family dynamics

My late father at 3 weeks old in the arms of his father, my grandfather. My great Aunts Josie and Millie are peeking out of the door, and I think the older woman sitting on the stoop is their mother, but am not certain. Taken on or about July 20, 1935. This is the only photo I have of my paternal grandfather.

Family is a funny thing. Growing up, and even as an adult, I marveled at  (and sometimes envied) the people I knew who used to have these giant family gatherings. The families where everyone went to every major occasion and holiday. 

Now of course, as an adult, you realize that even those perfect seeming families who took lots of photos together and got together often are not perfect after all, and had their issues.  But when I was little, because so much of my family seemed fractured and fragmented, it seemed like a more perfect world than my own.

I loved a lot of my childhood.  I have written about it here.  But I also have memories I don’t love, yet are part of my personal history.

My father visiting my Great Aunt Josie in May, 1941 in Washington DC. My aunt was part of the civilian war effort down there during World War II.

I have never understood the relationship between my father and his siblings (my aunt and uncle.) I know that he loved his sister a great deal growing up and doted on her as an older brother would.  The relationship with his brother seemed to be more competitive for lack of a better description.  Even when I was a child, they never felt close. When they were together it was stiff and awkward. You could always feel the undercurrent of the unsaid.

For a while as a very small child I remember huge Christmas gatherings in South Philadelphia at my great aunts’ and uncle’s home. There were also family gatherings at My Great Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl’s. I loved going to both of those houses. It was awesome.

I never remember such family gatherings at my paternal grandparent’s home.  I remember few visits to my father’s parents that were true family gatherings….or truly comfortable.

My father in his mother’s arms. July 20, 1935.

The family dynamics on my father’s side have always been complicated.  There were second and third cousins I never knew I had until I was well into adulthood because I never saw them.  There were related to great aunts and uncles on my paternal grandfather’s side. And for whatever reason, my grandfather Pop Pop had siblings he was close to, and siblings he wasn’t close to.  I never had a score card, so the “why” always depended upon who was telling the story. I would go to occasional family funerals and weddings and marvel at the room full of people who resembled me, yet I did not know. There was also to be considered to whom my parents spoke to and didn’t speak to. Only that part of the fractured family dynamic wasn’t as obvious when I was a child.

I remember in my father’s parent’s home photos of my aunt at her marriage, and my uncle.  I do not remember seeing one of my parent’s wedding.  It very well could have been there in the living room with other photos, but the ones I remember were of my aunt and uncle.  My father’s sister was a very beautiful traditional bride. My uncle’s wedding photo to his first wife was different.  It seemed more like a hippy wedding by comparison. My mother was an elegant bride.  She had designed her own wedding gown and it was extraordinary and my sister wore it to her wedding. But again, I do not remember a photo of my parents with the photo of my aunt and uncle.

I remember vaguely an overnight with cousins at my paternal grandparents’ home when I was very little.  I do not believe my sister was old enough to be there. I don’t remember having fun.  But I rarely did with my aunt’s children.  I did not measure up to whatever standards were set is how I always felt, and I always felt judged.  They also were not very warm people except to their immediate family unit.

Growing up, I remember things like calling my paternal grandmother to tell her I did something and her not saying anything remotely grandmotherly  like “oh isn’t that nice.”  What she did was tell me every time I made the mistake of wanting to tell my grandmother something as a child she would always just tell me as a way of a reply about the things my aunt’s daughters did that were so much better.  If I made brownies, one of my aunt’s children made baked Alaska. It’s how it went. My maternal grandmother was the polar opposite.  She would do things like fill the front hall with balloons to surprise us when we came home.

However, I will say as an adult, I did not have a bad relationship with my paternal grandmother. In fact I understood her a lot better and I think small grandchildren were never her forte, but adult grandchildren she could relate to. Or maybe it was I could relate to her better as an adult.  In those last years after she was in the nursing home,  I enjoyed visiting her. I really think it was because that was when in our relationship we had our first and only one on one time.  It was during this time I came to know her as the truly strong and independent woman that she was.

A lot of my father’s immediate family were not nice to my mother. I remember that distinctly.  I often wondered if those adult relationships had a trickle down effect to my generation.

I will freely admit I do not really have a relationship, nor did I ever have a relationship with any of the children of my late father’s siblings.  I tried with a couple of them here and there, but my uncle’s children have always been strangers since my uncle and father never really spoke much that I was aware of (and they moved out of the area when they were little and my uncle and his first wife divorced and then my uncle remarried), and my aunt’s children just never really wanted to bother being family.  There was them, and there was us. Just what it was.

I have three distinct memories of my late father’s brother, my uncle.

The first memory was at a party in honor of my Great Aunt Rose that was held at the Lakeside Inn in Limerick, PA (I always thought of it as Collegeville.) We were all there and it was multi-generational.  It was a really grown up thing, so it was very cool as a child to be included.

My father’s brother, my uncle, was there with his children.  He asked all of the kids if we wanted to go to the lower level of the restaurant where they had a gift shop.  (O.k. what kid doesn’t  want to go visit a gift shop???).  The gift shop had all sorts of local crafts and little things.  My uncle then proceeded to buy his children every other cousin something except my sister and I.

We did not say anything, but my Great Uncle Carl saw the kids coming back up the stairs with their new treasures purchased by my father’s brother.  My Uncle Carl was a sweet and gentle man, and quick as a wink with a smile on his face, he took us (my sister and I) back downstairs and asked us to pick something out.  I remember still what I picked out and I had it until it literally fell apart decades later – a small owl pillow maybe like 8 inches tall.

As an adult I often wonder if this is one of the reasons I like owl things. Because of that memory of my Great Uncle Carl being our hero that day with his kindness. It was awful to be made as a child to feel so small. And I was old enough at the time to feel very crappy at being a casualty of war between my father and his brother. My father was never petty towards his siblings’ children. I do remember that.

The second memory was much later on.  It was before my grandmother died in 2000, but not long before.  Grandmom as I called her was living (along with my Great Aunt Josie) in a nursing home.

My grandmother was dying.  I went one time before she died with my father to see her.  They had not had a great relationship throughout the years.  As a matter of fact there were large periods of time when they did not speak after my paternal grandfather had died. My grandmother not too long after my grandfather died moved in with my aunt and her family.  Interestingly enough, until my grandmother was in a nursing home I never saw her one on one. There were always other of my aunt’s family around. Like a chaperone.

Anyway, this one visit when I went with my father, my uncle had come down from New York State where he lived to see my grandmother.  He always stayed with my aunt. My aunt and uncle always seemed to be quite close. Which is probably why growing up it always seemed to be them versus my father.  Mind you, I will not pretend my father was perfect, and I never knew what truly went down in those then adult relationships.

I remember this particular time, standing with my father and my uncle literally over my grandmother’s deathbed when my uncle turned to my father and told him he was “a bad son.” Yes, direct quote, I will never forget it. Even my grandmother looked startled.

All of a sudden I looked at my father and he looked so hurt and in pain.  My mouth flew open and I told my uncle off. Right there in front of everyone.  Yes, not appropriate any more than my uncle’s outburst, I acknowledge that.  But in my defense, it was a familial carpe diem moment.  Oddly, my grandmother who was completely aware of what was going on around her did not correct me. She just smiled briefly.

The last memory of my uncle doesn’t even have a visual memory.  It was when my father died.  He did not come to the funeral.  Somewhere I have the letter he wrote to me at the time after I wrote to him to ask why he could not come to his only brother’s funeral.  My aunt was there and I think at least one of her children along with her husband.  I understood people being busy, but he wasn’t.  He just chose not to.

That was the last time until two days ago that I had really thought of my uncle.  Two days ago, one of my second cousins e-mailed a bunch of us to let us know that my aunt had reached out to her to tell her that her brother, my uncle had died five days prior.

It was so weird.  I felt nothing. No sadness. Nothing.  But then again, I never really had memories with him except for those ones I mentioned. So it was almost like hearing about the death of a complete stranger. That thought did make me sad, I will admit.  So I got to thinking, based on my memories how we all got here.

Family dynamics.  The events that bring us together and the events that tear us apart.  It’s a conundrum and part of the cycle of life.

 

modern family


The concept of family is a sacred thing. When you are little they are that group of people bought together by blood that all look like you.

As you grow up you realize as you form your own family units the concept of family can be redefined. I have a lot of friends who don’t have much family by related blood per se, so the friends fill the family shoes.

When my sister and I were little there were a lot more of us. Not in our immediate family, we were just four people- but through aunts and uncles and cousins and great aunts and great uncles and grandparents and great grandparents there were more of us.  As we grew up, the numbers thinned. But we still had both of our parents.

In 2005 our father died. He had fought prostate cancer valiantly and on his own terms.

For me, the death of my father is still somewhat of a surreal event. My memories from that time are a lot like flashes of  Kaleidoscope images.  Lots of bits separated by flashes of color.

I remember my mother and my sister being so instantly devastated and falling apart around me that I was almost afraid to grieve for a very long time.  I remember looking out across the church which was standing room only giving one of  my father’s eulogies .  In order to get through that and not embarrass myself by dissolving into tears I found two of my friends Stevie and Barb, and focused on them.

Other things I remember from the day of my father’s funeral were two people who weren’t there. One was my father’s brother, his only brother. Even as a child I never thought much of him and I pretty much wrote him off after that. He was like a selfish caricature version of my father. Truthfully, and without guilt and reservation, I can say with a clean conscience I don’t care if I ever see him again.

The other person who wasn’t there that day was my godfather.  That was a more bitter pill to swallow, especially since he lived down the street from the church. He was literally two or three blocks away.

My late godfather was a great disappointment to me on that day.  He had known my father (and mother) since high school and he gave the toast at their wedding.  So I let my godfather go. I was sad for a moment when I heard he had died, but I did not attend his funeral which was at the church a block away from where my father’s funeral had been held. I saw no need to open that door one last time.

We all moved on. It took a while, but we found our way and it was OK but it was different.

Then in 2010, we also lost my brother-in-law quite suddenly.   Our little family unit was devastated all over again. It nearly broke me to watch my sister and her children grieve because there was nothing anyone could do other than to be there for them. It was also so incredibly hard to watch my mother grieve this new loss as well.

Eventually the clouds lifted and we all moved on. One day our mother finally ‘fessed up and told us she was seeing someone. (We had suspected this, incidentally.) Mother seemed almost scared to tell us like we would be upset.  But we weren’t upset, we were very and truly happy for her. We also felt that our father would not have wanted her to be alone because he loved her that much. Our mother was truly happy and alive again, and we loved it.

So for the past few years we have watched a rather remarkable love story develop and unfold. At a time in life where a lot of people tend to wind down and accept a more solitary existence, my mother once again found love.

And my sister and I grew to love her gentlemen as a surrogate father. We felt so lucky and so blessed to have him.

I am especially personally grateful for him as he really gets me as an individual . He has this uncanny intuition with people and capacity to listen to, understand, and love that is just lovely. I don’t know how else to describe it.  And on Monday, 22 May, 2017 he officially became our stepfather.

It was a quiet and intimate occasion, just the children and the couple whose dinner party inadvertently introduced them. Yes, this was something that happened quite literally by fate.

My mother and new stepfather were married by a judge they knew. After the ceremony was complete, the judge asked the children if they had anything to say. My sister spoke, but I didn’t have my words at that time. So I did not speak.

It has taken a couple of days for my wandering thoughts to come together. And among those thoughts I marvel at the modern family we all have become.

My own little family unit is a blended family, and now my larger family unit is a blended family. My sister and I have five stepsiblings! We gained four brothers and one sister…and that does not include spouses and children!

The thing about my newly blended family is how marvelous they are. Seriously, they are awesome.

We (the children) have all gotten to know each other over these past few years as our parents came together from being widowed.  So this is actually a really happy time for all of us. We all have had our bittersweet moments as we remember the parents who are no longer with us, but we are so fortunate that our parents have found such a wonderful love together and bought all of us together.

The power of love and happiness is a powerful thing indeed.  We are all stronger and better together. A true case of  Yours, Mine, and Ours — which incidentally is one of my favorite movies.  (The 1968 version starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda.)

Believe in love. It takes you on the most unexpected journeys in life.

Thanks for stopping by.

cooking up sunday “gravy” memories

My father’s mother, my paternal grandmother was not an easy woman. She was incredibly strong, the oldest breast cancer survivor I ever knew (savage mastectomy in the 1940s, lived into her 90s), and her relationships, including with all of us was a complicated relationship at best.

She and my father had periods of detente and I know they loved each other but there were many years were they just didn’t get along, especially after my grandfather died. I still remember the night as a little girl when my father came home after seeing his mother after Pop Pop had died. 

My paternal grandmother, whom I called Grandmom, in a photo taken by either my uncle or one of my cousins. She would’ve looked like this when I was a teenager.

Anyway, I remember creeping down the steps to see him, and stopping in the doorway to the living room and silently going back upstairs. I will never forget the visual of him sitting next to a single lit lamp in the living room on 4th street smoking cigarette after cigarette, staring off at I don’t know what.. At his feet were boxes of his childhood – books and what not. 

I loved my paternal grandmother, but some times growing up I didn’t like her very much. She is a woman who was truthfully better with adults than children, and she had a closer affinity for my aunt and uncle’s children because they were closer to her than my father was. Truthfully my aunt and uncle and cousins seemed to resent having to share her with my immediate family at any time, it was like they felt they had proprietary rights to her or something.

And that was OK with me. I understood it even when I was little and really didn’t understand it, if you know what I mean. They just needed her more for whatever reason. 

 But sometimes the relationship was more normal with Grandmom and she would do things like come out to our house and babysit us while my father traveled on business when mother had to accompany him.
That is where my memories of her Sunday pasta sauce, which she (Grandmom) and my great aunts called gravy, came from.

I remember being a teenager and younger with the smells wafting up the stairs to my bedroom circling the rooms like a comfortable quilt. The smells were intertwined and co-mingled: fresh coffee perking and onion and garlic cooking. There she would be, at the stove with a big wooden spoon stirring the sauce in an apron she made – she made great aprons – I still have one somewhere.

Me as a little girl with my grandmom and the German Shepherd my father hated named Lily Marlene who eventually went to live with my Uncle Jack.

So much like the smell of Christmas cookies baking in the oven, or Thanksgiving dinner aromas filling the air, the smell of pasta sauce being made on a Sunday morning is very much a feeling of home and family for me.

She would start with the onion and garlic and if there were peppers or mushrooms, those as well. They would meld together in olive oil with salt in the bottom of a crazy heavy cast aluminum pot that had a wooden handle and the wooden knob on the lid. My mother whom she gave this pot, still uses this pot to this day. I use my vintage Dansk Dutch oven.

If she was making meatballs or sausage she would brown her meat in a frying pan. I don’t do that anymore, I cook everything in the oven and drain off the grease. My grandmother always had lamb or pork neck bones to add to the sauce. The lamb and particular adds a level of flavor that I still find amazing and prefer to this day. But it’s often hard to find these little neck bones as there are fewer and fewer real butchers out there.

To the vegetables in olive oil in the pot once they were cooked down almost to the point of caramelization at times, she would add tomatoes, tomato purée, and tomato paste. When I was little I also remember going through this ritual at my great aunts with the tomatoes that came out of my Aunt Rose”s garden that my Aunt Josie would put up at the end of every growing season.

The tomatoes were canned in the basement kitchen that my great aunt had for this purpose. I still to this day can see in my mind’s eye how beautiful all the jars of pickles and tomatoes were lined up next to one and other like little rows of soldiers.

Me at Easter as a baby with my mother and my maternal grandmother whom I called mumma

My great Aunt Rose and her husband my Uncle Carl, lived in the “country” as it was referred to by the others. They had moved to Collegeville after they were married and build a house on a large plot of land next to a farm that had horses. Of course today, what was their house, sits set back off of busy Ridge Pike in the midst of commercial and residential development. But I will always remember it with the memory of a child: next to a farm and lots of apple trees and a big kitchen garden and a sort of gruff German Shepherd named Lancelot.

The thing about all of my great aunts, and the reason I write about them so often, is because the memories I have with them in particular are very, very happy. They did not get into the middle of the battles between my father and his mother and his siblings.  

Mind you, I never really blamed my father for any of this because I don’t care for my aunt and uncle, and as an adult after we buried my father, I pretty much decided right or wrong I was finished with those familial relationships. I remember something my father used to say when I was little and it was “sometimes, guilt is just wasted.”


Sadly, my father’s siblings made it easy for me to reach this decision as an adult. My aunt is just not someone I’m ever going to be close to, she just is who she is. I am somewhat ambivalent when it comes to her because I never really grew to love her as a child, felt her coldness, and as an adult she never really chose to know me. So after a while you just stop trying with people like that, even if they are family.

My uncle, however, is a very different story. When my grandmother was in her final decline before she had passed, she and my father had made their peace with each other. He was actually spending time with her almost regularly and I think it was good for him. But there was this one day when my father and I had gone to visit Grandmom in her nursing home and my uncle had driven down from Buffalo to see her.

My father with Aunt Josie before one of his Saint Joe’s Prep dances

There we were, all standing somewhat awkwardly around my grandmothers bed – her deathbed if we’re honest about what was going on. My uncle brings himself up to his full height (he was a little taller than my father – my father was 6 feet tall) and he looks at my father with righteous indignation and tells him how my father was a “bad son.”

 And it went on from there.

At first I was shocked. I couldn’t believe even with all the animosity he exhibited towards daddy over the years, that anyone would be so cruel as to do this over their mother’s death bed. Never shying away from anything (even when I probably should), I told my uncle off. Right there, right then, in that moment. The thing I will never forget about that is my grandmother did not say a word, but she looked at me from her pillow…..and smiled. 

When my father died, my aunt was there. I don’t remember if any of her kids were there but she was there. My uncle, my father’s only brother, wasn’t. He made some lame excuses how he was just “too busy” to come to the funeral. That was the moment I decided completely free of guilt, that I was done trying to pretend to care about and have a relationship with my uncle. And I pretty much sent him a letter telling him so.  

I did try, out of respect, to have a relationship with my aunt one last time after my father had passed, but I came to the sad realization that she didn’t really want a relationship with me, there was too much water I think under the familial bridge. I let that relationship just go. I think my sister hears from her occasionally, but I really don’t know and I don’t ask. 

 I have a memory of my father’s  sister from after my grandmother died, and I’m not sure if my father was still alive or not.  I had contacted her to ask for some of my father’s baby pictures, so I’m thinking he was no longer with us. And I received a box in the mail of photos of my father ripped out of family photo albums I never knew existed in the first place. It was really odd to go through the photos as I have never seen any of them before. Part of me wondered what the rest of the photo albums look like, and the other part of me realized I never would know.  I was grateful to receive the photos and thanked her properly, but it was still all a little odd.

Now that I let my aunt and uncle go the ones I stay in touch with the most are the cousins my father loved the most. The children of his beloved Aunt Helen. Much like my great aunts, they are just lovely people with hearts full of love. They don’t judge or criticize or critique, they are just happy to be family. I love them too.

It’s weird how the smells of cooking something in my adult kitchen can provoke so many memories. But when the memories bubble to the surface I like to write them down now. I want to remember all the memories and the happy feelings these people gave me as a child. And that’s not because I had some kind of an awful childhood, because I didn’t. These people are my roots.

Something I feel is really important are roots. So many people are rudderless today, and they never pay any homage to their roots. I might’ve spent a childhood that some people considered breathing rarefied air between Society Hill and the Main Line, but always more important than any of those experiences, were these old people in my life. 

And not just on my father’s side, but on my mother’s as well. Being from pure peasant stock is actually kind of cool. And I like to acknowledge it because I think it makes up who I am as an adult in my own right. I also acknowledge them because they always got me, which is something I appreciated in them even as a child.

My paternal grandparents on their wedding day.

I’m only sorry that these people aren’t around today to see my life, to see me happy with my own family. But somehow for every pot of Sunday gravy or sauce that I make I think they know.

I write these memories down because I have no daughters and I do not at this point have grandchildren, so a lot of these traditions passed me may eventually die with me, if I don’t write them down and try to pass them on. So I think if I write these things down, the traditions won’t be lost and someone, maybe someone I don’t even know will carry on these things I learned to cook in the kitchens of my great aunts and my parents.

And out of the older relatives, predominantly it was the women who made an impact on me as a girl growing up. All of these women were strong independent individuals in their own right. My memories of both my grandfathers and my Uncle Pat (P.J.) are more fuzzy and less defined because I was young when all of them passed away. I have photos of my maternal grandfather, but sadly I don’t have any photos of my paternal grandfather as he would’ve been when I was a little girl before he died. Nor do I have photos of P.J.

Now I’m going to go back to my own sauce- it’s time to add the herbs and spices and tomatoes. And when the sausage comes out of the oven it will go into the sauce and it will all simmer, filling my house with the smells and memories of my childhood.

Happy Sunday.

january  stroll down memory lane 

 In the early morning twilight I can hear them. Just before dawn I still remember what they sound like and see them in my mind’s eye.

Who?

My favorite relatives who are no longer on this earth. It sounds creepy but it’s really not. They were very happy part of my growing up.

Maybe it’s a reflection of my 51 years or my inner child needs to let loose once in a while, I don’t know. But when I think of my favorite great aunts and uncles and grandparents and even my father it’s always at those predawn times when I am just waking up.

This morning I heard my Great Uncle Carl talking to his dog Lancelot. When I was little Lancelot was this absolutely gorgeous German Shepherd. He was my uncle’s pride and joy.

I rarely hear or can summon mental images of my maternal grandparents my paternal grandfather. They were the first to die when I was very young, so my memories of them are more faint. 

My paternal grandfather, Pop Pop helped me along with my father plant my first tomato plants and our garden’s first rosebush when I was little – the hybrid tea rose John F. Kennedy. That rose was one of the most spectacular white roses. It’s a shame you don’t see that rose very often anymore.

My Mumma, my mother’s mother, was Pennsylvania German from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She was blonde and blue-eyed and always wore her hair in a French twist. I swear I never saw that woman in a robe and bedroom slippers. She was always dressed with her make up on. She was a great cook, especially when it came to baking. I remember as a little girl she used to make those lemon and blueberry meringue pies with the diner-high meringue. It is also because of her that I learned how to do needlework. She did the most beautiful embroidery. As a matter fact, my mother recently gave me a whole bunch of now antique linens that were made by her and the women in her family.

My Mumma unfortunately slid into horrible Alzheimer’s or dementia when my maternal grandfather, my Poppy died. As a matter fact the last memory I have of Mumma speaking and acting clearly was when she called our house to tell my mother that my grandfather ( this one I called Poppy) had had a heart attack and died.  

Poppy had been older than Mumma. He was little and Irish and had been among other things, a carpenter. He made some of the toys my sister and I played with when we were little. Poppy was very sweet. I think I was in eighth grade when he died. When he got tired of too much women’s nattering he would turn his hearing aids off.

When my Pop Pop (my father’s father) died I think I might’ve been six or eight years old I don’t even remember I was that little. I remember the long ride to the church in North Philadelphia where he was buried out of and putting a little bunch of violets in his coffin. And then an even longer ride to the cemetery he is buried in.

But back to my Uncle Carl. My Uncle Carl was a pharmacist. He owned Trooper Pharmacy in Trooper, Pennsylvania. And I still have the mortar and pestle he gave my father. It’s still the best thing for making pesto. He had started out with his brother at another pharmacy they owned that was on the corner of 12th and Ritner in South Philadelphia.

My Uncle Carl and Aunt Rose lived in Collegeville. They lived up Ridge Pike when it was still country, and my grandmother and great aunts would refer to where they lived as the “country”. They lived in a big house and they never actually use the second floor it was so big. They had one child, my father’s cousin Carl who had gone to Annapolis to the Naval Academy and been in the Navy. He and his then wife Linda were so very glamorous to me when I was a little girl – they were quite the striking couple. I loved when we would go to visit them in Maryland. The second house they lived in was this fabulous Victorian in Ellicott City. I think at that time their dog was a Dalmatian.

My Great Aunt Josie used to do her big summer vegetable garden at Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl’s. She would go out there for extended periods of time in the summer and I still remember her tending the garden. Of course she also had a garden in the back of her house in South Philadelphia, and a giant grapefruit tree she grew from seed. The shame of where my Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl used to live is now everything around there is developed. Driving by today you would never believe there was a farm behind them with horses that would eat the apples from their Apple trees and so on.

My great aunt and uncle’s favorite place to get dressed up to go out to dinner was The Lakeside Inn. I believe that is actually in Limerick and I think it’s still open today. I remember one time my father’s family was all gathered there at the Lakeside Inn was for either a birthday for my great aunt or a wedding anniversary celebration.

We were all dressed up and gathered for this party that took over a good portion of the inn. Even my father’s brother was in town with his first wife and however many children they had popped out at the time. My father’s sister, my aunt was there with her daughters and husband.

We never saw my father’s brother and sister terribly much after a certain point growing up. They really didn’t get along with my father and they really weren’t nice to my mother… and they really showed little interest in my sister and I. 

I remember a family party at the Lakeside Inn vividly. When I was a little girl it was a very pretty place and I always felt very grown up being there. I remember at the party my father’s brother took all the children downstairs to the gift shop. Only he only bought little trinkets and presents for his children and my father’s sister’s children. It was at that point in time that I really decided I did not care for my uncle even if he was my father’s brother. There my then very little sister and I stood while everyone else were given little gifts purchased by my late father’s brother. It was just kind of mean.

My Uncle Carl, who was always the sweetest and kindest of men somehow got wind of what was going on and he took my sister and I downstairs again and let us pick out gifts from the gift shop so we weren’t left out of being treated. I had that little stuffed owl he bought me that someone had made by hand until it literally fell apart threadbare.

Another thing I remember about my Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl was that was where I first became aware of the sounds of summer on their front porch. 

It’s funny I used to look at my friends with big holiday gatherings of their families and wonder what that would be like. I remember it from when I was very very little but then it all stopped and eventually families went their separate ways. It got to the point where we would only see everyone at special family parties, weddings, and funerals. But I hated when I was really little being sent to the Antartica of the “children’s table” so maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.  

I remember one holiday children’s table in particular – I was really little and my father’s sister and husband and family were living in a rambling white house in Paoli at the time. It was I think Thanksgiving and the children’s table was a card table with a cloth thrown over it near the front stairs. One of the vegetables was black eyed peas. And that is literally all I remember. Other than my one cousin looking irritated all through dinner to be stuck at a table with the little kids.

It’s funny, you always think you forget things and then there are just these odd quiet times when you remember. Another person I think of sometimes during these quiet times is my mother’s niece Suzy. Suzy died of cancer the same day as my father a couple of years later.

Suzy was like a big sister more than a cousin she was in and out of her house so much when I was little. I remember before she got married she worked at a very cool clothes store Philadelphia on Chestnut Street. She always had the best outfits! Her wedding to her first husband was celebrated at our parish church old St. Joseph’s on Willings Alley. Her wedding reception was actually held at my parents’ house in Society Hill. 

I remember during her wedding sitting in the breakfast room off the kitchen on the bottom step where the back stairs up to the second floor of the house were with my cousin Carol eating water chestnuts wrapped in bacon. I also remember the wedding photographer doing my cousin Suzy’s portraits before the wedding in my parents’ bedroom and other places in the house when she was getting ready.

When I was in my 20s my cousin Suzy lived in Newtown Bucks County with her first husband and three daughters. It was always such a big treat to go spend the weekend with my cousin Suzy and her family. We always had so much fun. 

Suzy and I spend a lot of our time going to flea markets like Rices in New Hope. We would also explore antique shop after antique shop throughout Bucks County and in New Jersey across from New Hope.

I also think of Suzy sometimes when  I put my Fiestaware away. It was with Suzy that I saw Fiestaware for the first time. We were exploring on the other side of the river in New Jersey. We were not in Lambertville I forget where we were. But there was this antique store that almost exclusively sold vintage Fiestaware and they also in a section of the store sold imported Russian nesting dolls. Don’t know if the store still exists but I remember it vividly. I remember row after row of the happy colors of Fiestaware.

I have a lot of memories of my father obviously and him I miss at certain times a great deal. I always think of him a lot at Christmas because he loved Christmas and he was the most perfectionist of perfectionists when it came to decorating the Christmas tree. And my father’s tree was always silver and gold. It was a minor miracle when you could sneak a color on it. I have some of his ornaments still in the original boxes with his handwriting identifying what they are written on the box. 

And I had to laugh the other day as I looked at my Christmas tree and Christmas decorations which are still not all put away yet. I thought of him because one year everyone argued over who was taking down what and putting away which Christmas decorations and basically the Christmas tree stayed up until almost Valentine’s Day. That memory still makes me laugh.

I’m glad I have these memories of people who have gone before me. My friends always tell me to write things down when I remember them, but half the time I just forget – it’s sort of like my recipes. I’m thinking and 2016 I should make more of an effort to write these memories down while I still have them.

Thanks for stopping by.

life and loss

Friends who were at the vigil last evening at Shipley in Bryn Mawr for Cayman Naib shared the above photo with me. I don’t know about all of you who read my blog, but I bet there are a lot of us who woke up today once again thinking about the Naib family. They have experienced an unspeakable tragedy. Just like (but for different reasons) the Hannagan family of Downingtown did on Valentine’s Day.

It is completely unfathomable to me of how anyone would feel after losing a child. I almost feel guilty for expressing condolences to these families because I don’t know them, and I didn’t know the children. But these crazy things that throw curveballs in life can happen to anyone, can’t they? Unless you were born with a heart made of stone how can you not feel empathy and sympathy for these people? How can your heart not break in some small way for them?

I remember growing up,  a student back then at Shipley, when fate took the lives of two young women I knew. They were not classmates of mine but they were schoolmates of mine, and one in particular was a fairly good friend at the time.  In the case of both of these girls from many years ago, they both died because of automobile accidents for lack of a better description – one was in an accident and one was hit by a car while running. But it left a huge hole in our school community at the time for some of us, along with what it did to their families.

As a freshman in college, one of my classmates, committed suicide the night before parents weekend was supposed to begin.  He jumped out of a window in a floor above mine in the dorm where I lived. I remember waking up to sirens and flashing emergency lights. He had been a really nice guy, and although not a close friend,  ironically  it ended up he was a cousin of some sort of a girl I knew from high school. I still to this day remember clear as a bell snippets of the memorial service held by students on campus for him. Someone played Follow You, Follow Me by Genesis on a stereo and the music wafted all around us.

There are particular parts to the lyrics that I can still hear in my head when I think of this:

I will follow you will you follow me
All the days and nights that we know will be
I will stay with you will you stay with me
Just one single tear in each passing year
With the dark,
I see so very clearly now
All my fears are drifting by me so slowly now
Fading away
I can say
The night is long but you are there
Close at hand I’m better for the smile you give
And while I live
 I will follow you will you follow me

 

I think we are all ever mindful of how fragile life is. And how like it or not everything can change in an instant.

Cayman’s death was ruled a suicide a short time ago.  Depression hits all ages .

But we can’t stop living can we? We can’t live wrapped and safe in cotton batting locked away from the world. The  thing is this however: when tragedy befalls a young person it is so much more magnified in it’s awfulness for lack of a better description. I can’t even imagine what it’s like directly for the families involved. Selfishly, I don’t want to imagine that.

When things happen to children we all can’t help but be affected, especially if we are parents in any form. Whether natural parents or stepparents or adoptive parents, it affects us. It didn’t happen to any of us, but we know but for simple twist of fate anything can happen.

But I guess the important thing is how we deal with loss. I’m not talking about those people personally grieving who are experiencing  it in the first person and have to work through it, I’m  speaking of the rest of us.

We can’t let tragedy and sadness swallow us whole, we have to pay it forward. As parents we have a very special obligation and a simple one: to love and teach our children well. We want the best for them but I think what  happened in the past few days makes us mindful once again of how we have to pay attention without smothering.

We were all kids ourselves, once, but it was a long time ago. Times have changed, life has changed the world is very different. It behooves us all to ensure that our children can talk to us no matter what.  Being an adolescent is the best of times and worst of times quite literally.

But the thing is this: with girls we often have a better idea of what is going on because they are just more verbal and more communicative. Boys for the most part, weather in whole or in part, are still waters run deep. And the reason for that I believe is because historically and societally men and boys are raised to be stoic and not show emotion and be strong. We have to let our boys know that it is not a weakness to talk to someone about what is going on or talk  if they are upset.

I have a teenage boy. Trust me, I know there are days he wishes I would just be quiet and not talk so much and not ask so many questions, just like there are days I wish I didn’t have to pry things out of him. I am working on the abbreviated version of conversations with a teen boy as in fewer sentences, but I am work in progress. But after this weekend, I am mindful of how, whether he wants it or not or might be embarrassed or not,  I need to tell him more often how much he means to me.

Love is a very powerful emotion and we do need to tell those in our world of any age how we feel about them. It sounds like a dorky Hallmark card, but life is a precious gift. We need to celebrate it and appreciate it while we have it. The importance of being together and not allowing people we care about to feel all alone, also can’t be overlooked.

Love and loss or part of the cycle of life. And both can cause enormous heart ache. But when the dust has settled , we always need to be mindful of the gifts we have. Live and be the best human beings possible is one of the best ways to celebrate any life lost for whatever reason.

Hug your kids, people. Hug your loved ones. Talk to them. Call the ones farther away to see how they are doing. Appreciate the life we have. It’s not always perfect, it’s a work in progress, but it is so much better than the alternative.

Say a prayer for young boy who was named Cayman and his family, the Hannagan family of Downingtown…and whomever else you think might need a little of what my grandmother referred to as “Irish insurance”.

Teen suicide is an ugly reality. This is a mental health issue . That is the conversation we should be having in public and taking away the stigma – as adults we should be helping kids through difficult times safely. The pressure on kids today can be enormous. Let’s not make this about finger pointing because the average person is not equipped to recognize the signs of teenage depression.  That is not a negative statement, either.

Depression manifests differently in kids versus adults and I have been told this by a friend who is a mental health social worker in another state. Teen suicide is ugly. It’s not something that teens or adults want to think about.  It’s unpleasant and difficult. But it does happen. Teen suicide is very real, and is preventable.

We as human beings must advocate for taking the issues of teen depression and suicide out of the shadows and  into the light.  It is time to remove the stigma attached to depression and related mental health issues.  We’re all human beings, after all. And I think if we learned anything about what happened here to this sweet boy Cayman Naib, it is that we all have a lot to learn.

Parents  need to be  honest and admit  at times it can be a struggle when communicating with the teenagers in our homes.Togetherness as a family that is positive opens many doors, and face it, what is one of the hardest parts of raising teenagers? Communication. And communication isn’t social media like Facebook and Twitter, e-mails, chat programs, it’s a real conversation. Sitting down and talking even if it is light dinner conversation. Real and tangible contact and human interaction is so important with regard to interpersonal relationships at any age.

As my friend Liza says love, only love. Without love,  life is very gray.

Thanks for putting up with my rambling stream of consciousness today and for stopping by.

Cayman 1

christmas eve

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I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
~ Charles Dickens (1812-1870), English author. From ‘A Christmas Carol’

Christmas is a time for family and friends. Tonight we were with friends and had an awesome evening and tomorrow we will be surrounded by family.

Tonight I learned a friend of a friend’s spouse experienced a true Christmas miracle and they have two suitable bone marrow donors. I don’t even know these people and I am so happy for them. It truly makes you believe in the magic of Christmas.

I realized the other day that although we are miles away from where we grew up I have several of the people I grew up and went to high school with within minutes of me here in Chester County. How lucky am I to have these people I enjoyed so much as a kid close by as an adult ?

Then there are my friends no longer close by and many, many miles away, but still very much in my life and loved. I feel very blessed to have them in my life still.

To my friends old and new, thank you for being a part of my life. I appreciate you all.

Unfortunately, the holidays are not all magical for people. Some people have a very hard time this time of year and truthfully some people go between anger and depression or a combination of both. We should keep them in our prayers as they struggle to have a normal existence.

An example of that was made apparent to me today when someone sent me a screen shot of a photo of mine taken directly from my beautiful “o tannenbaum” post I wrote on December 10th. The photo was used to be nasty to someone else on Facebook. This person also unfortunately has an unhealthy obsession with me and my life (some would call them a stalker). I feel so sorry that they are so lost that they cannot live their own life without anger and negativity ruling it.

So as you gather for your Christmas celebrations, hold your loved ones close and say a little prayer for those who are struggling emotionally and psychologically. Pray that they find peace and balance. After all, life is such a beautiful gift and so many of us can see that so clearly at Christmas while others cannot.

Merry Christmas everyone !

life and scarab bracelets

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I have now had a few falls living in Chester County. I woke up today realizing that I didn’t feel like a stranger in a strange land any longer. It was a great feeling.

I love living out here. I love discovering cool things and bits of history. I love that almost every day there is something beautiful to take a photo of or something new to experience. Next on my living in Chester County bucket list is to go to a mud sale next spring. They don’t just occur in Lancaster County, there are several in Chester County as well.

The PaDutchCountry.com website describes mud sales this way:

Mud sales, named for the condition of the thawing early spring ground, are major fundraisers for the volunteer fire companies throughout Amish communities. They are huge events, sometimes drawing as many as 20,000 people, where everything from hand-stitched quilts (donated by the Amish women’s groups) and locally-made crafts to livestock, furniture, produce, baked goods, antiques, housewares, even the kitchen sink are all up for bid. In a sight that may seem like organized chaos to the novice mud sale visitors, six or seven auctions are conducted simultaneously as the Amish and English mill together over the many items bound for the auction block.

A woman in my gardening group went to one recently (they start in early spring and run through fall she tells me). She got amazing deals on shrubs and perennials and told me the quilts and other things being auctioned off were amazing. And yes she had me at patchwork quilts and plants! Apparently there is one coming up in Cochranville:

October 25 – Cochranville Fire Company Mud Sale
Cochranville Volunteer Fire Company
3135 Limestone Road, Cochranville
610-593-5800
http://www.cochranvillefire.com

Onto other things. The other evening I went to a ladies’ get together hosted by a dear friend from college. She was one of those people I didn’t see during the ex-factor years and reconnected with after he was gone.

During that particular stage of my life there were a lot of people I didn’t see because they didn’t want to be around him but didn’t want to tell me that, either. There were also people I sort of steered away from because I was afraid of how he would react to them. It wasn’t always like that with him, but that is what he seem to become. Or maybe that was true self showing through and I was afraid to acknowledge that at the time?

I am only sorry I put my friends and family through all that at the time. I’m especially sorry to my late father and brother-in-law. They only wanted me to be happy, didn’t see my happy as being him, but I never knew that until they were both gone from this earth. On some level I believe that both of them can see me in my life now and are happy with my choices, but I really wish both of them were around to be with us still. But death, like life is part of our life cycle and life experiences, right?

It’s funny, the ex factor is finally fading like the bad memory he should be, yet for some reason people like him seem to keep tabs on my life and isn’t that bizarre? After all, he left me in a blizzard, isn’t that the truth? Why would he want any kind of connection? Because I was supposed to be miserable but life led me in a new direction leaving me happy and content and where I am supposed to be and who I am supposed to be with? Because I survived breast cancer? Morbid curiosity? And is it true, does he have full knowledge of certain cyber bullies? Really?

I have asked myself plenty of times why would someone care about my life basically literally years after they ended a relationship by their own personal choice? Is it because they have been part of my writing as having been part of my life experience? Many writers write about their lives. For example, a woman I know wrote about her divorce with brutal unvarnished honesty earlier this summer. Does that make her a bad person too? Is her almost ex-husband similarly afflicted?

But you know what? I really and truly do not care at the end of the day. It’s like dealing with cyber bullies who stalk everyday existence trolling for bits of anything to twist and pervert. It is simply a reaffirmation of my life blessings. And wow aren’t I lucky? Yes, yes I am.

People seem to have a fascination in general with people who blog and write. What they are writing about, how they write, why they write. For me writing is like my photography, it is simply part of who I am.

I was speaking recently with a woman I know. She is a friend and follows my blog quite closely. She was quite complimentary overall with how I write and my writing style. She was also honest about my writings which can be placed in the category of activism driven. Some she has liked, some not so much. Did I get all up in arms about that? No, it was a conversation. It wasn’t an attack, it was looking at what I write through a different pair of eyes. I value input like that.

We also talked about scarab bracelets. Decidedly vintage, and not very expensive to pick up and so much fun to wear. They scream 50s and 60s and like myself, she loves them. They are something that is a happy association of my childhood. When I was little my mother and a lot of her friends always wore scarab bracelets and I have loved them since I was a little girl. They are something most consider to be a classic. I see them in thrift shops all the time and while some people love the look of Bakelite and vintage rhinestones, I love the look of scarab bracelets.

Commonality and mutual likes. It is what draws us together. I have met so many cool new people through my Chester County Ramblings Gardening Group and Chester County Ramblings Home Cooking Group. It is so nice to connect with people who like to do some of what I like to do.

Moving to Chester County I am discovering myself again, not just Chester County. What I am discovering are parts of myself that are incredibly positive that I thought I lost through the twists and turns in life. Maybe it’s turning 50 too. At 30 I learned it was o.k. to be who I was, but at 50 I have learned to be myself.

I think that’s pretty cool.

I will close with song lyrics sticking in my head. I am not a huge U2 aficionado (that would be my sister since forever!), but a verse of new lyrics that I keep hearing again and again because of Apple goes like this:

I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense out of the world
Everything I ever lost now has been returned
The most beautiful sound I ever heard

Thanks for stopping by today.

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