Denise hosts Six Sentence Stories, where there is one simple rule: stories must be 6 sentences – no more, no less. This week’s prompt word is: SILK
When my sister was born, there was no question what my parents would name her; since both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were named Rose and my maternal and paternal great-grandmothers were named Marie, my sister was given the name Rosemarie – simple, no questions asked.
When I came along four years later, there were no more available grandmother names; of course, my parents could have named me Marie Rose but even they thought that was a bit too cute although I’m sure my grandmothers and great-grandmothers would have done cartwheels over such a name.
The search for a name expanded to include my aunts – a concept which my mother was not thrilled about since she was an only child and there were no aunt names on her side; however there were two paternal aunts, Vincenzina and Francesca and the family feud began – (would I be simply Vincenzina or Francesca or perhaps a combination of the two?) – but the argument grew as to which name would be first and which would be the middle name.
The fighting became so intense, all visitors were told to leave my mother’s hospital room so she could rest but sleep eluded her as names kept spinning around in her head; besides, I didn’t look much like a Vincenzina or a Francesca with my peaches and cream complexion and silk-like platinum blonde hair.
After all our squabbling relatives left the hospital, the night nurse came into my mother’s room; seeing the distressed look on my mother’s face, she asked if there was anything wrong, to which my mother simply replied, “Family nonsense” and the nurse nodded knowingly, saying she understood how family members meant well but could be the cause of much upset, an explanation which pleased my mother greatly, so much so that she was inspired to ask the night nurse a question.
“Excuse me but what is your name?“ and the nurse replied “My name is Nancy … Nancy Ann”; my mother thought that was a lovely name which suited me very well and in the quiet empty room of St. Francis Hospital, my mother happily told the night nurse that was the name she wanted on my birth certificate …. And the rest, my friends is history.
Normally I don’t take the subway to work but I heard there was a bad auto accident backing up traffic for miles on the highway so driving wasn’t an option. My train was already at the station when I arrived. Every seat was taken except for one in the corner. I quickly sat down as the train began filling up with passengers.
Glancing around I caught a glimpse of a man seated about fifteen feet from me reading a newspaper. He looked over in my direction and gave me a big grin, his light blue eyes twinkling. He bore an uncanny resemblance to my late father, Gino, and I was unable to resist smiling back at him. He was well-groomed, wearing a fedora with a white feather neatly tucked into the hatband. He had a thin mustache and I imagined he was a barber like my dad. He went back to reading his newspaper and when he turned the page I was surprised to see it was La Stampa, the Italian newspaper my father used to read.
Suddenly the subway stopped and the lights went out for a few minutes. When they came back on I looked over at the man but he wasn’t there. I looked all around but didn’t see him. We were stuck in a dark tunnel – where could he have gone?
The train started up again and at our next stop many people entered, including two women with five young children; they looked like gypsies. One woman was younger, obviously the mother of the children, and the older woman was their grandmother. The mother protectively held a toddler while the other children clung to her skirt and the grandmother clutched the handle of a baby carriage. The women whispered rapidly in a foreign language as their wide eyes frantically searched the train. They were clearly frightened as though they were running away from someone or something.
The ride was choppy and the children were getting restless; the women tried desperately to quiet them. At the next stop people brusquely shoved their way off and on. Suddenly a swarthy-looking man pushed the old gypsy woman, snatched the baby carriage and dashed out the train just as the doors closed. The hysterical mother screamed what sounded like “My baby! My baby!” but no one paid her any attention. I stood up to see if I could help but the train jerked to a start. I was thrown back into my seat, hitting my head.
The harsh train whistle jolted me and I was amazed to discover I was in my bed; the whistle was my alarm clock. It was only a dream! Sleepily, I shuffled to the door to collect my newspaper, then turned on the tv. Opening the newspaper, my eyes widened in disbelief as I saw the banner – La Stampa – the same paper my father used to read. The date was November 17, 1992, the day my father died.
A voice from the tv roused me from my trance: “A happy ending yesterday for a Romanian woman whose baby was snatched from a crowded subway by her estranged husband. Witnesses directed police to an alley next to “Gino’s Barbershop” where the husband was found hiding behind a dumpster. The baby was reunited with its relieved and very grateful mother.”
There on the screen was the same gypsy family I saw on the train! In the background stood my father’s old barbershop.
Stunned, I dropped the newspaper and slumped onto my bed. So it wasn’t a dream after all! From the corner of my eye I noticed something sticking out of the newspaper. With trembling hands I gently pulled out a white feather.
This house has been my home all my life. I was born in an upstairs bedroom in the middle of an unexpected snowstorm and, with any luck, I’ll die peacefully in my sleep in that same bedroom.
I lived here with my mother, an elementary school librarian, and my dad, a veterinarian. See the red door on the left side of the house? That was the entrance to Sullivan’s Pet Clinic. I always thought dad had the best job in the world – working out of our home caring for animals every day and many nights. Those middle of the night emergency calls were always the worst. I grew up standing by his elbow, engrossed by everything from happy birthings to heartbreaking endings.
Being an only child and a constant figure in the clinic, it was naturally assumed by everyone, including myself, that I would follow in dad’s footsteps. However, that was not to be the case. You see, as much as I loved working with animals, I took the sick and dying aspect of it all very personally; I wasn’t very good at handling the loss. What use is a veterinarian who only treats healthy animals? I might as well be a groomer at PetSmart!
After my second year of college, with no real goal in mind for my life, I dropped out and left home. I found I was adept at quite a few things: I was a carpenter, a pool cleaner, a gardener and a plumber and, while I was good at all those things, none of them brought me the sense of fulfillment I desired. So at the ripe old age of 28 I decided to return home. My parents were overjoyed to see me, of course; however, that thrill diminished rapidly once I told them I had no intention of joining the family practice. My dad made a suggestion: “Find a paying job which will allow you to contribute to the privilege of living in a comfortable house with a roof over your head and food to eat or move out”. I chose the former.
One day while perusing the want ads, I saw a listing for a housepainter. The company was local, the job was full time and since I had dabbled in a little painting at my previous jobs, I applied for, and landed, the position. I was to start the very next day. It wasn’t rocket science but there was skill involved and I enjoyed the work; doing anything with my hands was supremely satisfying. With each brush stroke, time flew by and before I realized it, I was a 46-year-old man married to my dear wife Laurie, the local church secretary. We were the parents of three teenagers – two daughters and a son. Savannah was the eldest at 17; she would be heading off to college next year. Following close behind was Georgia, 16 and Max, 14.
One late summer afternoon while having our traditional Sunday dinner at my parent’s house, my folks stunned us with the news that they were going to retire and move south. Hard as it was for dad to believe, he could not find anyone willing to take over his practice without also buying the house. Sullivan’s Pet Clinic unceremoniously closed its doors and my wife and I and the kids moved into my childhood home. We bid farewell to my parents and locked the door to the clinic, promising we would do our best to find someone who wanted to take over dad’s practice. Unlike my father, I had no problem renting the clinic while my family lived in the main house. Still no one expressed an interest in the practice.
On a rare Saturday off from work, I threw myself into sprucing up the yard. I grabbed the necessary gardening equipment and “invited” the three couch potatoes playing video games to join me. After much grousing and a bit of bribery we were hard at work pulling weeds and pruning dead branches. After a scant five minutes, Savannah let out a squeal and called me over, informing me “there something stuck in one of the azalea bushes” and she was “pretty sure it was alive”. At first I didn’t see anything but upon closer inspection I found that Savannah was right. Mixed in and almost undiscernible among the reddish blossoms was a female cardinal. She was obviously wounded, her left wing hanging uselessly and a small bloody wound on her breast.
Instincts that had been dormant for years arose and came rushing at me like a locomotive. I yelled for the other two kids to run into the garage to get a shoe box and some of my clean painting cloths. They were quick in their return and with gloved hands I gently plucked the wounded bird from the bush, placed her in the cloth-lined box and began walking her into the house. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted something bright red flitting from branch to branch, whistling an unanswered call, and I knew it had to be the wounded cardinal’s mate.
Fumbling through a maze of pens, clips and rubber bands in my dad’s old rolltop desk, I finally found the keys to the abandoned pet clinic. Unlocking the door I was amazed to see my wife Laurie had kept the place clean and organized and I made a mental note to thank her when she returned home.
“First order of business is to assess the bird’s wounds, especially the spot where there’s blood” I announced to my kids in a voice that sounded eerily like my father’s. I asked Savannah to find gauze pads and apply light pressure to the bird’s wound while Max used his phone to search for info on broken wings. When Savannah told me the blood from the puncture was dry, my dad’s voice quietly whispered in my ear not to dislodge the clot; doing so could cause the bird to bleed out. Savannah applied a dab of Neosporin around the wound, replaced the dressing and wrapped a long strip of clean cloth around it, securing it with a small piece of surgical tape.
“There’s a ton of stuff here on caring for a wounded bird” Max shouted triumphantly, waving his cell phone over his head. I read what he found and quickly assessed what we needed to do.
“Ok, we need to fill a hot water bottle to keep the bird warm and a long strip of cloth to wrap around her wing and body. We all worked together efficiently and our patient seemed to sense we were trying to help her. Savannah placed the hot water bottle under the bird and put the box near the window in the sun.
“We did good, guys! Let’s just leave the bird to rest and we’ll check her in a little while.” I started walking toward the door that led to the main house when Savannah called out to me.
“Dad, we can’t keep calling her ‘the bird’. She needsa name. How about ‘Lady C’?” she asked. And we all agreed that was a good name.
When Laurie got home from work, we told her about our adventure with Lady C. “Sounds to me like all those years at your dad’s side is what really got you through this.” I had to admit it – Laurie was right and I felt a pang of remorse for never following in dad’s footsteps.
As we talked, Laurie looked over my shoulder out the window. “There’s a male cardinal flitting around out there. I’ll bet you that’s Mr. C wondering where his lady is.” That’s when I remembered spotting the bright red cardinal earlier in the day.
After dinner we went back into the clinic; Lady C was resting comfortably. Georgia replaced the hot water bottle for a fresh one and on the way out I thought I heard a tap-tap-tapping sound by the window. When I turned to look, nothing was there.
Days went by and Lady C continued to heal beautifully. Her little chest wound was now unnoticeable, covered by new feathers, and her wing was in fine working order. During the whole of her convalescence, Mr. C could be seen in our trees, on our back deck and even on the windowsill looking into the clinic. He must have been the one tapping on the window weeks ago.
At last the time came to let Lady C go free. We removed her wrappings one last time and watched as she hopped around the inside of the shoe box which had been her home for the last few weeks. I reached for our little patient and Savannah stopped me. “Can I do it, please?” Of course, my answer was yes.
We brought Lady C outside and placed her on the wood railing around our deck. Slowly we backed away and in no time at all Mr. C came swooping in, landing next to his lady. They began chirping to each other and sweetly canoodling, completely oblivious of their audience. Then, as one, they flew off into the trees.
Time went by and every so often we’d see the cardinal couple flying around the yard and visiting our feeders. Then they disappeared, gone for a new life somewhere, happy together. A few months went by and then one morning, just as the weather was beginning to change, we heard a clatter of that distinct cardinal chirping. When we peeked outside the window, we saw Mr. & Lady C … and their fledgling twins.
Savannah turned to me, her eyes shining brightly. “Dad, I’ve made a decision. I want to go to veterinary school and follow in Grandpa’s footsteps.”
I hugged my daughter tightly. “Let’s call Grandpa; he’ll be so happy and proud to hear your news.”
I suddenly realized I was grinning like a kid, full of excitement. It was a great feeling.
Saying “Hello” is so much sweeter than saying “Goodbye”.
Hello to a new year, new beginnings, new friends and new memories to be made.
Goodbye to 2022; it was not a stellar year for many of us.
Change was in the forefront last year; changing our habits, our attitudes, our priorities is not easy but it is often good and usually necessary. I chose to make some difficult changes; I was indecisive and flip-flopped many times but ultimately got my act together and made the necessary adjustments in my life. I cut ties with a few people which, while being profoundly difficult, proved to be for the best. I will miss those people but I will not allow them to influence my life.
There were losses, especially one that will forever leave a void. That was the passing of a dear old friend, a tremendous shock and extreme sadness for everyone who knew him. Rest easy, Jean-Michel; there is no doubt in my mind that you are singing with the choir of angels.
Health issues were a concern for us again this year. Arthritis has found a nice home for itself in most of my joints; it’s not fun watching yourself slowing down and being unable to do the things that once came so easily. Through our communication, I discovered that many of you are enduring the same pain; it was eye-opening and humbling to hear of the great discomfort you’re experiencing. I’m doing whatever it takes to keep myself from turning into the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. If only WD40 worked on people! I have a fabulous physical therapist who has brought me out of the depths of pain before and is doing so again. Thank God for you and your magic hands, Dr. Wonda!
Good times and serendipitous events occurred as well during 2022. I made a lot of new friends on WordPress, had my work published several times and will be joining forces on an exciting project with one of my new friends who is now a very good friend. I’ve never had a writing ‘partner’ before so this new side venture should be interesting and fun. This is not in place of my website; I won’t stop writing stories and will never abandon my baby, The Elephant’s Trunk!
Over the years I have been blessed more times than I can count so there’s no point dwelling on the negatives and what-ifs. I thank God for my amazing Bill, our beautiful family and incredible in-laws. Truly dear friends are a rare commodity; I’m so very thankful for the few everlasting bonds of friendship that have been formed over the years. We came perilously close to losing a family member as recently as ten days ago. With a multitude of prayers and God guiding the doctor’s hands, she is now on the road to recovery. Marie, we love you and are so grateful to have you back with us. And soon you will get to see Colette again!
And now for you, my dear WordPress friends. Sincere thanks for reading my stories, my labors of love. I appreciate you, all your “likes” and comments, but most of all I delight in our camaraderie. We are a family of writers, poets, artists, cooks, musicians, comedians, deep thinkers and visionaries, all bringing joy and entertainment to others while living our own dreams, whether grand or modest. Thank you for allowing me into your world.
I wish you all a happy, safe, healthy, blessed and fulfilling year ahead. Take good care and be well always. And may all your wishes and dreams come true!
Born two days before Christmas in 2002 at the same time in the same hospital were two beautiful baby boys. Both had gossamer flaxen hair and skin the color of edelweiss. The nurses marveled at their incredible likeness, remarking in their sing-song Irish accents “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, would ya look at that! These babes could be twins!”
One baby was born to the king and queen of high society, Carlton and Evelyn Winslow of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The couple were like bookends – fair skin, blond hair and hazel eyes. The Winslow’s luxurious penthouse was located across the street from Mercy Hospital. Evelyn was having tea with friends in her comfortable library at home when she suddenly went into labor.
The other baby was the illegitimate son of Rosa Guarinos, an impoverished cleaning lady from the slums of Harlem. Her complexion was creamy, hair golden brown and eyes of green like her ancestors from ancient Persia. Rosa was sweeping the floors of Ken’s Tailoring, the little shop in Harlem where she worked when her water broke. Her kindly boss Ken Siegel carefully escorted her to Mercy Hospital.
It was fate that brought these two women from such divergent stations in life to the same hospital on the same winter’s night. Hours later both women had given birth to sons.
Five days later on December 28th the new mothers were discharged from the hospital. Evelyn and Carlton Winslow brought Maxwell home to their posh apartment where his elaborately decorated nursery awaited him. A specially trained nanny took care of Maxwell’s every need while the waitstaff plumped Evelyn’s pillows and served her breakfast in bed.
Ken drove Rosa and her baby Victor home to her basement apartment in Harlem. He offered his help getting Rosa and Victor settled but she declined saying he had already done so much for them. There was a mattress on the floor in one corner of the basement on which Rosa dozed restlessly while her infant son slept in an old borrowed cradle. The bathroom consisted of a toilet bowl and a sink where Rosa washed herself with a sponge, shivering in the cold December night. She breastfed Victor and cooked simple meals for herself on a hotplate.
The identical babies grew into identical toddlers. The Winslows celebrated Maxwell’s first birthday with a spectacular party at Tavern on the Green attended by their many acquaintances. Rosa and Victor marked his first birthday with a simple cake shared by Ken and a handful of trusted friends.
Shortly after Victor’s birthday, Ken proposed marriage to Rosa; he had always been in love with her and Rosa knew he was a kind and decent man. She cared deeply for him and believed in time she would grow to love him. They got married and the family moved uptown where Ken had acquired a larger space and expanded his small tailoring shop into a successful men’s clothing store. Their lives improved significantly and they were very content.
The years went by; Maxwell and Victor were now teenagers, entirely unaware of the other’s existence. Though they lived just two miles apart, the large and busy city allowed them to lead separate lives. They attended different schools and their paths never crossed. They were both happy, well-adjusted boys with many friends yet sometimes they both felt an unusual void in their lives – something neither one could understand or easily dismiss.
One day between Christmas and the new year Carlton brought Maxwell to Ken Siegel’s shop to buy a new suit for his son’s 18th birthday.
“We’re closing early today, Mr. Winslow – it’s a family matter. I’m sorry but I must ask you to come back tomorrow” Ken stated nervously when Carlton and Maxwell entered the shop.
“Oh, come on, Ken. You always make time for me” replied Carlton in his usual condescending manner. “I brought my son Maxwell in for a suit for his birthday. Are you trying to get rid of us?”
“I’m sorry but I have something personal to attend to. I really must close now!” Ken insisted.
But it was too late for just then Victor and Rosa emerged from the back room; they were laughing happily and Rosa held a small cake with a single candle. When the two teenage boys came face to face, a silence fell over the shop. They stared at each other in a strange sort of amused bewilderment, unable to deny or explain their identical appearance.
Carlton gasped in shock when he saw Rosa and she became faint; they had not laid eyes on each other in a very long time. Ken rushed to Rosa’s side and whispered “I’m sorry, my darling. I tried to get rid of them.I never wanted him to see you or Victor. I failed you.”
Rosa reached up and tenderly caressed her husband’s face, now wet with tears. “Oh, my sweet husband. This day was inevitable and you are not to blame” Rosa replied softly.
Gathering all his courage, Ken stood up proudly and spoke directly to Carlton. “Mr. Winslow, as you know twenty years ago I ran a small tailoring shop in Harlem. Rosa worked as my assistant, sewing and ironing in that tiny shop … but you knew that because you came there often. Eventually I was able to acquire this lovely store and you became one of my regular customers. After Victor was born, I asked Rosa to marry me and we have been together for seventeen years. Mr. Winslow, Victor is my adopted son and he’s very precious to me. I love Victor and Rosa dearly; we are a family. But even someone as self-centered and obtuse as yourself would know at first glance that both Victor and Maxwell are your biological sons.”
Clearly stunned by this information, Carlton stammered “Rosa, why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”
“Because you were married and your wife was also pregnant. You would never have supported us or accepted us as your family” Rosa cried.
“But you deprived me of a son and Victor of a father! I could have provided for him.” Carlton argued.
Ken loudly slammed his hand against the front desk, startling everyone. “Victor is MY son. I am the one who lovingly and happily provided for him and Rosa!” he shouted. “You would never have done so even if you knew about Victor. You and your kind are selfish and spineless; you have money but you have no respect or dignity. Now, I must insist that you leave and never bother us again!”
“Victor” Carlton said haltingly, “I didn’t know. You have to believe I would have done the right thing by you and your mother. You’re a bright boy; surely you can see that.”
Victor simply stared impassively at Carlton, the father he never knew, and said nothing. Finally, when he spoke, his voice was surprisingly calm. “Mr. Winslow, you know nothing about me. Please do not dare to insinuate yourself into my life or the lives of my parents.”
Victor’s words stung and Carlton was taken aback. “Maxwell” he said angrily. “It’s best we leave here, son. Let’s go home. Now!”
“No, father. After all I just heard, there’s no way I’m leaving now. You can turn your back and walk away but I can’t” Maxwell replied. “I just found a missing piece of my life. I’m going to stay and get to know my brother, if that’s ok with Mr. and Mrs. Siegel.“
Rosa and Ken looked at each other and nodded in agreement. “You’re always welcome here, Maxwell” said Ken.
Carlton was furious but he made no attempt to reach out to his sons. Instead, he angrily left the store and began walking home, wondering how he would explain this to Evelyn. It wasn’t going to be easy but he’d figure something out. He always did.
It wasn’t often that we received a package from Sicily, so when one arrived that Tuesday afternoon between Christmas and the new year of 1964, we were all very excited.
The family sat around the kitchen table as my mother painstakingly opened the brown paper, being careful not to tear the stamps which my father would place into one of his leather-bound albums. Finally the outer wrapping was removed, revealing a plain white box. My mother slid the cover off the box to find a card sitting atop pillows of tissue paper. Prolonging the excitement, she read the card silently to herself, then aloud, translating into English:
“Dearest Concetta. We noticed how much you admired this while you were here on vacation. You left without buying it so here it is as a memento of your time spent with us. We hope you enjoy it as much now as you did then. With love – Cousins Paolo and Enza.”
Slowly, carefully, Mom removed the tissue to reveal the most beautiful music box I had ever seen. It was a miniature violin, made of highly lacquered ebony with mother of pearl inlay. We all sat in wonder as my mother gently wound the music box, then placed it on the table as an ancient Sicilian folk song began to play. It was wondrous and I immediately fell in love.
Cradling it tenderly in her hands, my mother moved the violin into the living room and placed it on the marble coffee table where it became the glistening centerpiece of the room.
Several times each day I would wind up the music box to listen to the hauntingly beautiful tune. I never tired of the glorious melody and treated the violin like a treasure, always careful not to over-wind it. I listened, mesmerized, as the music slowed down and the final note was played. It was my delight for many years and I imagined it being mine one day.
Decades later when my mom passed away, a few of her cherished items were placed in her coffin and buried with her … a small tin of pink sand from Bermuda where she and Dad honeymooned, a little toy horse which belonged to her precious firstborn who passed away at the age of two and, unbeknown to me, the magical violin music box.
I grieved the passing of my beloved mother. I mourned the loss of that treasured music box … the first, last and only violin I would ever have. But now, during the lull between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I remember that Tuesday in 1964 when that violin entered our lives … and I smile.
Grandma Lila and I always had a closeness few people get to experience in their lives.
My mother Zoey learned she was pregnant with me when she was 14 years old – too young to drive and too old to play with dolls. The boy she said was the father did what any teenager would do in that situation; he denied everything and bailed on her.
Abortion was not open for discussion. Grandma Lila told my mother in no uncertain terms that getting pregnant was irresponsible but ending a baby’s life was unforgivable. As far as Grandma was concerned Zoey had two choices: she could stay home and help earn money by doing work with her – sewing pearls and little bows on ladies panties – or go back to school until it was time for her baby to be born. She’d rather die than be seen in her condition so Zoey opted to say home with Grandma.
Even though it was the lesser of two evils, as far as my mother was concerned staying home was like being in prison. She and Grandma Lila sewed for hours while watching soap operas, cleaned the house and cooked meals. Zoey didn’t go out and never saw her friends. She got bigger and more uncomfortable with each passing month and couldn’t wait for the pregnancy to be over. Finally on a chilly November morning just before Thanksgiving Zoey’s water broke and Grandma Lila brought her to the hospital. Zoey was in labor for almost two days when the doctor finally decided to do a C-section. Then the unthinkable happened: there were “complications” and my mother bled out. She died in the delivery room.
Grandma Lila was devastated at the loss of her only child. My mother never had the chance to see me, hold me or delight in that new baby scent. When I was placed in my Grandma’s arms, she swore to protect me for the rest of her days. She took me home and held me tight as she settled in her rocking chair, her soft woolen shawl draped over us both. That’s where our bond began, wrapped in a shawl delicately fragranced by the hint of gardenias from Grandma Lila’s perfume, Evening in Paris.
From day one Grandma Lila was my champion. It was she who fed and bathed me, watched me take my first steps and sat up with me all night when I had scarlet fever. We baked cookies, played in the backyard sprinkler and laughed together watching I Love Lucy. Grandma put me on the school bus in the morning and greeted me every afternoon when I got home. She took me to piano lessons, Girl Scouts and soccer practice. Grandma was there for every concert, spelling bee and sports event. As I got older she sweetly explained the “birds and bees”, careful to answer only the questions I asked and not overwhelm me with too much information.
When I started dating, Grandma Lila would give me a little wink if she approved of the boy or a rub of her nose if she didn’t but she never interfered. Then I met Steve and she told me he was “a real keeper”. Steve asked for Grandma’s blessing before he proposed to me and she walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. And she was the first to hold our daughter Jenna just hours after she was born.
Months turned into years and Grandma Lila started spending more time in her rocking chair wrapped in her beloved woolen shawl and looking out the window. She was old and frail now but the thought of putting her in a nursing home never crossed our minds. Steve and I took care of her until the very end, just as she took care of me for so many years. I began wrapping Grandma’s shawl around my shoulders as I sat on the sofa watching TV; it brought me comfort and sweet memories of my life with her.
It was right after Thanksgiving, just a few months after Grandma passed away, when I returned home from shopping and was struck by the familiar fragrance of gardenias wafting through the house. Maybe Steve surprised me with flowers but gardenias blossomed in spring and summer, not late fall. As I walked by the living room I saw Grandma’s shawl wasn’t on the sofa where I left it; I found it draped over her old rocking chair and neither Steve nor Jenna had moved it. I picked up the shawl and held it to my face, inhaling the fresh scent of Evening in Paris. Tears filled my eyes; I knew that Grandma Lila had visited us that day. I miss her so very much.
Thank God for the United States of America! I love my country and even though I may not always agree with whoever happens to be in office at any particular time, it’s still the greatest country in the world.
But as much as I love the good old USA, it can’t compare to the love I have for my family. You already know Colette; here are my other grands – Mckenna, Lucan and Wyatt, with my son Bill and daughter-in-law Dawn. Along with 2 cats named Lemon & Lime and Lady, a St. Bernard, they are the epitome of the all-American hard-working, churchgoing, well-adjusted, happy and loving family. We’re blessed to live only 15 minutes away but still don’t see them nearly enough. They’re young and busy; we’re old and tired! There’s no keeping up with this crew!
Let’s start with 13-year-old Mckenna, my blue-haired prolific author and voracious reader. It’s been my honor to feature her here on my site as a guest writer; please check out her work. Mckenna is your typical teenager with a zillion friends running from one activity to another. She was a Girl Scout and heavily involved in taekwondo. She has taken lessons in cello, clarinet and saxophone, does fencing, swimming, dramatics, sports and is a big WWE fan. I’m proud to say she’s also on the honor roll. Besides being beautiful and funny, she’s adventurous, bold, daring and quite dramatic. She’s a really good “kid” and will be successful in anything she chooses to do.
Lucan. What can I say about Lucan? He’s our joke-telling, Pokemon-collecting, dinosaur-loving 11-year-old gamer with a shock of blonde hair and big blue eyes that can (and have) gotten him out of a few scrapes. That said, he’s also the class clown and will most likely be the first one to come home from school with a black eye (and I mean that in the most loving and lighthearted way possible). He’s the one who decided years ago he wanted a buzz-cut on one side of his head and long hair on the other – and the look suits him perfectly. Luc could be a model and I see him in that iconic Norman Rockwell painting of the boy in a baseball uniform. He plays trumpet and does all sorts of sports, did taekwondo for years and is a good student. He may be skinny as a bean pole but you know when Lucan is in the house!
Wyatt is our 9-year-old charmer with rich brown hair, sparkling eyes, a devilish smile and sweet personality. A few years after his brother got his personalized haircut, Wy followed suit and now has the same look. Like his sister and brother, Wyatt studied taekwondo for a long time, loves watching WWE wrestling, collecting Pokemon cards and playing video games. Wyatt is also a big NY Rangers fan, like his Grampy. Wy is currently taking guitar lessons and devouring books. He’s always loved LEGOs, cars and trucks ever since he was a little Wy Guy and enjoys going to monster truck rallies. Along with Lucan, he’s in the Boy Scouts and loves going on overnight camping trips with Dad and the boys in his troop. A bit subdued and shy, Wyatt has a delightful personality and good sense of humor. He may be quiet but when push comes to shove, Wyatt can be a little bulldog!
I love these kids so much! They get in trouble sometimes with their parents like all kids but they’re good kids, good students, love to read, do what they’re told (eventually lol) and help out at home. And after living through COVID they have learned to be a little more patient, accepting and to roll with the punches. Being separated from family and friends and having to do remote schooling for so long took a toll on them but they’re resilient.
That doesn’t just happen; they have two great parents who cherish them, provide for them, talk to them and educate them.
Bill is a teleprompter who has worked with everyone from Paul McCartney to Big Bird. Fortunately he didn’t miss much work during COVID and is probably the most tested person I know! Dawn is a pediatric nurse and office manager of the medical company where she works. She didn’t miss a day of work during COVID, sitting in front of her computer for 12-15 hours every day locating medicine, equipment, masks, dealing with patients, conducting Zoom meetings, brainstorming with fellow nurses and doctors, hiring new personnel and opening remote offices in every state in the US. Just like all people in the medical profession, her job is vital and sadly under-appreciated.
Dawn is without a doubt one of the best moms I know. She’s like the Energizer Bunny who just keeps going no matter what. Family comes first. Period. Many times Bill has to work on holidays or well into the night. Dawn always makes sure the kids have something to do or somewhere to go to keep them happy and occupied. She plans wonderful get-aways like whale watching in Maine, visiting Niagara Falls, hiking in Bear Mountain or day trips walking on the beach, fishing on Grampy’s boat or going to see the local NY Boulders baseball team.
I don’t know – call it luck or whatever name you can think of but we’ve been blessed with a loving and happy family. Thank you, God, for all your many blessings.
Rosa Scalia was born in 1896 in the tiny Sicilian village of Cattolica Eraclea in the Province of Agrigento. The village, which was founded in medieval times, is situated in the valley of the Plàtani River, a 64-mile-long natural thing of beauty which feeds into the Mediterranean Sea.
Surrounded by high chalky mountains, the valley has a bountiful production of grapes, olives, almonds, pistachios, honey, citrus plantations as well as cattle breeding and sheep farming.
These ancient mountains with their numerous caves and tunnels are fortresses and castles for young boys at play, secret rendezvous destinations for lovers and even hideouts for bandits and highwaymen.
When the almond trees blossom in Sicily, it is a glorious sight. Throughout February the trees dotting the cool green hills are bedecked in lacy blossoms. Almonds are ready for harvesting between the end of July and the beginning of September.
This was the happiest time of year for Rosa. Every morning during the summer it was the 14-year-old girl’s job to walk by the chalky mountains to harvest almonds. Her supplies consisted of two huge baskets, a long-handled broom and a sheet. The Sicilian sun was strong so to keep cool during her day of hard work Rosa would wear sandals, a long cotton skirt, a thin white peasant blouse and a straw hat concealing her lustrous raven curls. Tied around her waist was a sack with her lunch – fruit, cheese and a water skin.
Thanks to their protective shells, harvesting almonds was not difficult but it did require hours of manual activity. Rosa would begin by spreading her sheet under the almond tree, then shake the branches of the tree by hitting them with the broom until the almonds fell onto the sheet. She would then pour the contents of the sheet into her baskets, moving from one tree to the next until the baskets were full.
Before beginning her laborious walk back to her village, Rosa would grab the back hem of her long skirt, pull it forward between her legs and tuck it into the front waistband transforming the skirt into knee-length pantaloons. Rosa would then shake the debris off the sheet, fold it into a thick ‘scarf’ and drape it over her neck and shoulders to act as a cushion for her delicate skin. Hanging one full basket on each end of the broom handle, she would carefully balance it across her shoulders, grasping the pole firmly with her hands on both sides of her neck.
Rosa walked deliberately, her sylphlike hips swaying with each step. Her sheer blouse became translucent as beads of sweat trickled down her neck, chest and back. On the tender cusp of womanhood, Rosa was unaware of how desirable she could look at times. She continued her journey, peaceful and content with another day’s work.
However, this day was different for unknown danger lurked inside the caves of the mountains as Rosa innocently walked by.
In need of a rest, Rosa paused in the shade of a sprawling olive tree and carefully lowered the heavy baskets to the ground. Before she knew what was happening, two ruffians emerged from a nearby cave, whistling and taunting as they encircled her. One pinned her arms behind her back while the other tore at her paper-thin blouse revealing her developing breasts. Her hat was tossed to the ground and long black hair cascaded around her lovely face. The men were encouraged by Rosa’s beauty and grinned lasciviously at her naked and writhing torso as she fought their advances.
One wretch roughly groped Rosa’s breasts while the other who held her arms behind her back reached around to cover her mouth, but Rosa was able to let out a loud scream. Her cry ricocheted off the mountains and echoed loudly, powerful enough to reach the ears of a young man returning home to Cattolica Eraclea with his flock of sheep. His name was Francesco Schembre.
Well acquainted with the area, Francesco knew the shriek was not far away. He commanded his sheepdog Dante to hunt down the source of the scream while he followed as quickly as possible. A second dog, Rico, helped to keep the sheep moving along. Francesco reached for the shotgun which he always carried over his shoulder in case of a wolf attack so he was well prepared for whatever awaited him.
Meanwhile, Rosa was struggling for her life. She grew weaker by the minute and one attacker pinned her to the ground while the other dropped his pants. Just then the man’s eyes bulged in his head and he screamed in agony as Dante sunk his fangs into the would-be rapist’s dangling testicles and would not let go.
Francesco fired his gun once into the air and Dante released his clench. Both men quickly unhanded Rosa and began scrambling down the path, however they were no match for Dante and Rico. The fearless dogs jumped on the men’s backs and knocked them to the ground.
Francesco tied the attacker’s together and pulled their pants down around their ankles as the growling dogs stood by, teeth bared. Francesco commanded his faithful dogs to stand their guard. He then ran to Rosa who by this time had regained her wits. The feisty young woman had wrapped the sheet around her exposed chest and tucked it securely into her skirt. Francesco and Rosa walked back to the men who were still cowering in fear of the dogs, their shaking hands protecting their precious private parts.
The two men were still tied together as Francesco adjusted their pants around their waists. He demanded both men to pick up a heavy basket of almonds and start walking – no easy task. Francesco kept his shotgun aimed at them while Dante and Rico herded the sheep.
They were quite a sight as they walked into the village; Francesco quickly explained what happened although it was obvious to everyone. Rosa’s mother ran to her and embraced her, tearfully kissing her face while her father thanked Francesco profusely for protecting his daughter. The highwaymen were quickly taken into custody before the villagers could turn on them.
In the months that followed, Francesco and Rosa’s relationship blossomed and they fell in love. They were married one year later and began a family. The young couple had five children – one daughter and four sons. One of their sons, Vito, would eventually become my father.
Francesco and Rosa Schembre were my grandparents and this is the story of how our family started long ago and far away in the village of Cattolica Eraclea.
Written in memory of my grandparents, parents and many relatives, some gone a long time and others recently departed. May they rest in peace.
My beautiful granddaughter, just one month from her 13th birthday, discovered the blues and turned into a rock star with a brave new attitude – and I couldn’t love her more for it! Truth be told, she always had confidence and bravado; now she’s just braver and newer with a whole lot more attitude. She is the epitome of cool.
Mckenna made a bold move, something many of us would vacillate over for weeks on end. Why, it takes me forever to decide whether I want fries with that or not! She’s in middle school now – that’s big league! She was ready to take on the challenge. She’s been ready for this change for a while now and Mom at last gave the thumbs up. (Kudos to Mom for holding out as long as she did.)
This kid. My first grandchild. My first baby’s first baby – quite a mind-blowing concept, isn’t it? I’ve said this many times: “You think you can never love anyone or anything more than your children … until you have grandchildren”. Those of you who are grandparents know what I mean; if you’re not, I hope you get to experience that relationship sometime in your life.
Every grandparent thinks their grandchildren are the best things since the potato peeler. I’ve never heard any friend of mine say “My grand kids are real pains in the butt and I wish they’d just leave me the hell alone!” Well, think about the long lonely months just a couple of years ago when we could only see our grandchildren through the front windows of their houses because of a little thing called COVID. We’d make signs proclaiming our love, drop off groceries or birthday presents and blow kisses. Mckenna went through a rough time back then; most kids did. What the children must have been thinking! My daughter-in law is a fantastic pediatric nurse and a great Mom; she had a handle on things and knew how to explain to the kids what was going on but they still worried. Seeing us whenever we could drop by was one thing; not being with us was quite another and kids have huge imaginations. The first time we were allowed to be physically together, Mckenna hugged me for close to ten minutes and wouldn’t let go. And I didn’t want her to let go.
Mckenna will always hold a special place in my heart, not just because she’s my first grandchild but because she’s a fabulous person. When she was an infant her Mom would drop her off at our house so we could babysit. Mom always said “Please don’t let her nap on you; put her in her crib.” I nodded and proceeded to let Mckenna nap on my shoulder, sometimes up to three hours. That was a real bonding experience for me and Mckenna. Don’t tell Mom; that’s our little secret.
Mckenna’s a great student, active in a variety of sports, plays several musical instruments, is in drama club and probably tons of other stuff this aging brain of mine cannot remember. She has lots of friends and loves to read and write stories (Check out her guest posts here on my site; one of her stories got more ‘likes’ in one day than any of mine! That’s my girl!). She loves music, Harry Potter, WWE Wrestling, nail polish, Junior Mints and jewelry but is not beyond getting on the floor with her younger brothers and playing with their huge LEGO collection. You know, all teen girl stuff.
And speaking of her brothers, she loves them, too, but there are those days when all they have to do is breathe a bit too loudly and she turns on them like a she-wolf. You know, all teen girl stuff.
What can I say other than I love this kid – excuse me, this young lady. I hope I can be just like her when I grow up!
Every morning my father would walk with me to the bus stop and wait for the school bus. No matter the weather, he never missed a day. Once I was safely on my way to school, he would go to work at the bagel store right on the corner by the bus stop.
Dad was a widower raising me on his own. My mother died from a fever when I was still an infant and I don’t have any memories of her. We had no other family nearby and dad did everything himself. I never heard him complain and I knew I was loved. Dad always packed small bagel pieces in my lunch bag; he sprinkled them with sugar and cinnamon and I giggled when he told me they were the ‘bagel holes’.
Next door to the bagel store was a shoe repair shop. A young woman sat in the window busily attaching new soles onto worn shoes. Sometimes she would stitch together a tattered handbag; I liked to watch her work, her fingers deftly plying the leather and pulling the needle through.
The shoe lady never looked up from her work but I could tell she was beautiful. She had dark brown hair that fell over her shoulders and long eyelashes. I asked my father if he thought she was pretty but he said he hadn’t noticed.
One morning during a rainstorm, we stood under the awning of the shoe shop. I watched the lady in the window and this time my dad watched her, too. She must have become aware of our presence and she looked up at us. I don’t know if it was a thunderclap or some other force of nature but when her eyes met my dad’s, the shop’s big front window shook and the lights inside flickered.
The next morning on our way to the bus stop, I noticed dad was carrying a worn pair of shoes – and he was softly humming. I said nothing but my heart began to dance. Together we walked into the shoe repair shop and the lady smiled shyly at us. She was indeed very beautiful. Dad handed her his shoes and asked if they could be repaired. Their fingers touched and neither one pulled away. The lady said dad’s shoes would be ready in four days.
Each morning after that as we waited for the bus we would smile and wave at the lady in the window. She’d smile and wave back, her gaze lingering on my father’s handsome face. On the afternoon of day four dad picked up his repaired shoes. He surprised the lady by giving her a bag of warm bagel holes sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. The shoe lady peeked into the bag and laughed gaily, saying she never had such a treat. She and my dad smiled radiantly at each other for a long time.
That was chapter one of our happily ever after. Now every morning both my dad and the shoe lady walk with me to the bus stop; he holds my right hand and she holds my left. From the bus window I watch them walk to work, their heads close together and their fingers intertwined, and my heart does a little dance.
So yesterday was my birthday. Another trip around the sun. I’m not telling my age but here’s a hint: I was a teenager, albeit a young one, when I saw The Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965.
So what knowledge have I amassed over the years? Plenty, but there’s still room for growth!
I give great advice but rarely listen to my own. That’s a work in constant progress.
I’ve been told I can be intimidating; I like to think of it as having a big personality and being outgoing. Show me a stage and I’ll sing you a song or two or ten.
I have a big heart and wear it on my sleeve. My mouth is just as big as my heart. I say what’s on my mind, tell the truth but try not to hurt anyone’s feelings in the process. I’m not always successful and there has been collateral damage. No excuses.
I have no use for liars, manipulators or abusers of any kind.
I’m not offended if a man opens the door for me, offers me a seat or tells me I look pretty. Men are not the enemy. Perhaps having two sons has made me somewhat biased on that subject but there you have it. Some of my female friends won’t like what I just said. I’ll survive.
I work very well under pressure but can be as lazy as fuck when I want to be.
I curse but never in front of my grandchildren; they will hear enough of that in school, tv and online; they don’t need to hear it from me.
I have an addictive personality and need to rein it in sometimes.
I love writing and think I’m pretty good at it. And I love music but draw the line at Rush.
When I love it’s with my whole being and I have very few regrets – except that one debacle of a date with Martin Kovach. Maybe I’ll write a story about that. Don’t worry; it’s a comedy.
I’m smart and funny (and humble) but I make mistakes frequently and with great flourish. I’m confident, even when making mistakes, and love an audience. Not everyone likes me; no worries – the feeling is mutual. I’m not going to turn myself into a pretzel to get someone to like me; this is it, folks.
I’m usually happy but mostly content. Believe me, you’ll know when I’m unhappy or mad.
If you’re looking for someone to be on your trivia team, I’m your gal. But don’t ever ask me a math question. Seriously. I have the dubious distinction of being the only student in my school (that I’m aware of) to be excused from algebra and allowed to double up on English. The anguish on the part of myself and my teachers just wasn’t worth it.
One drink will make me comfortably numb; two drinks and I’m pretty much drunk. When I was dating, I’d order sloe gin fizzes because they were tasty but they made me drunk and sick to my stomach. I threw up at the end of almost every date with Bill but he married me anyway.
I love my family unconditionally. You think you’ll never love anyone more than your spouse … then you have children and that theory goes right out the window. Then you have grandchildren. Fugetaboutit! These are my baby’s babies – a mind-blowing concept – and I adore them.
I’m proud of my Sicilian heritage. I love the United States but I’m heartbroken and frustrated over what’s happening here.
There’s nothing wrong with saying “no”. My heart and mind are young; my joints not so much so if I say “no” it’s not because I don’t want to; it’s because I’m tired and achy. I’ve got the scars to prove it.
There’s also nothing wrong with saying “I love you” – not to strangers; that’s just weird. But if there’s someone in your life who means the world to you, tell them you love them. Some people get scared when you say “I love you”; it makes them nervous and that’s a shame. Maybe if we all said it more often the world wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in.
I have a lot of friends but just a handful of really good, close friends. That’s ok; life isn’t a popularity contest.
When all else fails, listen to The Beatles. Peace and love really are all you need and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.
It was 7:00 AM when Jason Peterson’s cell rang. Reaching for the phone he saw the call was from Dr. Philip Zane. Jason froze. How long had it been since he last heard from Dr. Zane – twelve, possibly thirteen years? He hoped never to hear from him again. With great reluctance he answered the call.
“Dr. Zane. It’s been a long time. I assume there’s been a development.” Jason said with a strange combination of indifference and dread.
“Yes, Jason. Your father is showing signs of coming out of his coma. Considering the circumstances, I thought you’d want to be here when he wakes up” was the doctor’s response.
The only news Jason wanted to hear was that his father was finally dead. But no! The bastard refused to give up without a fight, damn him! Calming himself, Jason said “Thank you for the update, doctor. Please let me know when my father is fully conscious. ‘Considering the circumstances’ as you said, I want to be the first person to see my father when he‘s conscious. I’m sure you understand. Goodbye.”
Gregory Peterson had been in a coma ever since Jason bashed in his head that night of unspeakable horror in the Peterson house.
Jason was only fifteen when he called the police in a state of panic screaming out for help. His family was dead, butchered by his father, Gregory. When the police arrived at the house, they discovered four people savagely murdered, an unconscious man crumpled on the floor and Jason locked in the basement. The victims were taken to the morgue, the injured man transported to a high security hospital and Jason brought down to the police station.
The detectives sat in stunned silence as Jason described the events of that night:
“I was at Mike and Dan Kelly’s house smoking weed. Mike and Dan got really stoned and passed out around 1:00 so I left. When I got home I found everybody dead. My grandma and little brother Jake were tied to chairs. They’d both been shot in the head. My mom and sister Janice were on the sofa. They were naked and beaten so bad I could barely recognize them. They’d been raped, too. My dad just stood in the middle of the room, staring straight ahead like a crazed animal. He was clutching a huge bloody wrench.
Then he saw me and snapped to life. He came at me like a wild man swinging that wrench. All I could do was run, try to get out of his way. I stumbled and fell on top of Janice. Her blood was all over me and I scrambled away as fast as I could. I saw the gun on the floor and dove for it. I pointed it at my dad but it jammed. I threw the gun at him and he lunged at me but the wrench slipped out of his hands. I grabbed it and swung at him. He was gonna kill me, too, just like he killed all of them. I had to do something to protect myself so I bashed him over the head. I hit him pretty hard and he went down. I dropped the wrench and ran to the basement. I locked myself in and called 911. It was horrible, a nightmare. How could he do something so awful?”
And he broke down, sobbing.
After checking out Jason’s story with the Kellys, the police saw no reason to detain him. The dead were buried, Jason moved in with relatives and Gregory languished in a coma. The years went by.
Three days after the call from Dr. Zane, Jason heard from him again. Gregory was conscious and speaking but repeating only one word: “Jason”.
It was evening at the hospital, that twilight time when patients sleep and hospital staff chat quietly. A bored policeman sat outside Gregory’s room, dozing. He checked Jason’s visitor’s pass, did a cursory pat-down and told him he could go in. Gregory was asleep, neatly tucked in and handcuffed to the bed rails. In the dim light he looked old and frail. Jason flipped the switch flooding the room with light.
Abruptly awakened, Gregory mumbled his disapproval. Approaching the bed Jason could see the apprehension in his father’s eyes as he focused on his son’s sneering face.
Bending close so that their faces were just inches apart, Jason whispered menacingly “I wish you died that night, old man, just like everyone else.I should have finished you off. That was sloppy of me. Think how much easier if would have been without having this to deal with all these years. Well, we can’t have you spilling the beans now, can we?” Jason removed his cell phone from his pocket, the same one he used to call the police that grisly night. Smugly he thought how stupid the police were not asking to see his phone. It was laughable but then again his performance down at the station was magnificent. By the time he was finished every cop wanted to hug him and make all the terrifying images go away. Smugly he showed his father one selfie after the other; each one was of Jason standing over the bodies of his family, his victims. The final images were graphic videos of Jason raping his mother and sister. Too bad their mouths were taped shut; he would have love to have heard their screams.
With each photo Jason grinned as Gregory became more and more agitated, his breathing labored and his eyes bugging as his face turned crimson. He opened his mouth to cry out but only silence filled the room.
“What a shame to remove such works of art” Jason said as he deliberately deleted each photo, unfazed by the fact that Gregory was in extreme distress. He smiled coldly as his father died before his eyes. If only he could have bashed in his head just one more time.
Slipping into character, Jason strolled to the door of his father’s room and flung it open, screaming out for help.
Quick. When was the last time in the past 16 months you felt truly happy, safe from the perils all around, free to travel, visit your family or even simply take a walk?
Oh, there were happy days but they were few and fleeting. For me and my husband it was the day our grandchild was born. I remember anxiously arriving at White Plains Hospital to meet our precious granddaughter. She, an innocent, peaceful, beautiful little soul completely dependent on family for every aspect of her life. We saw her exactly twice in the hospital before she was whisked away to the safety of her loving home. That was February 2020, just as COVID hit, and we didn’t see her again until May. We were among the lucky ones; in light of what was about to unfold, three months was nothing.
Think back to the time you brought your first baby home. Many of us had the wise and caring help of our parents to guide us and pitch in when we needed encouragement or just a break. We had friends to run to the store for formula or diapers, family to help cook meals and do the laundry.
Now imagine as first-time parents bringing your baby home and you are stricken with an unknown and dangerous virus. That’s what happened to our son and his wife. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them but being a doctor herself, our daughter-in-law had to face reality; they obviously contracted COVID while she was in the hospital. She broke out in a cold, damp sweat fearing the worst, praying for the best. New parents, both sick with what was now categorized as a pandemic; could anything be more horrifying? Would they be ok? Would the baby be ok? Would they survive when so many around them were dying?
Thankfully they had mild cases of this scourge that raged like wildfire from north to south and east to west. They managed to get by while masked family members delivered bags of groceries and supplies, rang the bell and left. Our son would hold the baby up to the window as we waved and blew kisses, mouthing the words “I love you“. We would make the slow walk back to our car and cry – heartbroken that we couldn’t be with them yet thankful that – so far – we were all well. We all found ourselves praying more than ever before. Our son and his wife made it through the most terrifying period of their lives. They regained their health, the baby thrived and their faith was strengthened.
Finally that day in May arrived when we all agreed that our isolationist lifestyle and carefulness allowed us to visit our granddaughter. We were overcome with joy and thankfulness. There were more than a few tears shed that day.
As time went by how many people lost their businesses, homes, jobs, loved ones or their own lives? And through all this I am constantly reminded that there is a higher being protecting us. If we lose sight of that, we lose everything.
For as long as I can remember my Uncle Bobby was my idol – the self-proclaimed “Poster Boy for Home Depot”. In fact, I can’t recall a time when he wasn’t fixing this or repairing that. He was the neighborhood handyman, the guy everyone called to replace a broken window or unclog their toilet. He could paint a room like nobody’s business, his cutting-in seams done to perfection without the use of that “sissy painter’s tape”. Yep, he was like a magician, my Uncle Bobby was, and I loved following him around on his odd jobs, delighting at his request for me to hand him a Phillips head screwdriver or a roll of duct tape.
Uncle Bobby was a no-frills kind of guy; what you saw was what you got with him. He was my dad’s brother, living with us in the spare room of our old rambling Victorian house. He must have replaced just about every board of the huge porch that wrapped itself around the house. My mom would complain that the decking looking like a patchwork quilt with no two pieces of wood being exactly the same. Uncle Bobby would always say the same thing: “Don’t worry ‘bout nothing, Margie. They’ll all weather with age and you’ll never be able to tell ‘em apart.” But they never did and the porch truly looked like a jigsaw puzzle.
The biggest problem with Uncle Bobby was the fact that he couldn’t truly fix anything that required real skill, like a washing machine or a radio or a power lawnmower. Whenever he attempted such jobs, he’d inevitably have a couple of pieces left over even after he finished putting the whole thing back together! He’d toss all the unused parts into a ten-gallon drum in our basement which was also his workshop. Funny thing was everything he was asked to repair would work fine for a while, then breakdown after several weeks anyway. Uncle Bobby would explain that he “fixed the dang thing but it was just its time to go”. I think I was the only one who knew about his stash of leftover essential pieces which doubled in size on a weekly basis.
Truth was Uncle Bobby had more crap in our basement than Carter had liver pills and he was slowly but surely inching his way over to the cramped corner where my mom had her washing machine. She finally put her foot down one day and demanded he either clean up his crap or build a wall around her laundry area so she wouldn’t have to look at all his crap. Rather than clean up the place, Uncle Bobby built mom a wall. Even she had to admit it was the best looking wall she’d ever seen, with a door and everything!
Believe it or not, Uncle Bobby was a genuine ladies’ man and he “cleaned up real nice” as old Mrs. Jenkins liked to say. He’d wash up in the basement using Lava Soap, shave with menthol Barbasol and splash on the Aqua Velva then head out to Kelly’s Place for ribs and a few beers. All the girls liked Uncle Bobby but his favorites were the Andrews twins, Patty and Paula. They didn’t seem to mind the perpetual ring of dirt under Uncle Bobby’s fingernails; no matter how many times he washed his hands that grime stayed put. He said it was “the mark of a hard-working man”.
Uncle Bobby loved watching those old black and white tv shows like Flash Gordon, Superman and The Twilight Zone. He had a real fascination with outer space and anything that could fly. That’s probably why he loved “The Honeymooners” – that classic Jackie Gleason comedy show; he’d laugh his head off every time Ralph Kramden roared his trademark tagline “To the moon, Alice!”
I’ll never forget that one Christmas when I got a remote control airplane; I think Uncle Bobby spent more time playing with that damn thing than I did. He was happy as a pig in slop the day he found a used one at the church tag sale. He’d tinker with that thing every chance he could, making it fly higher and faster. He’d inevitably forget to include a piece or two which he’d just toss into that catch-all drum of his.
So one day out of nowhere right in the middle of dinner Uncle Bobby announced he had his mind set on building a rocket ship. Well, I think it came as a shock to everyone but me and they all laughed it off as him just joking around as usual. But I knew Uncle Bobby better than anyone and he was dead serious. He told me he was gonna use all the bits and pieces and spare parts he’d collected over the years. And what he didn’t have, he’d scavenge for in dumpsters, rubbish piles outside people’s houses or the garbage bins behind Home Depot. Those places were like a magical treasure trove for Uncle Bobby and he always came home with something. “You never know when this might come in handy” he’d declare, proudly showing me a discarded catalytic converter or a manual typewriter.
Well, true to his word Uncle Bobby started construction on his rocket ship the morning of April 1st and the neighbors howled that it was the perfect April Fool’s Day joke ever. But it wasn’t no joke to Uncle Bobby and he worked on that craft every day. He pitched a tent in the backyard, rolled out that giant ten-gallon drum and went at it like a man possessed. And I was his helper; my special assignment was to find him a really good helmet and a cooler which I filled with Hawaiian Punch, bologna sandwiches and Twinkies.
By July 4th Uncle Bobby’s rocket ship was finished. To be honest it looked like a pile of junk but he thought it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever made. He painted it red, white and blue and named it “Independence Day”. By now word had gotten out and the whole neighborhood was there to watch Uncle Bobby attempt to take off into the wild blue yonder. Sporting his best overalls and the cool viking helmet I found for him, he climbed in, waved goodbye and slammed the door shut.
Well, the damn thing sputtered and smoked and made all kinds of weird noises but it suddenly started shaking and actually took off. It was kinda wobbly at first but it just kept on going higher and higher until it disappeared into the clouds. We all stood there with our jaws hanging open, expecting to see the ship come crashing down any second – but it didn’t. We stayed out there for a long time, then gave up and went inside thinking Uncle Bobby would probably just waltz back in when he was good and ready with some great adventure tales to tell.
Damn thing was, we never did see the rocket ship or Uncle Bobby again. Boy, do I miss him!
Here’s to you, Rocket Man! Hope you had a great journey, wherever you are.
“Scorching weather we’re experiencing, Maureen. Quite odd for June. You and Jamie should consider postponing your holiday. As you know, your Aunt Camilla detests air conditioning and I fear you will be terribly uncomfortable. Perhaps September would be a more suitable time to visit. Do let us know your decision. Hope all is well in New York.”
I stared at my uncle’s email in dismay. It had been eight years since I visited England. My husband Jamie’s family is from Scotland and we spent our honeymoon there, setting aside a few days to visit my aunt and uncle in Kent. I was looking forward to a return trip and an early summer vacation. Now Uncle George was complaining about an oppressive heatwave.
We had just booked our flights that morning and made reservations at some of the many attractions in the area. Our plans included a visit to Canterbury Cathedral, Port Lympne Animal Reserve, Chiselhurst Caves and Hever Castle with its incredible labyrinthine gardens. I could just picture our five-year-old daughter Josie running through the vast field of mazes, giggling at every dead end.
If my aunt and uncle agreed to watch Josie for a few hours, Jamie and I could go on a tour of Shepherd Neame Brewery. I must admit after years in New York I preferred my beer served ice cold in a frosty mug – not at the traditional ‘English cellar temperature’. I never did care for the taste of a tepid brew.
After telling Jamie about my uncle’s message, he reminded me that we had 24 hours to cancel our flights and reservations without incurring a penalty. The first thing we needed to do was check with the airline, then we could look into our other plans. Luck was on our side; we were able to reschedule our flights and all our activities without any problem. In fact, our new agenda was going to be even better than originally planned.
Hever Castle had recently opened an area called “Adventure Playground” where kids ruled the castle. Josie could discover and explore Tudor Towers with its 2 metre high willow structure, a giant sandpit and grassy mounds with hidden tunnels. There were secret dungeons, moats and turrets plus climbing frames, swings and slides. Josie would never want to leave!
I began having serious thoughts about moving back to England permanently. My parents chose to retire in Spain and I had no other family here in The States. Jamie, I knew, would love the idea of being closer to his relatives. Josie had just finished kindergarten and Jamie’s firm had a branch office in London. It would be an experience of a lifetime and the perfect surprise for our families to learn we’d be living in the UK again.
“Good news, Uncle George! We were able to change our travel plans to September. Josie can’t wait to finally meet you in person and I’m looking forward to being with family again. We also have a big surprise planned which I’ll share with you very soon. Try to stay cool! Maureen”
One of the first things I noticed about the house across the street was the candle in an upstairs window.
It was December 1980 – two weeks before Christmas – and we had just moved into our new home. My mom quickly located the boxes marked ‘CHRISTMAS LIGHTS’ and put my dad to work decorating outside. When he was done every house on the street was aglow except for the one with the solitary candle.
I was fascinated by that candle; it was lit twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When I told my dad I was afraid the house would burn down, he assured me that the candle was either electric or battery-operated; the ‘flame’ didn’t flicker and the candle never melted. That made me feel a lot better.
About a week later there was a knock on our front door. Mom answered and I scurried along behind her, anxious to see who was visiting us for the first time. Standing on the front porch was a chubby little old lady with silver hair, twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks and I couldn’t resist blurting out “Are you Mrs. Claus?” She chuckled a bit saying no, she was Mrs. Granger from across the street and had come to bring us an angel food cake as a welcoming gift. Mom introduced herself and invited Mrs. Granger inside but she declined saying “perhaps another time”. Before she left I told her my name was Eleanor and I had just turned ten on December 1. She smiled slightly at us but there was sadness in her eyes.
Mrs. Granger’s angel food cake sat on one of her beautiful Spode Christmas plates. Mom said we should return the plate on Christmas Day brimming with sugar cookies, which is exactly what we did. We rang the bell and mom apologized for showing up unannounced, adding that she hoped we weren’t interrupting her Christmas festivities.
“No, dear. Not at all. I was just preparing myself one of those frozen TV dinners – turkey, for a special treat.” Mom made polite small talk while I glanced around the living room. There wasn’t a single Christmas decoration in sight, not even a card. A fading ember in the fireplace made me think that Mrs. Granger was probably very lonely.
I suddenly found myself asking the question: “Mrs. Granger, why is there a candle in the window upstairs?”
Mom gave me a withering look as Mrs. Granger slowly walked to the sofa and slumped down. I felt awful when she started crying, dabbing her eyes with a lacy handkerchief. Mom sat next to her and held her hand, not speaking.
In hushed tones Mrs. Granger told us her story: she married late in life and was blessed with a son, Edward. Her husband died in an accident when Edward was three years old and she raised the boy by herself. When the U.S. entered the Vietnam War, Edward enlisted; he was declared MIA on December 1, 1970 and she hadn’t heard a word in the ten years since then. The candle in the window was her way of holding vigil for Edward, steadfastly waiting for any news. We sat together for a few minutes, then Mrs. Granger politely said she wanted to be alone. Silently we left. It was then that I understood why she looked so sad when I told her my birthday – the dreadful day her son went missing.
Two days later mom returned to Mrs. Granger’s. She apologized for the intrusion on Christmas Day and said we hoped she would join us for New Year’s Day dinner. Mrs. Granger said gently “No, dear. I haven’t celebrated a new year since Edward disappeared.”
All week I thought about Mrs. Granger. Our New Year’s Day table was set for three, sparkling with mom’s best dishes, silverware and crystal glasses. I sat in the bay window watching the lightly falling snow; then I noticed the candle in the window of Mrs. Granger’s house was not lit.
“Mom!” I gasped. “The candle is out.”
Mom, dad and I walked across the street on leaden feet. Mom rapped softly on the door; we could see a dim glow coming from the fireplace. One more knock and the door opened slightly; Mrs. Granger appeared, her face wet with tears.
“Are you alright, Mrs. Granger?” mom inquired with obvious concern in her voice.
“Oh, my dear! My mind has been preoccupied all day” she replied, her voice trembling. “You see, I received some news today.”
Mrs. Granger turned and walked back inside, leaving the door ajar; apprehensively we followed her. By the fireplace stood a smiling soldier; her long-lost son Edward had finally returned home.
When I was younger I remember my grandparents dancing in the living room to some of their favorite ballads: “I’ll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time”, “As Time Goes By”, “I’ll Be Seeing You”, “You Belong To Me”. They would drink a glass or two of sherry and talk about “the good old days” and how quickly the years pass. There was one song in particular that always made them somewhat melancholy. They’d sit side by side near the fireplace just listening to the words and holding each other close:
“When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame One hasn’t got time for the waiting game”
I was just a kid and I couldn’t understand why a song about weather and time made them sad. That’s the way it is with kids; time means nothing. If someone is 25-years-old, that’s practically ancient! We’d watch shows like “Father Knows Best” and “The Donna Reed Show”; the actors were probably 40-years-old, if that, but they looked decrepit to us. The concept of aging was nonexistent.
You just blink your eyes once and you’re suddenly in high school. Then before you know it you’re married with kids of your own. Wait a gosh darn minute! When did that happen? Funny how time has a way of creeping up on you. One day you’re sledding down a giant snow-covered hill and the next you’re taking your own kids sledding down that same hill.
Your little Katie with a head-full of golden curls is now a teenager and you hear yourself saying the exact same things your parents said to you. And now your parents are the ones sitting by the fireplace listening to “September Song”.
Then one morning you wake up and it’s Katie’s wedding day. You catch a glimpse of your reflection in the mirror and your wife says how dashing you look, still so handsome in your tuxedo and you tell her she’s radiant in her gown, always the prettiest girl in the room. And in each other’s eyes it’s the truth; you haven’t changed a bit since your own wedding day.
You think about your grandparents, gone for a long time now, and you remember the call you got from your mother last week:
“Oh, dear, we’re just heartbroken over this but your dad and I aren’t going to be able to make the trip up to Vermont for Katie’s wedding. Lord knows, we hate to miss it but we’ll be there in spirit. Please give sweet Katie-Girl all our love.“
You understand; they’re 80-something and need to take it easy. It’s a long trip from Florida to Vermont and they can’t handle the cold weather. Still you feel very sad knowing they’ll miss their granddaughter’s special day.
What a beautiful bride Katie was! Doesn’t her wedding photo look lovely on the mantle next to yours and your parents and your grandparents? Now it’s just the two of you in that old, empty house. Once upon a time, when you and your brothers and sisters were kids, the house was filled with your laughter. But wait – it’s suddenly not so empty and quiet anymore. Where’s all that noise coming from? And you take a peek around the corner; there are your grand kids in the living room near the Christmas tree. There’s some rock and roll song on the record player, the 12-year-old twins are playing “Yahtzee” and your 15-year-old granddaughter is furtively sharing a sweet kiss with her boyfriend under the mistletoe.
“C’mon, kids!” Katie calls out from the front hallway. “Your dad’s got the car all packed up and it’s time to go. Say goodbye to Grams and Gramps.” And she gives you both a kiss on the cheek promising to call soon.
It seems like just yesterday but you realize eight years have gone by since you left Vermont and retired to Florida. You think about playing golf but your rotator cuff has been hurting a lot lately and your wife isn’t quite ready to hit the links so soon after her hip replacement. Well, let’s not think about that now. There will be plenty of days for golf. So you pour yourself another cup of coffee and work on a crossword puzzle while your wife knits a blanket for Katie’s grand-baby – your very first great-grandchild.
Now in the evenings you sip sherry in the living room. “There’s nothing good on tv these days. How about we listen to some music? Well, look what I found!” and you blow the dust off an old forgotten record laying on the shelf.
“What memories that song brings back!” And you sit holding hands, gazing at faded family wedding photos on the mantle, listening to Sinatra sing:
“Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December But the days grow short when you reach September”
And you give your wife a hug and a gentle kiss on the forehead.
Attribution of my fear to all things nautical haunted me for years. The cause of this anxiety seemed so near – that feeling you get when a word is on the tip of your tongue but the answer is just out of reach. I finally solved the puzzle quite by accident one day while in an elevator. The song “Tara’s Theme” from “Gone With the Wind” was playing and suddenly the floodgates opened and so many memories came rushing back to me.
When I was a child my family enjoyed watching a television show called “Million Dollar Movie”; the music I heard in the elevator happened to be the theme for that show! The format was to feature popular movies which would run for an entire week, airing twice nightly; after one week a new movie would be shown. For some reason many of the films were scary and rather traumatizing for an impressionable ten year old.
One of the first movies I recall was “Creature From the Black Lagoon”, a dark tale of a strange prehistoric beast that lurked in the depths of the Amazonian jungle. I would scream and huddle close to my father every time the creature appeared on the screen.
Then there was “Journey to the Center of the Earth” about a deranged professor/explorer who led his intrepid party on an expedition in search of the mythical buried city of Atlantis. It was rife with monsters, evil sorcerers and dangerous crystalline mines. I would have nightmares about being trapped under water in one of those mines; I’d wake up in a cold sweat yet I couldn’t resist watching the movie whenever it was shown.
An annual family favorite was “The Ten Commandments” – a cinematic masterpiece by Cecil B. DeMille. As a kid I loved Bible movies! Moses and the Israelites were fleeing Egypt with Rameses and the Egyptian charioteers hot on their heels. Upon reaching the Red Sea, Moses raised his arms and commanded the waters to part, leaving a clear dry path for the Israelites. Taking advantage of the opening, Rameses ordered his troops to continue their pursuit. Suddenly the waters began to churn and roil. Waves as tall as mountains came crashing down on the Egyptian soldiers, swallowing them up like children’s toys. While it was unquestionably one of the most spectacular special effects of all time, the only thing I could think about was how terrifying it must be to find oneself drowning, knowing that death was inevitable and imminent.
Water and all its dangers played a major role in most of the movies that caused me great anxiety. I never had a close encounter with drowning so I just chalked it up to an inexplicable phobia; somehow coming to that realization eased my mind. Years later when my parents invited the family on a cruise to the Bahamas, I admit to having some trepidation but it was our first cruise and my parents were very excited.
Our ship was enormous – the equivalent of a floating resort. Everything we could possibly want or need was available to us from bowling to casinos to Broadway musicals. It was perfect – until we ran into stormy weather which forced everyone inside. I was feeling rather uneasy so I decided to stay in my cabin and relax. Turning on the tv I settled in to watch the movie of the night which happened to be “TITANIC”!! Are you kidding me?! What programming idiot thought that was a good choice?? I spent the last two days of the cruise in my cabin!
That cruise experience pushed me over the H2O edge and I didn’t go anywhere near the water for a while. Who could blame me? That didn’t last long, though; being a true Pisces, I can’t stay on dry land for too long. I’d be like a fish out of water!
In 1930 at the age of 15 my dad emigrated to the U.S. from Sicily. He spoke no English, had very little money and knew a bit about barbering. He settled in Brooklyn, moving in with friends from his home town in Sicily, but dad couldn’t live off the kindness of his friends forever; he needed to find work. Fortunately his friend knew of a barber who was looking for help so dad applied for the job and started work the next day.
When dad showed up at the barber shop he had a copy of the Italian newspaper Il Progresso under his arm. The barber said to him in Italian “Hey, Vito. If you want to learn how to speak English, do yourself a favor and stop buying that newspaper. Instead buy theNew York Times and read it every day.” My dad took that advice to heart; reading the Times and dealing with some English-speaking customers is how be became fluent in English. He was a self-taught man; in fact, after a few years he hardly had any accent at all.
My parents were married in 1939 and dad was drafted soon after. He served overseas during WWII, something he never liked to talk about. The one thing I did know about dad’s army days was that he drove a jeep – a little fact that’s rather ironic; dad never learned how to drive! Many years later something came over dad and he decided to give driving a try, probably thinking “how difficult could it be?” He sneaked into mom’s car, turned the key and floored it, immediately driving in reverse onto the front lawn of the house across the street! Thank goodness no one else was on the road at the time.
During the 1950s we had fresh Italian products delivered to the house including olive oil imported from Sicily. Dad was jealous of the handsome salesman and demanded my mom stop the olive oil delivery. Mom was a good-looking woman and men were naturally attracted to her but she was very proper and never gave them a second look. She wasn’t a flirt and the thought of cheating on my dad never crossed her mind; killing him, yes, but cheating on him? Never!
Our family was very musical; we all sang, my sister and I played the piano and dad played the mandolin. He surprised us by auditioning for our church’s production of The Mikado – and he landed the role! What a riot seeing this mustachioed Sicilian guy made up to look Japanese wearing an authentic kimono and singing Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs. He was the hit of the show!
We’ll never forget the day two officials from our church came to the house to talk to dad; he was the church treasurer at the time but what no one knew was he had zero math ability. Dad botched the books terribly and had to account for his multiple mistakes. After a grueling two-hour meeting dad was relieved of his position as church treasurer. Fortunately for us mom always handled the family finances; left to dad we would have landed in the poorhouse.
One of my worst memories happened the morning after I had my first period. Dad came into my room and with a stage-worthy dramatic bow said “Good morning, young lady!” He thought he was being complimentary; I thought it was gross and humiliating.
Then there was the time dad was mowing the lawn with his brand new electric mower. Well, the mower got jammed and dad turned it over to clean it out; however he forgot to turn the damn thing off and lost the tip of this thumb in the process.
Dad was very protective of me and my sister and every guy we dated had to pass inspection. Throughout my dating years I had a curfew and dad waited up for me every night – right up to the night before my wedding day! Dad thought he had things well in hand; if he only knew how many times I sneaked out of the house to be with my friends or hung my head out the bathroom window for a forbidden cigarette!
When my sister and I had kids, they started calling dad “Papa”. Dad was an affable guy, always coming up with corny jokes or comments which soon became known as “Papa-Logic”. We would roll our eyes when he would intentionally order an “Al Pacino” instead of a cappuccino. Dad loved being controversial, too, and took great pride in getting his point across. I remember one day he saw a sign in a pizzeria window which read “WE HAVE THE BEST PIZZA IN TOWN!” Nothing wrong with that as far as we were concerned but dad felt differently and made no bones about it. He started a heated discussion with the pizzeria owner demanding that the sign should read “WE THINKWE HAVE THE BEST PIZZA IN TOWN!” Dad wouldn’t back down and the sign remained unchanged. And to make matters worse, we were never allowed in that pizzeria again.
One day dad and mom went to an art auction while on vacation. Dad was dressed nicely and wore dark glasses, a big watch and a couple of rings. He won a bid on a painting and the auctioneer exclaimed “Sold to the gentleman in the sunglasses!” He then asked my dad his name. Dad said “My name is Vito“. Then jokingly the unwitting auctioneer asked “Tell us, Vito. Are you The Godfather?” Well, dad couldn’t possibly resist an opportunity like that. He cocked his head, stared at the auctioneer and replied in his best Marlon Brando voice “Now let me ask YOU a question, Mr. Auctioneer. Do you really want to know the answer to your question?” The poor auctioneer started sweating, his hands literally shaking in fear! He made sure the staff meticulously wrapped dad’s painting, walked it to mom’s car and very carefully placed it in the back seat, all under the close scrutiny of my dad. They refused the tip he offered and practically fell over themselves in their hurry to get away from “Don Vito”. Of course dad thought it was hysterical; mom had a completely different opinion of the incident.
My dad was a good guy, a clown at times but he had a heart of gold. Even though he could get on our nerves big time all his friends enjoyed being with him. He adored his family and loved being Sicilian but I think one of the proudest moments in his life was the day he could do the New York Times crossword puzzle – in ink!
When I was a toddler my family moved to City Island, a little place in the Bronx, New York. And when I say little, I’m not kidding – 1.5 miles long by 0.5 miles wide. There was one main street and the houses were on the narrow side streets, each with a small beach at the end. Just about every day we would play for hours on the beach at the end of our street. As far as I’m concerned there was no better place for a kid to grow up.
My Granddad “Pops” was a retired commercial fisherman and he taught us the ropes. We learned how to tie knots, cut bait, fillet a fish and just about everything there was to know about boats. Every weekend we’d row over to Sullivan’s Marina where Pops’ fishing boat “Sea Devil” was docked and spend the day fishing … mostly. I can still remember him scolding us when we dawdled: “Hey, you clowns! Fish or cut bait!”
When we were first learning how to cast our rods there wasn’t a single time that Pops didn’t get stuck by an errant hook. Our collection of his favorite curse words grew on a weekly basis. So many memories of days on the “Devil” like the time my brother sliced off the tip of his finger while cutting bait or when the anchor chain snapped and we drifted until someone gave us a tow.
But nothing compared to that Saturday in April. The sun was blazing and it was extremely hot for a Spring morning. My Dad had the rare Saturday off because it was Easter weekend so he joined us. It was me, my two brothers, Dad and Pops crammed into a rowboat headed for Sea Devil.
I don’t know if it was the heat or the dormancy of the day but the fish weren’t biting. We were sweating bullets and out of bait. That’s when Pops noticed the dark clouds in the distance and figured we better just count our losses and head home.
We climbed into the rowboat, Dad and Pops manning the oars. The sun was obscured by clouds and there was an eerie stillness around us. We heard roars of thunder and Pops and Dad rowed faster. We heard it before we saw it … pouring rain, strong winds and swelling waves. They rowed like madmen but not fast enough. Suddenly we were engulfed in a raging storm and a giant wave crashed into us, picked up the rowboat and flung us into the water.
The fast-moving rains headed toward shore and the waves quickly subsided. By some miracle we were all alive and the boat was floating upside down. Pops and Dad scooped us up in their arms and swam to the boat. Uprighting it was impossible so they dove under it to find that precious pocket of air.
“Hold onto the seats, boys, and keep your heads above water. Dad and I are going back out and we’ll push this boat to shore” instructed Pops. We clung to the seats for dear life while Pops and Dad struggled with the boat. After what seemed like an eternity they felt the sand beneath their feet and the air pocket became bigger. Eventually we also felt the sand beneath our feet and we all carried the boat to shore … to safety.
That was almost 65 years ago and I’ve never forgotten that day though it didn’t stop me from going back out to sea. I have a boat and love fishing. And every time I’m cutting bait I’m thinking of Pops.
“Hope is the perfect name for our baby” declared my very pregnant and utterly adorable wife Whitney as she waddled from the kitchen into the den. In one hand she held a salami, cream cheese and anchovy sandwich and in the other a glass of grape soda. Her cravings had been rather weird and my stomach churned a few times at her creative culinary concoctions. I jumped up from the sofa taking Whitney’s snacks and placed them on the side table as she gingerly eased herself into the recliner.
“Hope” I said thoughtfully, swirling the name around in my brain as one would a sip of fine wine. Whitney happily chomped on her sandwich watching me as I sat silently thinking. Pausing in mid chomp she pursed her lips and furrowed her brow saying “What’s wrong, Andrew? Don’t you like the name?”
“Oh no! I think it’s a lovely name” I replied quickly. “It just might be – now don’t get upset – somewhat cutesy considering our twins are named Faith and Charity.”
Dismissing my observation, Whitney asked me to hand her the book of baby names from the coffee table. “Listen to this: ‘’Hope signifies the Christian expectation of salvation and eternal life. The three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are the strongholds among Christians”she quoted. “Still think it’s cutesy?”
“0k, poor choice of words” I admitted “but let’s not be hasty. I’ve always liked the name Anastasia.”
Whitney stared at me over the rim of her glass. “Ah, a name that defines royalty. Wasn’t she and the entire Romanov family slaughtered by the Bolsheviks?”
“I see your point” I acquiesced. “Well, you’re not the only one who’s been researching baby names. How about Ash, Ewan or Linden?” Whitney bristled at the idea of using a masculine-sounding tree name. “Hold on, Andrew. I know we agreed not to find out the sex of the baby but this pregnancy is exactly like my first one with the girls so no boy names!”
Suddenly Whitney let out a loud groan of pain followed by another even louder. She doubled over, strewing her sandwich and soda everywhere. When she stood up her water broke immediately. The twins woke up crying and came running into the den sobbing “Mommy! What’s wrong?” Complete mayhem and disorder had broken out in our apartment. Breathlessly Whitney said “I’ll put the girls back to bed and get my hospital bag. You arrange for a ride and ask my mother to come over. And page the doctor!”
I called for an Uber and texted Whitney’s mom to stay with the girls. Then I paged our obstetrician giving him an update on Whitney’s condition. Within twenty minutes we were on our way to the hospital. Labor was coming on fast and the Uber driver had the pedal to the metal. With every contraction Whitney groaned louder and the driver’s eyes grew wider.
The doctor arrived at the hospital minutes after we did and a quick examination was all it took for him to know we had no time to waste. “Whitney”, the doctor said calmly, “your baby’s head is crowning. Just a few good pushes is all we need. Ok, push now.”
I held Whitney’s hand tightly as the doctor encouraged her to push. “Now with the next contraction give it all you got.” The next sound we heard was our baby’s cries followed by gasps from the nurses.
“What’s wrong?” we asked anxiously.
“Nothing’s wrong” chuckled the doctor. “But maybe you’ll want to rethink the name ‘Hope’ when you see the Johnson on this kid!”
Otis sensed it before Sam even heard it – tires crunching through the snow on the driveway. Otis growled, knowing instinctively it wasn’t Chris and the kids. It was much too early; they weren’t due back until around 10:00. “It’s ok” Sam whispered soothingly while reaching for the handgun hidden in the cupboard and slipped it into the pocket of an oversized Washington Wizards sweatshirt. Sam squinted at the clock – 5:40 – too early, even for regular customers. Tapping at the other pocket Sam was relieved to find the cell phone.
Cautiously approaching the door Sam yelled out “We’re closed. If you need help the police station’s half mile down the road.” Good bluff.
“I know. I just ended my shift there” came the voice from outside. “Trooper McGinty in from NY. Saw a light on and wanted to make sure everything’s ok.”
“We’re fine but thanks for checking.”
“It’s my duty. I’d still feel better if you let me take a look around.”
”Mind showing me some I.D.? Just slip it under the door.”
“No problem.” Surprisingly a laminated I.D. card slid across the floor.
Glancing to make sure both deadbolts were secure, Sam quickly retrieved the I.D. and checked it out in the glow from the cell. Calling 911 confirmed the trooper was telling the truth – and he was no stranger to Sam.
“Son of a bitch! State Trooper Daniel McGinty!” Switching on the bright kitchen light Sam strode across the diner floor, flipped back the locks and swung open the door.
“Hi, Sam” grinned the trooper.
“Danny McGinty! It’s really great to see you!”
Laughing, the two friends greeted each other with a giant hug. “Sam, you look fantastic. Damn, I can’t believe how the time has flown by.”
“You too, man. You look terrific! Grab a seat and I’ll make us some coffee. You still like it strong?”
“You remember! Good to know some things don’t change. I just got off shift and was heading home when I saw a light on. You work here?”
Sam paused and looked up from the coffee pot, smiling. “You could say that. Chris and I own the place. We met in the
police academy, got married and now live here with our kids. We’re the cooks and ……”
“Whoa! Back up. You’re married?? You always said being a cop in NY was all the family you needed. What happened?”
“Chris is what happened, Danny. When the right one comes along, that’s it. Chris was the one. When we decided to start a family we knew it was time for a safer place for our kids and we couldn’t be happier out here. What about you?”
“Yeah, I took the plunge, too, but things didn’t work out. We really tried, Sam, but we were just kidding ourselves. Besides Newark is like a war zone. So like you I moved out west and I’m engaged to an ER nurse at St. Joseph’s.”
“That’s great! I’m happy for you, Danny. You look peaceful.”
“You too, Sam. And this place is fantastic!”
“What time you picking up this nurse of yours?”
“Chris is coming home from skiing around 10:00. The diner’s closed today; let’s meet back here for breakfast. You in?”
“You bet, Sam. This is great!”
Everyone arrived at the same time. Sam’s twin boys squealed “Mommy, Mommy” and Chris gave her wife a sweet kiss.
“I missed you, babe” said Chris.
Danny approached, smiling. “Sam, say hello to my fiancé Roger.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Roger. Guys, this is my wife Christine.”
It was an ordinary Sunday morning when ten year old Marianna was roused from her sleep – not by the sound of icy pellets of sleet hitting the window nor by her pesky cat nuzzling her neck with his downy face, purring loudly in her ear. Nothing that mundane could disturb her peaceful slumber; it was something much more tantalizing and enticing.
Gradually the hint of a delectable aroma wafted into her room like wispy smoke, encircled her head and tickled her nose with ethereal fingers. Sleepy eyes blinked open and Marianna grinned as the realization hit her – Mama’s making meatballs!
Slipping on fuzzy socks Marianna ran to the kitchen – the queen’s domain where Mama reigned supreme. She was standing guard over her gleaming Autumn Gold Amana stove, all the burners dutifully at work. The rear burners held two large stainless steel pots containing simmering tomato sauce, a slowly bubbling brew of crimson ambrosia. The front burners held the culinary Holy Grail – Mama’s treasured cast iron pans which had one purpose and one purpose only – frying meatballs. The expertly formed golfball-sized orbs of pure perfection sizzled in Mama’s special mixture of olive oil and butter turning the meatballs a delicious golden brown. The butter and oil combination was one of her many secrets – “a kiss from the cook” she would say.
“Come, Marianna. Mangia! I put some aside for you. Eat them before they get cold.”
Marianna scampered to the side of the stove where Mama had placed three glorious meatballs on a little plate. Her immediate reaction was to gobble them up as fast as possible but they would be gone too soon.
There’s a process for eating fried meatballs fresh from the pan. First you select one, gingerly picking it up with your fingers. No respectable Italian would eat a fried meatball with a knife and fork; it’s a ritual and you don’t mess with rituals. Next you inhale the fragrance which in itself is a religious experience. Bringing the meatball to your mouth, you pause for one second, lips barely touching the crunchy crispy outer shell. Now for the best part – that first small bite revealing the exquisitely cooked succulent interior of the meatball.
The sensation of flavors bursting in your mouth cannot be adequately described. Like a wine connoisseur savoring the bouquet of a fine Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, so must the sublime piquancy of the noble meatball be appreciated. The combination of the outer crust and tender succulent inside blended with Pecorino Romano cheese, oregano and seasoned breadcrumbs makes for the ideal culinary marriage.
Marianna brought her now empty and licked clean plate to the sink and watched as Mama carefully placed the meatballs into the sauce where they would lovingly simmer and soften for several hours.
“Mama” Marianna began timidly, “may I have your recipes when I grow up? I want to learn to cook just like you.”
“My recipes?” Mama asked incredulously. “There are no recipes written in some fancy cookbook. The recipes are in here and in here” she said touching her head and her heart.
“But how will I learn to cook without a recipe?” Marianna asked.
“My angel Marianna. Cooking is like breathing – don’t think about it. You watch. I will teach you. Your hands and heart will know when the texture is right – a little water, some cheese, a few eggs, a handful of seasonings. You’ll know. As long as you add the most important ingredient, you’ll never need a recipe.”
“What’s the most important ingredient, Mama?”
“Love, my angel” Mama said as she kissed the top of Marianna’s head. “Love.”
There are five boroughs in the city of New York – Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island – each with a unique character and charm of its own. That was true back in the 1930s and it’s still true today.
Every family has a story and mine was no different as I’ve been told numerous times. My parents were both from Manhattan. They met in 1937, got married two years later, moving into the family’s triplex apartment in Manhattan with my mother’s immediate relatives – 19 aunts, uncles and cousins plus her parents and grandparents.
World War II had begun and countless men were being drafted – but only men without children. My mother’s uncles all had several kids making them exempt from the draft. My father was also safe for my mother had a baby just ten months after getting married – a breathtakingly beautiful boy with rosy cheeks and auburn curls. He was named Gaetano after my paternal grandfather. Then the unspeakable happened. My parent’s world came crashing down just two short years later when they endured the devastating loss of their beloved baby Gaetano on New Year’s Eve. “Nephritis” the doctors said. “There’s no cure.”
Given no time to grieve, the army snatched my childless father and shipped him off to Europe to battle the enemy, leaving my mother with no husband and no baby. My father returned home in July of 1945 and somehow they managed to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and begin again. Their daughter Francesca was born in 1947; I followed four years later, born on Francesca’s birthday. I was named Sophia. Francesca still hasn’t forgiven me for ruining her birthday party!
When I was six months old my parents decided the city was no place to raise a family and started looking for houses in The Bronx. In 1951 The Bronx was a lot different than it is now; it was like a village in the countryside with farms where people raised sheep, goats and chickens and grew fresh vegetables. They got milk from the animals and made their own cream, butter and cheese. It was a far cry from Manhattan and it was idyllic.
My parents bought a nice two family house just big enough for the four of us and my grandparents. There was also a large backyard perfect for my grandfather’s grapevines and fig trees and my mother’s vegetable garden. My grandmother was always sickly. I recall my mother telling us how much my grandmother loved being away from Manhattan. She relished sitting in the backyard watching my grandfather picking grapes and feeling the warmth of the sun on her frail body.
On a beautiful warm day I was taking a nap in my baby carriage in the backyard while my grandmother sat in a chair gently rocking the carriage. I started to stir and opened my eyes. I saw my grandmother’s smiling face looking down at me, her doe-like eyes twinkling as she sweetly sang an Italian folk song, “Ti Voglio Tanto Bene” (“I Love You So Much”):
“I love you so much and I’ll be here for you. You will feel in your heart a love that is true. I love you so much and I’ll cherish you with my voice sweetly singing only to you.”
At 11 months of age my earliest memory was seeing my grandmother’s adoring face smiling at me. It was her twinkling brown eyes and sweet voice that calmed me. She passed away three years later but the special bond we shared would never die.
Newly married financier Alexander Eaton and his wife Margaret had recently moved into their lavish estate in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. As was the Eaton family tradition, Alexander’s father Samuel presented the young couple with what had become a treasured family heirloom – an impressive painting of the ship The Mayflower. The painting had been in the family for generations and had been authenticated as an original oil on canvas created in 1630 by Sarah Eaton, Samuel’s ancestor and a passenger aboard The Mayflower. The painting itself was magnificent but it was the impressive ebony frame with 24 carat gold stenciled details that was the pièce de résistance.
Alexander and Margaret proudly displayed the painting above the marble fireplace in the grand ballroom of their mansion. It was the focal point of every soirée held at Eaton Manor, especially during the festive Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons and at the debutante ball of Alexander and Margaret’s only child Constance. Alexander imagined hosting a grand fete when Constance graduated from Harvard – another Eaton Family tradition – but that was still a few years away.
Alexander was furious when Constance chose to attend Boston College over Harvard. While there she caught the eye of Tom Stewart, a nice guy from a middle class family but Tom kept his distance thinking Constance was a spoiled rich girl. Constance proved Tom wrong when she asked him out for coffee and surprised him when she said he should call her Connie instead of “that pretentious-sounding Constance”.
Tom and Connie fell in love, became teachers and got married. The idealistic young couple were determined to make it on their own and refused any money from her parents. Connie’s father angrily renounced her but her mother insisted The Mayflower tradition be continued and passed the painting on to the couple. Tom and Connie reluctantly accepted and chose to hang it on the rear wall of the den where it wasn’t quite so obvious. Connie knew they really didn’t need the extravagant painting and all it was worth; she had been secretly saving money every month for whatever unforeseen circumstance might come their way. Their rebellious eighteen year old daughter Ivy disapproved of the ostentatious painting “and all it represented”. She preferred to hide herself away in her room listening to The Concert for Bangladesh.
Ivy was working as a barista at Starbucks when she met Will Connors, an aspiring musician. They started dating and one night at dinner she announced to her parents that she wasn’t interested in going to college and planned to move in with Will. Tom asked how she intended to survive on a barista’s salary. Ivy shrugged and replied “we’ll manage”. Tom and Connie knew trying to dissuade Ivy would only make matters worse so they begrudgingly gave their blessing.
The following month Ivy moved into Will’s tiny studio apartment and Connie happily presented them with The Mayflower. Ivy was furious but Connie pleaded with her to accept it as a housewarming gift. “Change the frame to a plain one but please take it” Connie said. Ivy put the painting in a closet where it stayed for a few months. Finally she decided it was hers to do with as she wished and tossed it in a garbage dumpster.
Little did Ivy know that Connie had removed the rear panel of the frame and meticulously replaced it after taping an envelope to the back of the painting containing all the money she had saved – one hundred crisp $100 bills – meant to help the struggling couple. Maybe Ivy should have changed the frame after all.
“Papers! Not one, not two but three papers all due on Monday!” exclaimed Charlie in exasperation. “One on the assassination of JFK, another on the Scopes Trial and…..”
“Let me guess” interrupted Charlie’s sister Erica. “A 1,000 word book report on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.”
“How could you possibly know that?!” questioned a puzzled Charlie. “You must be psychic!”
Erica laughed. “Hardly! Mr. Cavanaugh hasn’t changed his assignments in years. I bet he still says the same thing.”
Brother and sister looked at each other trying not to laugh as they simultaneously did their best Mr. Cavanaugh impersonations – “Remember class, the quantity of your work is second only to the quality!”
Erica and Charlie cracked up laughing.
“Well, kiddo, good thing our folks are at the cabin this weekend and I’m going to Six Flags with Kate. You’ll have plenty of peace and quiet to get all your work done. Good luck, bro!” Erica laughed as she waved goodbye to Charlie.
“I’m gonna need it!” he groaned. “My grades haven’t been very good lately.”
Charlie went to the den where he and Erica always did their homework. First he read his emails, then went on Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. Bored, Charlie started looking through the drawers of the desk. There were recipes, catalogs, magazines and at the bottom of the pile was a binder marked “My Junior Year” in Erica’s handwriting.
“Hmm … I wonder?” Charlie asked himself. He looked through Erica’s binder and found a tab that read ‘ESSAYS‘.
“Sweet!” Charlie exclaimed. “Let’s see what we have here.”
With anticipation he ran his finger down the list of Erica’s essays, his eyes almost bugging out of his head when he spotted ‘JFK Assassination’. Further down the list he found ‘The Scopes Trial’.
“This is too good to be true!” Charlie exclaimed. “Two out of the three essays I need are here! I’m sure Erica’s book reports are here, too … fingers crossed.”
Sure enough Charlie found another label which read ‘BOOK REPORTS’. Pouring over the titles, he shouted “Bingo! There you are! ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Three for three!” This was an incredible find. Charlie wondered if Erica even remembered her binder was there.
Taking all three of Erica’s assignments, Charlie sat at the computer station where he scanned and forwarded all the papers to himself. He then changed the dates, margins and fonts so his work wouldn’t look identical to Erica’s. Finally, changing her name to his, he printed out the papers, returned the originals to the binder and shoved it back under the pile.
“Done!” he crowed, feeling quite pleased with himself. “And I didn’t have to do any work!“
Charlie spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with his friends and watching movies on Netflix. On Monday he confidently turned in his assignments. On Friday Mr. Cavanaugh handed Charlie a large folder. To his shock inside were his reports as well as copies of Erica’s reports. All Erica’s papers were marked with a big red ‘F’; his were marked ‘CF’.
“Obviously you had no idea that I save all my students work. You also did not know that Erica failed her assignments” Mr. Cavanaugh reprimanded Charlie. “By copying her work you not only cheated, you failed. Therefore, I’ve given you the grade of ‘CF’ – ‘C’ for ‘Cheating’ and ‘F’ for ‘Fail’. Your parents have already been informed of this. I hope you have learned your lesson – the lazy student will cheat and malinger and by doing so will always fail.”
Charlie felt sick to his stomach; he never saw this coming. How could he have been so stupid? He didn’t notice that none of Erica’s papers were graded; they were just copies of her work and not the actual reports she handed in. Charlie knew his parents were going to be furious with him. It was bad enough that Erica failed; he cheated and failed.
“No point in putting off the inevitable any longer. Time to go home and face the consequences” Charlie thought as he dejectedly walked out of the classroom.
Mr. Cavanaugh shook his head. “There’s one every year.When will they ever learn?”
“Hey, Pops, what’s that you’re singing? I’ve never heard it before”.
“Brady, I didn’t see you there” replied Ben Williams as he leaned his guitar against the porch wall. “Just an old number I wrote for your Mom. Another lifetime.”
“Pops, can I ask you something? It makes me sad how little I remember about Mom. What was she like?”
“Oh, son. That’s not easy to answer. Your mom was a real beauty, a feast for the eyes. And we were happy. We had you and your sister our first three years together. Then I got that trucking job and your Mom was alone a lot. It’s hard on a woman when her man is away for days at a time, especially with babes to care for. She was special and she loved you kids – don’t you ever forget that – but she got lonely.
“When Ron Carter’s wife died your Mom befriended him. They were both lonely and found comfort together. I don’t blame her for that. One day when I was home from the road she brought Ron a cherry pie. She took your sister with her and they never came back. From that point on it was just you and me.”
Father and son sat in contemplative silence.
“You know, Pops, at first I thought Mom would be back soon. Then I gave up on that dream and convinced myself she had died. Strange thing is, thinking she was dead was easier than believing she abandoned us.”
Ben let out a ragged sigh. “Thank God I had you, Brady. You didn’t know it but you kept me from falling apart. Getting that steady job at the hardware store was a life saver and I was able to be here for you.”
“Then I started dating Rebecca and I was hardly ever home!” Brady laughed. “Marrying her and moving in here with you made my life complete.”
“That sweet gal of yours made my life complete, too, son. She filled a void in my heart and never once complained about having to live with her pain in the ass father-in-law! Rebecca’s like a daughter to me” declared Ben.
“Pops, did you know Rebecca was the one who insisted we live here with you. Not too many women would do that. And our kids are crazy about you! You’ve taught them a lot.”
“I love those munchkins, Brady! You all made this house a home and a broken old man whole again.”
Rebecca poked her head out the screen door. “Dinner in ten minutes, you two. Would you round up the kids for me please?”
That night Rebecca asked Brady what he and his father had been talking about.
“Grundy, you old son of a bitch! What the hell are you doing here?” exclaimed Ian Simms.
“Same as you, Ian, and your brother, Carter. Attending the reading of your father’s will. May he rest in peace.
“Carter, look who’s here!” declared Ian to his twin. “It’s the one and only Grundy!”
“It’s been a while, Grundy. I can’t even recall the last time I saw you” remarked Carter.
“I believe it was your sixteenth birthday – the day before your mother deserted your father and shipped both of you off to military school.”
“You know, Grundy, there was a time when you showed a bit more respect to me and my brother. You used to call me ‘Master Carter’ and my brother ‘Master Ian’ – back when you were my father’s lowly valet.”
“Yes indeed – when you behaved like the spoiled crowned princes of Palm Springs. I’d say we’re on equal footing now, Carter.”
“Watch your mouth, old man” snarled Carter. “Remember you were just a servant!”
“Were being the operative word. Here’s your father’s attorney now. Let’s get on with this, shall we?”
“Good afternoon, everyone. Please be seated. I’m Lester Garrison, Mr. Simms’ attorney, and we’re gathered here today for the reading of his will. All right then, let’s begin.” Garrison cleared his throat:
• “I, Franklin Theodore Simms, being of sound mind and body declare this to be my last will and testament.
• To my former wife, Gloria Morrow Simms, I leave a dildo so she can go fuck herself. I’m sure she didn’t have the decency to attend today but there was never anything decent about her.
• To my sons Carter and Ian I leave both the amount of $19.79 which represents the year you were born. Perhaps if you had bothered to call or visit me just one time in the past 24 years the amount would be substantially higher; however that is not the case. You reap what you sow, boys.
• To the San Diego Zoo I leave $2.5 million dollars because animals are infinitely nicer than humans.
• The remainder of my estate, all my worldly possessions and $18.5 million dollars I leave to my one true friend – Samuel Grundy. Sam, you were never just my valet; you were my brother. You were the only one who remained when my family abandoned me. And when I became sick, you cared for me, refusing any income. We spent many hours in the garden by the weeping willow tree playing chess, sharing memories, baring our souls.
• A note to my sons: if you hadn’t been so self-centered you would have known Mr. Grundy’s first name. Instead you treated him like chattel and called him simply ‘Grundy’. Shame on you both!
• My lawyer already knows that I don’t want a funeral. I’m to be cremated and my ashes buried under the old willow tree where I spent my final days with Samuel Grundy.
• See you at the tree, Sam. The rest of you ingrates can go to hell.”