she had a two foot tall statute of St. Francis, with a bird on his hand and a lion at his feet, in her flower garden. Mom was the rock of the family, the disciplinarian, but inside she was soft and sweet with an affinity towards flowers and small animals.
After mom passed and we were going through her belongings, I found a very tiny and well worn mini book. It is about 2 inches high and, when folded, about 1 inch wide. The cover is a well worn dark brown with faded gold braiding; the edges of the “book” have been loved down to white. On the back in faded gold printing it reads: “Franciscan Fathers T.O.R., Loretto, PA.”
When I opened the “book” I was not surprised to find a picture of St. Francis in a small oval frame covered with a small oval piece of clear plastic. Below the picture a miniscule oval, and inside that oval an even smaller piece of what appears to be brown fabric. Under the smallest of ovals it reads: “Cloth touched to relic of St. Francis.” What faith, to cherish a speck of fabric that was simply touched to some unknown relic of her favorite saint.
How could anyone disparage such faith? How could anyone not honor such faith? Since I found it, I carry mom’s St. Francis relic in my wallet and have for years, moving it from shabby wallet to new one. If we ever meet and I have my wallet with me, I will show it to you.
I have to wonder what mom would think if she was alive today and read that her beloved Franciscans were standing alongside the remaining US nuns and they, together, were standing up to the pope. While I believe she would support the pope, I also believe she was pragmatic enough to understand the position of the Franciscans and the nuns and she would be totally torn. Here’s the irony, I suspect she would get down on her knees and pray to St. Francis for enlightenment.
If that was my second thought, what was my first? Astonishment. During the course of my life I have wandered away from the Catholic faith, leaning now toward a more open-minded spirituality, heavily influenced by eastern philosophy. Even so, the tenants of Catholicism are deeply rooted in me even though I was the kid that raised her hand in religion class and started her questions with, “Yes, but …” and I was the kid the nuns called “doubting Thomas,” obviously ignoring the fact that it was a little girl standing in front of them. The notion of priests openly disagreeing with the pope and supporting women up to the brink of endorsing them as candidates to priesthood almost seems like science-fiction to me. If you had told me a week ago this would happen, I would not have believed it.
So, like my mom, I am taken aback by the Franciscan Leadership’s position as well. The difference being that I think mom would have felt disconcerted, perhaps a little betrayed, while I feel optimistic and pleasantly surprised.
The trees outside the windows are green and lush and hanging down from the weight of the relentless rain that pings off the roof of my camper. The frying pan is still warm on the stove and the dirty breakfast dishes on the counter don’t bother me at all this morning. It’s a rainy day at camp.
Instead of the hum of adult conversations, the excited chatter of happy kids and the occasional rattle of boat trailers that filled the air outside my camper last holiday weekend, today I hear the birds chirping and can almost hear the quiet through the raindrops. I can see my neighbors cars parked outside their campers, but, like me, the rain is keeping them inside. This morning when I woke and realized it was Saturday and I didn’t have to jump up and get on with the day, I let myself be lulled back to sleep by the comforting sound of the rain.
An hour later when I finally got up and opened the door to my camper, I spent two or three minutes just watching a very hungry hummingbird flit from one section of the bright red feeder to another, then fly away into the woods, only to return a few seconds later to eat again. Like that hummingbird, I had a big breakfast. Having time this morning to chop up some peppers and onion and cook them for a while before cracking a few eggs into the pan and scrambling everything up with a whisk. For an unknown reason, my toaster did not make it through the winter and I keep forgetting to buy a replacement so this morning I toasted bread in a pan and it reminded me of the many times I went camping in a tent and had to cook breakfast outside in an open fireplace, rain or shine.
Rainy days at camp also remind me of the delightful rainy days I spent with my little boy in a family camp on a lake years ago. Hours of reading children’s books, playing cards, watching children’s movies, him kneeling on the carpeted floor making tiny car tracks with the tiny metal HotWheels car we bought at the market the night before, then long summer naps on the overstuffed couch. When I was a child on rainy summer days I would make tents in my bedroom by draping blankets over bedposts and holding the ends of the blanket on the floor with tall piles of hardcover books.
Last weekend my friends, Cindy and Ned, came to visit me at the camper and brought a beautiful hanging plant which we hung outside one of the windows that looks out on the pond. During the past four days I have been away the plant has grown, the purple flowers have multiplied and the green leaves have begun to hang over the side. Now when I look out that window, I not only can see the clear mountain pond, but I am reminded of how lucky I am to have good friends in my life.
I am off now to finish watching the movie I paused on TV, begin reading that paperback book I picked up at the market last night and I believe I see an almost-summer nap in my future.
First, congratulations to all you moms reading this. Whether you have children of your own, have raised your siblings, worried about your nieces and nephews or your friends’ kids, no matter, you’re a mom and we all know what a demanding, never-ending, marathon being a mom can be. It can also be a fountain of love, compassion and indescribable happiness.
While many of us spent the day with our children, and the luckiest among us spent the day with their moms, I had a rather unusual Mother’s Day. My son was unavailable. He works for a local catering company at a newly opened Hilton and celebration weekends are his busiest. I received an invitation to go to dinner with another family, but I opted to stay home and bask in the “nothing-to-do-ness” of the day. Although the plan was to stay home, when I remembered the flowers I purchased for the cemetery a few weeks before, I decided to hop in the car and bring them to mom.
When my son was young and lost his paternal grandfather I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the purpose of a cemetery so whenever we visited his grandfather’s site I told him it was his “quiet spot;” a place where the rest of the family could go and remember their times together. Yesterday I went to my parents’ “quiet spot.” I brought a small rake, scissor’s to cut the silver and purple ribbon I would wrap around the silk white roses and purple lilacs that I would put in the metal vase in front of the heart shaped stone that mom selected after dad died.
In addition to one million other thoughts that come to me when I visit their “quiet spot,” I always worry because their names are mixed up on the heart stone. Mom’s name and life years are noted above dad’s head and dad’s name and life years are noted above mom. I worry that in generations to come no one will know who is where. Yet, somehow it seems okay. Their lives were so intertwined anyway.
I’ve come to realize that if I park between two particular trees along the dirt road in the cemetery I can easily find the heart stone 30 feet away. After switching last season’s weather-faded flowers for the bright new bouquet with its shiny purple ribbon, I swept away dried dirt and grass from the heart stone and noticed that the smaller stone to the right that marks my grandmother’s and two grandfathers’ spot needed some attention. Once the cleaning was finished I went looking for small stones to use to build two tiny stone towers that I leave behind for mom and dad.
Walking down the dirt road looking for stones I looked over in the direction of the housing project where I grew up. Fifteen years ago, at dad’s funeral, I realized we could see “our” building from his spot. Even though it had been 35 years since anyone in the family lived in that building, we were a family there, living together, and somehow it has always been comforting to me that mom and dad are close to home.
After building my tiny stone towers and cleaning up my mess I walked back to my car, opened the trunk and put my trash inside. That’s when I decided to look for the “quiet spot” of my friend who died less than a month ago. Although I wasn’t sure he was in the same cemetery, because of where he grew up I couldn’t imagine he would be anywhere else. Just before slamming the trunk closed, on a whim I grabbed a small bouquet of white daises that I had taken from the heart stone, then I closed the trunk and headed for the newer section of the cemetery.
I didn’t get very far when I came upon my aunt, uncle and cousin’s “quiet spot.” Stopping there to say my version of a prayer it dawned on me that this particular aunt, who had died more than 20 years before, was my godmother and there I stood on Mother’s Day with flowers in my hand. I walked away with a smile on my face but the white daises stayed behind.
For the next ten or fifteen minutes I wandered among the newer stones, reading names that I recognized from my childhood, but didn’t see any indication that a site had been created within the past month. I began to walk back to my car and as I passed an older section I saw a fresh site in the distance and wandered over. I was totally taken by surprise when a small white sign propped in the ground told me I had found my friend. I sat on the ground with him for a few minutes and when I stood up I noticed the marker on the site next to him. I laughed out loud when I read the name … my friend was now right next to one of his life-long friends from childhood. Again, I walked away with a smile on my face.
A few minutes later another familiar name engraved in stone caught my attention. My first husband’s parents, who were very much alive when we divorced, are now not ten feet away from my friend; a friend they knew well, a friend who grew up with their son; the same friend who introduced me to their son, my future husband.
As I stood in front of that stone I had another epiphany and the irony is far from lost on me. On this Mother’s Day, without intending to do so, I met more than one of my mothers; my mom, my grandmother, my godmother and my mother-in-law, all women who had been important in my life.
Thinking about yesterday, I can’t help but be in awe of where our very ordinary daily lives take us if we just give up control every now and then and follow our hearts.
It’s April 28th in the Northeast. It should be warm enough outside to begin planting a small veggie garden but my computer screen tells me it’s only 42 degrees and the sound of my furnace kicking on and off reminds me of how chilly it is.
I’m not a great gardener. When I bought my house 24 years ago it had wonderful patches of perennial flower gardens and I have tended to them; separated and moved plants when necessary. They are still thriving. It always seemed I was too busy to tend to a veggie garden. When I was “semi-retired” I spent most of my time during the warm weather up north at my camper so anything I planted at home either died of thirst or morphed into an overgrown, unrecognizable version of its original self.
I love garden books. I love reading about garden design and planting and looking at pictures of successful gardens. One of my personal goals is to visit Monet’s garden at his homestead in Giverny, France, before I become a flower myself. I read a wonderful book about Monet’s garden written by a woman who was hired to restore the garden to Monet’s original design. He laid out the garden like his paint pallet, and when it’s in full bloom the colored flower beds flow from one shade to another to another.
One year I was feeling particularly industrious and planted what was a very large veggie garden in my back yard, at least it was large for me. Before I tilled the soil and planted the garden, I made Saturday morning trips to the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School and organic farm in Ghent, NY, where I attended gardening classes. The school and farm are a good hour and a half car ride from home but I was charmed by their back-to-nature philosophy.
My son was in third grade at the time and I considered sending him to a Waldorf School in Saratoga Springs. Waldorf teaching philosophy is built upon respect for nature. For example, the teachers take the kids outside and look for twigs that are in the image of letters of the alphabet, one of the classrooms at the Hawthorne Valley School was built around a living tree that sprouted from below the floor and its branches stretched to the ceiling. Ultimately, I decided not to send my son to the Hawthorne School because they expected their students to never look at TV or play computer games, etc., and even though he was only in third grade, my son had grown up with those things. It seemed to me that trying to wean him from the technological world at that point might leave such a bad taste in his mouth that it would defeat the purpose of a Waldorf education.
Back to the garden … I loved the classes at the Ghent farm. We visited a local who tilled her garden with a horse and old fashion till hooked to a harness. We shoveled egg shells and garbage into huge compost piles and learned about the goodness of organic soil. I would come home so charged with ideas. During that spring I created a considerable compost pile of my own and I happily tilled, minus the horse, of course, a large patch of my suburban back yard then covered it with organic topsoil from the bags and bags of soil that I carted home from Ghent. The last day of class was a sad day for me.
Back in the suburbs I planted rows of tomatoes and green snap beans, summer squash and zucchini and even six or eight rows of corn. As soon as he got up each morning my young son would run to the window to see what might have grown overnight. After breakfast we’d go outside and walk up and down the rows to see what had changed since the previous morning. In the evening we’d go outside and water the garden and most of the time we’d water each other. When we harvested our first tomatoes we almost felt like we were eating our livestock!
Everything I planted thrived, except for the corn. Corn needs to have a his and her so that cross pollination can occur. I was careful to plant them correctly, but for some reason, the doves in my neighborhood seemed to have had it in for the corn. I looked out one morning when the corn was only about a foot high and saw two doves slowly walking down the rows of corn, pulling the newly sprouted corn stalks out of the ground and flipping them over their shoulders. I would have been less annoyed if they were eating the stalks, but it seemed they were the hoodlums of the dove community and were pulling them up for the pleasure of it all.
After that summer life got more complicated and other than a few tomato plants the wonderful veggie garden faded away. Up north, I have planted a few veggies near my camper, but there is no way to keep the critters at bay, so anything I plant grows to a certain point and then disappears into the stomach of one of my furry neighbors. There was even a deer or two that would walk out of the misty woods on summer mornings onto the dirt road in front of my camper and eat the rose buds on my prickly rose bush. If I was awake, I watched them through the window blinds.
Last night after work I stopped and bought a little sprig of a tree, my homage to Arbor Day and couldn’t resist buying a few herbs; basil, English thyme and dill, my favorites. As I type this they are all sitting out in my garage waiting to be planted and images of those wonderful English kitchen gardens outside weathered wooden doors are floating through my head. It feels like this may be the year of another wonderful veggie garden.
I’ve been following with great interest the continuing story of the Vatican’s reprimand of the 57,000 member US Catholic Nuns organization. Instead of getting down on their hands and knees and thanking these women for all of the good work they do with the poor in our country and their efforts on behalf of social justice, while so meaningfully representing what is left of the best of Catholic ideals, these old men are bitching because these nuns did not take the time to get involved in the politically highly charged abortion and gay marriage issues. This from a group of old fogies who sit in a gold laden country within a larger country thousands of miles away from the nitty gritty facts of life that these women deal with on a daily basis.
Talk about audacity, the Vatican also reprimanded American nuns for expressing positions on political issues that differed, at times, from views held by American bishops. Public disagreement with the bishops - "who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals" - is unacceptable, the report said. Let me repeat this, American bishops, "who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals." Well if these American bishops are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, so many of whom shuffled child molesters from parish to parish and let children suffer for decades at the hands of other “authentic teachers of faith and morals,” then the church is in deeper trouble than it appears.
Currently there are 57,000 nuns in this organization, which represents most of the nuns in the US. As a child growing up in the 50s and 60s attending Catholic schools, it seemed to me there were 57,000 nuns just in the Albany Diocese where I lived. For years people have been asking where all the nuns have gone. Some say that they’re still here; they just don’t wear the habits any more. All you have to do is walk into any Catholic school and count the number of lay teachers versus nuns and you know it’s not the clothes.
It’s representative of a church that refuses to recognize that women and men are equals. A premise they got away with until the late 60’s when women started thinking beyond what they were taught as they grew up. When women who would have added to the growth and expansion of the catholic faith began to walk away from a patriarchal system that they knew in their hearts was wrong.
It’s almost like the Catholic Church has a death wish. By refusing to evolve, by digging in their heels and adhering to the writings of men who knew Jesus but wrote of him decades after his crucifixion when they themselves were old men, and whose words have probably been reinterpreted a thousand times over the years, the Catholic church no longer sounds true. Not only that, they’ve also lost the free labor of those millions of nuns who were the backbone of the Catholic school system over the years. As a result, very few families can afford to pay for a Catholic education in today’s world, an education that propagated the Catholic faith.
It appears the Vatican fails to understand that they do not have the exclusive rights to Jesus. There are many branches of Christian faith where a person can express their beliefs in Jesus and his teachings that believe that all of their parishioners and clergy are equal.
I was never a fan of Lent as a kid. I just didn’t get the concept. It has never made any sense to me that God wants people to suffer, or go without. Which isn’t to say the idea of divine retribution didn’t scare the hell out of me; I guess I walked a thin line as a kid. Mostly I followed all the rules just in case they were right.
Holy Saturday night was spent around the kitchen table. On that table were little paper cups half filled with colored water of dark green, blue and red into which we would slowly lower a hardboiled egg balanced on a thin metal halo, an egg that would inevitably plop into the water at the last second, splattering dyed liquid all over us and the table. After a minute or two of carefully watching the egg change color, we would fish it out of the paper cup using that metal halo and ever so gently lay it onto a paper towel. When all the eggs were colored, or when we grew bored with the process, whichever came first, we would wander away into the parlor to watch TV before going to bed.
The Easter Sundays of my childhood were second best only to Christmas Day. Not only was there candy all over the house, not only could we eat as much of that candy as we wished, but I loved the clothes. A lot of my wardrobe as I grew up was hand-me-downs from my older cousins. But for Easter, I always got a new dress and it wasn’t one of those plaid, back-to-school dresses. Oh no, they were magical dresses. After a long, dark winter of wearing nothing but a heavy maroon uniform, Easter brought dresses with wide satin sashes and lace trim. Those dresses were always soft pastels; greens and pinks and blues. Even if it was a cotton dress, the colors made it magical.
And shoes, dress shoes of black patent leather with straps and buttons and sometimes flowers; maybe white shoes, but always patent leather. I wasn’t a fan of hats, not that I didn’t like them; I just never liked how they looked on my head. Yet, every Easter Sunday I wore a new hat to church along with a fresh pair of white gloves holding on to a small shiny pocketbook. Inside that pocketbook was a small handkerchief; my favorite was the white one with blue flowers embroidered in one corner. Also in that pocketbook was my small contribution envelope that I would take out and drop into the collection basket as it passed by me during mass. Pinned to my shoulder was a small Easter orchid, surrounded by white lace that mom took out of the frig just before we left for mass. The corsage tickled my chin and as I write this I can imagine the flower’s sweet smell.
When we got home from mass we could eat as much candy as we wanted while mom was busy in the kitchen cooking an Easter ham AND I could wear my new dress all day long. My brothers wore suits on Easter Sunday, with long ties and white collared shirts and shiny shoes. They too wore their Easter clothes all day, minus the jacket, of course.
The religious celebration of Easter Sunday made more sense to me than the abstinence of Lent. The dark covers were removed from the Stations of the Cross and from the beautiful statutes of Mary and the Saints that lived in my church. Elegant white and gold linens were draped on the altar and the room was filled with the fragrance of fresh roses and lilies and carnations. In my memory, every candle in the church was glowing. Even the hymns that we sang were joyous and in celebration. Easter Sundays of my childhood, at least in my memory, were flawless.
That’s what I wish you this Easter of 2012. A magical and flawless day with your family and the people you love.
Like everyone else I’ve been reading a lot lately about politicians trying to legislate what women can and cannot do with their bodies. I have refrained from commenting on social websites regardless of how ludicrous the legislation and comments from politicians. Mainly because when I hear men debating what a woman can and cannot do with her body the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
I firmly believe that until men can get pregnant and deliver a child they will never understand all of the implications of pregnancy and therefore, are in no position to make decisions on our behalf. I do appreciate and respect men who understand that these bodies that we walk around in are our own and that no man or woman on the face of the earth has the right to impose their morals or beliefs on our bodies.
There are so many red herrings around this issue. There’s the one that goes like this: women cannot decide by themselves to end a pregnancy because the father of that pregnancy has rights too. Then there’s this one: that woman went out and slept around and now she’s pregnant, she has to learn to take responsibility for her actions. And that one fits very nicely with: women should only have sex when they want to get pregnant, if they use birth control they’re just sluts. There are, of course, many more, but I’ll stop here.
Red Herring #1
I think anyone would be hard pressed to identify a couple in a functioning, healthy marriage/relationship where the woman has gone off and ended a pregnancy without first discussing it with her mate.
I also think there are women who are in dysfunctional, abusive, held-together-by-a-string relationships who find themselves pregnant and know that they will be solely responsible for the child that could result from that pregnancy. She will be responsible for providing a home, food, healthcare, education and moral compass, for the next 18 years, all while working full-time in order to make enough money to keep it all together. And, if she already has children, just multiply that anxiety by the number of existing children. I believe any woman in that situation has the right to make her own decision.
Red Herring #2
We often hear indignation about women who have become pregnant outside of a committed relationship, women who some feel have to learn the lesson of responsibility by continuing the pregnancy. Yet, somehow it’s only indignation toward her. “Somewhere” there is a man who had a brief sexual fling that resulted in pregnancy too. Ahh, but here’s the catch, his body doesn’t get pregnant. Do the men who sleep around call the women they have had sex with a month or two later just to check to be sure they’re not pregnant? Not likely. He just walks away and if that act results in a pregnancy, he simply does not care, and if that pregnancy is terminated, he simply does not care. No gut wrenching decision for him ... don’t know, don’t care.
So that means, he doesn’t have to learn to be responsible for his actions by telling his family he’s pregnant and doesn’t know who the mother is, carrying a child to term, birthing a child, putting his career and social life on the back burner in order to accommodate being a single parent. Nope, no life-changing, gut wrenching decisions for him. But her, there are people telling her now that she has to fight for the right to have the option to make a decision.
Red Herring #3
I’m not spending much time on Red Herring #3. Any living breathing adult knows how ludicrous it is to expect grown men and women to have sex only when they want the act to produce a child. To call a woman who is responsible enough to use birth control a slut is simply irresponsible. All women and men should have unconditional access to birth control which should always be a personal and private decision.
Abortion is a scary word. And the person who is scared the most by that word is:
· The 14 year old girl with the 14 year old boyfriend who has just found out she’s pregnant.
· The woman who has been raped and sodomized by a smelly, brutal man on a dark city street who has just found out she’s pregnant.
· The love struck, naive 21 year old who was seduced by a player who disappeared when he found out she was pregnant.
· The battered woman, who along with her 3 children lives in hell every day, who just found out she’s pregnant.
· The well-heeled businesswoman who had a brief fling with a guy she met on a business trip who just found out she’s pregnant.
· The woman who is in an unhappy marriage that needs to end, who just found out she’s pregnant.
Considering an abortion procedure with all of its medical and psychological ramifications is scary for women. It is not a solution, it’s a decision that women carry with them the rest of their lives, and while there may be some women who use abortion as birth control, I have never met any of them.
Would I ever have an abortion? That’s none of your business. As your personal decisions is none of my business. Which is precisely my point here; as a society we need to get off our soapboxes and be realistic about sex. How can we as a society possibly get to the point of respecting each other if we believe we have the right to tell each other what we can and cannot do with our own bodies?
When we were kids, my siblings and I always went to bed early on a school night, 9 o’clock at the latest. On Friday and Saturday nights we were allowed to stay up a little later, maybe until 10. I used to force myself to stay awake; there was something about the weekends that was so special.
Saturday morning I was up at dawn, creeping downstairs to raid the Freihofer donuts that were just delivered, and grabbing the glass milk bottles out of the milkbox on the back porch. Fortified, I would make myself comfortable on the parlor floor carpet, turn on the small TV and wait for the test pattern to change so the Saturday morning cartoons could begin. There were six of us, including my mom and dad, living in our apartment, so it was a treat to have the parlor and TV to myself.
Around 11 o’clock on Saturday mornings my neighborhood friends would knock on the front door, “Can Janice come out and play?” they would ask. So I’d run upstairs and jump into my “play clothes,” put on my “play shoes” (which were usually old school shoes that were too scuffed to wear to school) and rush outside. The rest of the day, with a brief break to scoff down a sandwich, we would play baseball, roller skate, jump rope, onsies/twosies (a game played with a ball thrown against a wall) and ride our bikes. If it was winter we would build snow forts, sleigh ride and even ice skate if there was a large enough patch of ice in the neighborhood.
When the street lights came on we’d all go home, eat dinner, watch TV and try to stay awake after all that fresh air, but it was not easy. I can remember sitting on the coach watching TV with my whole family at 10 o’clock Saturday night and I would be sound asleep and my mom would shake me and tell me to go upstairs and go to bed and I would say, “I wasn’t sleeping!” I went upstairs.
Sunday morning we got up and walked the mile to church for 9AM mass which was the “kids mass,” which meant all the kids that went to my catholic grammar school were there. After church we walked the mile back home and mom cooked a huge Sunday dinner. Most Sundays after dinner the six of us would climb into the car and go for a ride. Sometimes we’d ride all the way up to Schaghticoke and make a quick visit at my aunt and uncle’s dairy farm. Then it was back home, baths for everyone, our hair would get washed, we’d jump into fresh pjs and then go downstairs to watch The Ed Sullivan TV show. After Ed it was back upstairs and into bed, me usually falling asleep wishing I had actually finished all the weekend homework that had been assigned.
As we grew older the house rules were pretty much the same. Early to bed, same Sunday night rituals, except the older we got, the longer we spent primping in the bathroom. A household with three teenagers and one bathroom was a challenge for all of us.
Then I spent Friday nights at school dances, Saturdays at school football games and Saturday nights at basketball games. Instead of finding peace and quiet in front of the TV on Saturday mornings, I slept later, and my neighborhood friends and I spent our Saturday afternoons styling each other’s hair, trying our first cigarettes, spinning 45s or record albums on small, portable record players with lids that closed with a latch, or listening to Boom-Boom-Brannigan, a DJ on our local radio station.
There is a magical period of time, at least for girls, between the ages of 11 and 14, before serious dating and broken hearts, when sleeping parties are a part of our lives. Hair curlers the size of small water pipes, bobby pins, lipstick, blush, eyelash curlers, music, pizza, soda, dancing and laughing, lots of laughing.
Then somewhere along the way Saturday night became date night and we all had high school steadies, some steadier than others. Sunday night hadn’t changed much yet.
After high school I took my first full-time job and while still living in my mom and dad’s house, suddenly I’m allowed to stay up as long as I want, wear the clothes I want, and go to clubs and drink and dance and meet all kinds of people as opposed to the white, catholic people that populated the first 17 years of my life.
Friday nights were girls’ night out. Not all of us had cars so five or six of us would pile into one little car at 10 o’clock at night and hit two or three clubs, usually ending up at the Excelsior House, our favorite club where our favorite band, The Knickerbockers, played every weekend. Saturdays were spent recuperating from Friday night and getting ready for Saturday night which was basically a repeat of Friday night.
At some point I met my first husband and Friday nights were pretty much the same, but Saturday night and Sunday night were date nights. As time went by the small group of gals dwindled as we all became involved in exclusive relationships and began to plan our weddings.
As a newly married woman working full-time, my weekends were no longer my own; grocery shopping, laundry, housework, entertaining, trying to satisfy two families, my own and now my husband’s, it was exhausting and a good thing I was young.
Still working full-time, but now in my late 20s and early 30s and divorced, I was living in my own apartment and living alone for the first time in my life. While I still had to take care of all the details that kept my life together, the weekends were fun. I could just stay home and do nothing, or go to a movie and diner with a close circle of friends. Not much club hopping, but plays and concerts and always Friday night happy hours at Ogden’s, a great little restaurant near where I worked.
In my mid-30s I remarried and the weekends were still fun. Two adults with good incomes doing whatever we wanted. When our son was born, my weekends changed again. I was a stay-at-home mom for the first four years of my son’s life so the weekends weren’t hectic; the household chores were taken care of during the week. The weekends were filled with trips to pumpkin patches, apple orchards, Chuck-E-Cheese, ice skating rinks, soccer games, baseball games, and always a house filled with the neighborhood kids. My son had a best friend when he was 7-8-9 years old that lived two blocks down the street. That little boy got off the school bus with my son every Friday afternoon and spent the entire weekend at my house. He didn’t go home until Sunday afternoon. He came with us wherever we went.
When my son was 12, I became a single working mom and boy did my weekends change; back to doing all the household chores on the weekends and now trucking my teenager to the local YMCA and all of his friend’s houses. Then my son became a drummer. So for the next few years there were rock bands practicing at my house on the weekends. When I decided to send my son to private school, I took a second job so in addition to the weekend chores and a fulltime job, I worked every Saturday. During that time my social life on the weekends consisted of falling asleep in front of the TV.
When my son was in his late teens, I was still single and working full time but finally started to get time for myself. My weekends were spent going to concerts and plays and movies and dinner with people closer to my age, people who were not teenagers. I even got to take real vacations and see the ocean again.
Then I was laid off and since I was collecting a pension, I thought I’d try retirement. The best part about retirement is that every day is the weekend. After two years I went back to work full-time because I’m used to living a certain lifestyle, certainly not the lifestyle of the rich and famous, but I like to have more money than I need, rather than less money than I need. That’s where you find me today.
I absolutely love the weekends now. Working full-time defines the weekends very clearly and I dole out those weekend hours very carefully, spending them with friends, family, or even just staying home and relaxing. Like I did when I was a kid, I force myself sometimes to stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights just because I can. Even though my mom’s not here to wake me and send me off to bed, there are times when I wake up from a nap in my den at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night and I still refuse to go to bed.
Unfortunately, there are no Freihofer's donuts or bottles of cold milk in a milkbox on my back porch on Saturday mornings any more, but since donuts just go to my waist and whole milk has long been deserted for 1% milk, I have a new Saturday morning ritual. Now, instead of sitting and staring at the TV test pattern, on a sunny spring Saturday morning you’ll most likely find me sitting on my back deck with a cup of warm tea watching the morning birds and critters in the forever wild area beyond my back yard.
Sir Galahad woke that morning feeling more hopeful than he had in a very long time. He washed in the cold water from the deep bowl on his nightstand and quickly dressed in his freshly laundered forest green leggings and gold tunic. Before leaving his chambers he pulled on his robe-like white surcoat and tied it at the waist, the gray and red image of Excalibur painted on the front. He tied his great sword around his waist and closed the chamber door behind him.
Galahad took the stone spiral stairs leading down to the great dining hall two at a time hoping to catch Catherine still at breakfast, although he refused to admit Catherine was the reason for his new-found optimism. The big, strong, fearless Knight’s stomach tightened when he walked into the room and found Catherine alone at the table. Self-consciously he bowed and said, “My Lady, I hope you had a restful night.” Catherine smiled back at this new and improved version of Sir Galahad and replied, “Good morning, Sir Knight.” After a moment of silence, she pointed to the assortment of foods on the stand next to the table and said, “The food is still warm, won’t you join me?” “As you wish,” Galahad replied bending from the waist, a killer smile on his face when he straightened up.
After breakfast, if you could call it breakfast, neither one of them eating more than a mouthful or two, Sir Galahad invited Catherine to walk with him down to the water’s edge to see the view of the Loch from the gatehouse. Anyone watching the dashing, handsome Knight and the lovely red-haired damsel dressed in a rust-colored gown would have been impressed by how compatible they appeared to be, so comfortable with each other.
And there was someone watching them, or rather … something.
The castle gatehouse was built at the water’s edge. The location of the gatehouse allowed the defenders of the castle to see for miles up and down the Loch in either direction. On that sunny spring morning, 200 feet from shore, a mammoth dark shadow floated just below the surface. As Sir Galahad and Catherine admired the view, the dark shadow circled and moved slowly toward them. Catherine and Galahad were too wrapped up in each other to notice when the top of the monster’s head broke the water 50 feet from where they stood. The monster’s huge webbed feet were already standing on the floor of the Loch, a few steps forward and the monster would be revealed.
At that moment, shouts came from the highway leading to the gatehouse. The couple turned to see Sir Jonathan and Lancelot charging toward them. As soon as they were close, Jonathan jumped off his horse and ran to Catherine. Ignoring the rules of chivalry, he hugged her and said, “I can’t believe you’re here.” Turning toward Galahad, our young Knight asked, “Where did you find her?” Startled by the interruption, the frustrated monster sunk down under the cover of the water.
Sir Galahad answered all of their questions while surreptitiously watching Catherine’s reaction to Sir Jonathan. She appeared embarrassed by the young Knight’s exuberance rather than flattered by his attention. As they stood on the shore listening to the story of Lionors’ demise, the monster was listening also. In the over 200 years she had lived in Loch Ness, she learned the strange language spoken by the humans.
She had heard stories of the Knights of the Round Table. Dragons avoided them when possible. They were ferocious warriors. Yet she feared that if she let the woman and light haired Knight go now, she would not have another chance for revenge. The gatehouse guards were not in the tower so she would have to defeat just the three Knights on the shore. The red-haired woman would not be a problem. Ignoring the advice of her herd, she swam cautiously toward the shore. Still underwater, she began walking up the sandy Loch bottom.
Lancelot and our young Knight had their back to the Loch, Galahad and Catherine facing them. Lancelot knew something was wrong when he saw Galahad push Catherine behind him and slowly draw his great sword. Without asking any questions, Lancelot pulled his great sword from his waist and turned around. Watching the other two Knights, our inexperienced young Knight hesitated and when he did the monster lowered her great jaw and clamped it around Jonathan’s waist, carrying him into the air.
Galahad and Lancelot charged forward their swords pointed at the soft underbelly of the monster. She quickly turned to the right, her 150 foot tail sending the two Knights into the air and landing them 20 feet away in the highway. Picking themselves up, they charged again but she was on the move. Lancelot and Galahad reached the water’s edge just in time to watch her sink below the surface, our young Knight’s limp body dangling from her jaws.
When Lancelot was 21 years old he met Margaret Brody. She was a beautiful peasant girl of 17 who lived outside the walls of Camelot on her parent’s small farm. He was a brash new Knight of the Round Table. The first time he saw Margaret he was returning to Camelot from a hunt with King Arthur and 14 other Knights. Whenever the Knights returned, all the young girls of Camelot lined the roadway and watched as they rode by; all except for Margaret Brody. She was indifferent to the parade of Knights that evening as she strolled down the dirt road, swinging a half filled milk can and singing a song Lancelot could not hear. She was a tiny wisp of a lass, her long curly auburn hair disheveled and hanging in front of her face and what a beautiful face it was. A small, full mouth and tiny nose complemented the biggest and deepest blue eyes in England.
It took Lancelot a week to find out who she was and where she lived. For the next few weeks he rode by Margaret’s house in full armor almost every day, but the few times he saw her, she didn’t even lift her head when he rode by. Giving up on that approach, Lancelot began taking early evening walks down the dirt road in front of Margaret’s house dressed in his best leggings and tunics. Once he saw her walking from the house to the barn but again, she didn’t seem to notice him.
Finally one day out of desperation, he caught the Brody’s sheep dog and carried it to their house pretending he found the dog a mile away. Margaret answered the door. While Lancelot was telling his lie, Mr. Brody came out of the barn and invited the Knight into the kitchen for a cup of milk. Lancelot eagerly accepted. As he talked with Mr. Brody, Margaret poured warm milk into a cup and placed it in front of Lancelot. Then, to his horror, she excused herself and went outside. As soon as he could, Lancelot thanked the man for his kindness and went looking for Margaret.
She was standing in the shade of a big oak tree near the barn, waiting for him. She smiled when he walked to her. It turned out Margaret was very aware of Lancelot and knew he had been trying to get her attention but she was afraid he was too worldly for the sweet, innocent farm girl that she knew she was. For the next six months they were inseparable and for the first, and last, time Lancelot was in love.
The day Margaret planned to tell Lancelot that she was pregnant; she was happy and thought that he would be too. Her world crashed around her when Lancelot balked at the idea of being a father. He told her he was a Knight and would never marry. He told her he loved her and did not want their lives to change, that he knew of a woman that could end the pregnancy. Suddenly Margaret saw the truth about the man that she loved. Broken hearted she turned away from him and never looked back. Three days later when Lancelot returned to the Brody house to beg her to forgive him, her parents would not talk to him and no one knew where she was. Margaret was gone from Lancelot’s life forever.
When her son was one year old, Margaret married a gentle man named Michael Burroughs who raised her son as his own. When her son was ten years old, Margaret Brody Burroughs died and her husband and son returned to Camelot where her husband remarried and her son, Jonathan, grew to manhood.
King Arthur included the above paragraph in the letter that our young Knight handed to Lancelot that sunny day when they first met by the sea in Ireland. At the end of the letter, King Arthur wrote, “The young man that hands you this letter is your son, Jonathan, from Margaret Brody. He does not know that you are his father.” Lancelot wanted to tell Jonathan he was his father, Lancelot planned to tell Jonathan he was his father, but at first he was shocked and caught off guard and by the time he was ready to talk, he and Jonathan parted ways and there never seemed to be a right time.
As Lancelot stood on the shore of Loch Ness and watched his son being dragged into the depths something snapped inside of him. “I failed your mother,” he shouted, “I have failed my King, but I will be damned if I will fail my son.”
Running now, toward the gatehouse tower, Lancelot yelled over his shoulder to Galahad and the dozen other soldiers that had raced to the shore when they saw the monster, “Do whatever you have to do to turn that beast around, make it come over to the tower.” As Lancelot raced up the stone steps of the gatehouse, Galahad and the soldiers waded into the Loch, yelling at the monster, daring her to return.
Hearing the ugly humans taunt her, the monster swung her head and looked up at the shore through a foot of water. Angrier than ever, she circled around and her great head broke the surface, Jonathan’s lifeless body still clenched in her jaws. The men ran toward the tower, the monster on top of them. She didn’t see Lancelot until it was too late.
Perched on the ledge at the top of the tower, his great sword pointed downward, Lancelot waited for the beast. He watched the monster swipe at two of the soldiers and toss them into the Loch. Within minutes all of the men were standing at the foot of the gatehouse and the monster was glaring at them, her long neck bringing her head to within a few feet of the crouching soldiers.
That’s when Lancelot pushed himself off the tower and lunged, his sword thrusting downward, at the back of the monster’s head. Sensing Lancelot more than seeing him, she began to lift her head but the great sword caught her between her eyes and she was dead before her body hit the shore. Sir Jonathan dropped from her mouth and rolled along the water’s edge. Galahad ran to Jonathan and found he was still breathing. A moment later, Merlin appeared on the shore, picked up Jonathan’s body and carried him to the castle.
Sir Galahad, Lady Catherine and the soldiers searched until dark for Lancelot’s body but it was never found.
Ten years later …
When Catherine came into his life, King Arthur was revived. Once again he became the great leader and peacekeeper of his youth. His health returned. He spent most of his days training his two young grandsons to become Knights and he slept peacefully every night.
Catherine grew to love her natural father, King Arthur, as much as she loved the father who raised her. She quickly mastered all of the skills necessary to rule Camelot. It was obvious she was a natural leader, the citizens loved her and they respected her as one of their own. She had been a dedicated nurse to our young Knight during the two years of his recovery. She was very much in love with her husband and together they were raising their two charming sons, the Princes of Camelot.
Finally, Sir Galahad was content with his life. He loved his wife, Catherine, more each day and the two red-haired sons, Arthur and Jonathan, which Catherine had given him. Although King Arthur still attended the Round Table, Sir Galahad was now the man the Knights followed into battle. He was also the only remaining original Knight of the Round Table.
Our young Knight
Sir Jonathan was bed ridden for two years and then surprised everyone when he began to walk again. Shortly after walking, he started riding and shortly after that he resumed all of the duties of a Knight of the Round Table. He was fully recovered from his brush with death, except for a barely discernible limp and a very nasty scar on his forehead. During his recuperation Jonathan and Catherine renewed their friendship. As the days went by it became clear to both of them that they were destined to be friends, and he stood beside Sir Galahad as his best man on the day Catherine and Galahad married. Five years after the death of Lancelot our young Knight resigned unexpectedly from the Round Table and left Camelot.
Even if Lancelot survived the beast, he could not have stayed in Camelot. Even if Arthur could have forgiven him, Lancelot could never forgive himself and every time he looked at Arthur his guilt would have been overwhelming.
There is an old English legend about Two Knights in the time of Camelot who traveled the country championing the innocent and slaying dragons. One of the Knights was an old man who fought alongside a young Knight who had a slight limp and a scar across his forehead. There were rumors they were father and son. To this day, the Legend of the Two Knights is whispered around campfires in the English countryside.
|116 items total