You know you are firmly ensconced in middle-age when people you know or knew die.
The latest round of people I know passing away began in late December when a good friend of my mother’s passed away. This lady was a cool woman. Loving, independent, complicated. Her death was hard on my mother, who had the flu when her memorial service occurred in early January.
I didn’t go to her service. Part of me wanted to, but she was another cancer death and as a cancer survivor they are just so damn physically, emotionally, and mentally painful to attend.
The other thing is this would have been a see and be seen crowded Main Line memorial service and I had just had knee surgery. So even if I had wanted to be there, I couldn’t have been because I literally couldn’t bend my knee enough to stand on a stone floor of a church or sit in a pew.
I made my peace with my decision, and I am glad I knew her. She was a friend of my parents who early on treated me as an individual and not merely one of my parents’ children. When you are growing up and you really wanted your own identity to show through, you appreciated the people who were able to do this. You appreciate the people who see YOU, don’t you?
When she had died I hadn’t seen her in a few years. Life has just taken everyone in different directions. But occasionally we used to email or text. I’m glad I knew her.
However, 2020 brings death closer to my doorstep not because of relationship, but age. Two of my generation. Two whom I had known since high school. Contemporaries so to speak.
Neither of these people were my best friends or my closest friends, but because of how I knew them and when, it has hit home. Sadly.
I have memories of both of these people as teenagers and as adults. A man and a woman.
The man was always just a nice person. Not perfect, sometimes foolish, but always nice. At one point in time he was a brother-in-law to someone I know. Suffice it to say he was always much nicer than his relative. This man fought a battle against a cancer that was always going to win. He was brave and positive about it. Even on hospice. I respect that.
The last time I had spoken with this man was before he ever received his initial cancer diagnosis. He was back in the Philadelphia area and was moving yet again. He moved a lot the last years of his life and I think my greatest impression of his last decade of his life was that he was somewhat nomadic, looking for a place to put down roots again, literally moving from one end of the country to the other. That aspect of his life was tinged with sadness I think. I also think he was lonely.
I have memories of him from high school that are almost like Polaroid snap shots. He was part of a pack of boys I knew. He and his friends dated some of my friends back then, and were just part of even more extended friends group.
The woman who recently passed away who was familiar to me, was also part of that fabric of those growing up years. She was not someone I was close to ever. But I knew her. She was a close friend of two women whom I still know. I actually have memories of them with her. Laughing. Having a great time.
The laughter of youth sometimes seems so far away, doesn’t it? But if you listen closely enough you can still hear the echoes.
When I saw the woman a few years ago, she actually wasn’t particularly pleasant to me. At the time I thought it was strange because we had always been o.k. Now that she has passed, I realize how ill she probably had been even then. I never knew how sick she had been until she died. We weren’t close, so I wouldn’t have.
These passings are something to ponder because they are my generation. That makes you think. I remember as a little girl my grandparents and great aunts reading the obituaries almost daily. And it seemed like far too often there was somebody between the pages of the local newspapers that they knew.
Loss and passings certainly makes you value life, no matter how difficult it can be at times. After all, life has peaks and valleys, doesn’t it?
But I swear, middle age is like a weird right of passage. You hopefully know better who you are as a human being, but it’s also about life and loss. You also sometimes wonder is your life exactly what and where are you thought it would be at this point? I know I have thought that.
And I do know that I am lucky. I am blessed and I don’t use that word lightly or frivolously. I had breast cancer in 2011 and I am here in 2020 to write down all my random streams of consciousness that sometimes make my readers scratch their heads.
Life is not perfect. And someone who tells you life is always perfect is either not being honest with you or with themselves. Life is what you make out of it, but there are peaks and valleys and bumps in the road. I guess it’s how we adapt to those changes that makes us who we are, that defines us later in life.
So tell those who matter to you that you love them. You never know the path life will take us on. Live your best life.
A chance conversation between two strangers brings a homeless man off the street
Updated: APRIL 15, 2017 — 9:00 AM EDT
Jonathan Sweet knows that Jesus loves him. But until he met Michelle McHugh, he wasn’t sure anyone else did.
“I had almost given up on humanity,” says Sweet, 52, a single, childless Havertown native who was homeless for seven years until a chance meeting with McHugh changed his fortunes. “Not every homeless person is a criminal or an addict. But people treat you like you’re a second-class citizen. It gets you down.”….Last December, he and McHugh were chatting at the 69th Street Transportation Center in Upper Darby. McHugh, who lives in Havertown, was waiting for a train to Philly, where she works as associate director of Drexel University’s television management program….Christmas was approaching. McHugh asked Sweet where he’d spend the day.
“Over there,” he answered, pointing to a forested area within walking distance of the neighborhood where McHugh lives with her husband, Jim, and their preschool son, Nolan.
“I was shocked,” says McHugh, 43. “While my family was warm inside a nice house, Jon was living in the woods behind us. It was heart-wrenching.”…..On Holy Thursday, Sweet moved into his new home, which is fully furnished thanks to donations and the enthusiastic services of Havertown interior designer Liz MacDonald (who even managed to find a sofa in purple, Jon’s favorite color).
This is but a brief excerpt of the article. The article is so truly beautiful and moving that I hope everyone who reads this post, will read this article.
You see, I am lucky enough to call Michelle McHugh a friend.
Michelle and I met many years ago through our dear mutual friend Sherry Tillman. Sherry, the proprietoress of Ardmore, PA’s Past*Present*Future is also the founder of First Friday Main Line.
We were planning a non-profit special event to benefit First Friday Main Line called “Foodapalooza” and Sherry tossed Michelle and I and our cameras together one Saturday to photograph chefs and local restaurants. Michelle and I had been introduced, but this was what really brought us together as friends. That and Sherry’s uncanny ability to share her friends and bring more people together. This was in 2009.
I still love the photos I took that afternoon as I felt they were inspired by the company.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Michelle (who lives with MS) was one of my cheerleaders. Her positivity was contagious and she was one of my friends who buoyed me through quite the life challenge. She always just checked in. Totally casual, no big deal, how are you doing, you’ve got this.
In 2012 when she and her husband welcomed their miracle baby, I was one of the ones who could cheer her on. She is an example of unwavering faith and goodness.
So am I surprised that my friend Michelle took on this project? No, although project is the wrong word because her efforts are so indicative of her heart and soul.
Michelle is a kind and loving and humble person and she deserves the accolades and a beautiful article by Ronnie Polaneczky.
In the world we live in, it’s easy to tear people down. What’s hard and shouldn’t be, is paying it forward just because it’s the right thing to do.
On the holy weekend that is Easter is the perfect time to hear the story of Jon Sweet and his friend, who is also my friend, Michelle McHugh.
Sometimes it is hard to believe in the goodness of others, but this is such a reminder of why we just have to believe. It is also a reminder that it’s the right thing to pay it forward, and that doing good and doing the right thing has rewards more precious than money.
This is also a story of love and friendship and the many forms they both take.
2015 has been quite the year. I have had plenty of moments where I wondered if being me on the Internet was worth it. But then today I received a note.
Every now and again people contact me with things that I think are beyond my capacity to help – and it is never about money (heck I don’t have a silver spoon in my mouth so that isn’t happening)- it’s people seeking information. Today someone sent me a note. To say thank you for providing them with a necessary connection for their family.
It was just fate that helped me show them a good direction (nothing more) , and I did it because paying it forward in this world with no strings attached is what being human is supposed to be about. It’s not about money or status, it’s about caring. And fate. Maybe even to an extent the kindness of friends and strangers.
And that simple thank you, privately said and heart felt? That was awesome. As opposed to others I have met in this journey called life for whom “paying it forward” comes with strings and strands of personal gain, that is not how I operate.
How quickly we can all get caught up and forget about being human and being kind.
2015 was a bit of a crazy year in one part of Chester County. West Vincent, to be precise. Those folks have survived a toxic election season and as of their final meeting last night can hopefully close the door on Tammany Hall style politics….at least until their Lower Merion refugee decides to run for re-election or not.
West Vincent and their election season reminded me once again how awful human beings and purported adults can be towards one and other. It was actually nastier than a Main Line election season and that is saying something.
In 2015 I learned to shed fake friends with less regret or “what ifs”. I also learned about people not meant to be in my life for long and it was o.k. People have to choose within their own comfort level. And learning to let go of people who are wrong for your life without feeling guilty is actually hard. But I am learning.
One person who had once claimed I was a friend was indeed a disappointing learning curve. They deliberately lied and tried to hurt me to raise their own shall we say “sympathy” profile on social media? The irony is, I had quietly let that person go when I sadly realized the only thing they were true to was whatever anyone else could do for them. I figured it was easier to let go after a couple of years then to allow them further in. Trust after all is everything, and at least for me if the trust is broken, it’s a hard road. But Karma is real, isn’t it?
There are people who throw around catchy Christian phrases about being “blessed”, but truly those are the people you not only forgive for their idiotic selfish trespasses, but pass a prayer along for because you actually feel sorry for them and their lack of realization of how their actions actually affect them. They think their little white lies and bald faced fibs won’t catch up with them, and unfortunately they should remove their blinders.
2015 was a year of learning more about myself as an adult. It was about letting go and learning to be more accepting about what I can’t control. It was about taking chances on people whether or not they ended up becoming part of my world, or were just a passing, pleasant thought. It was therefore, about personal growth after a fashion. It was also about opening other doors and windows. It was about opening completely to love and having faith and finally not being afraid of either.
2015 was a difficult year for some of my friends. But they have faced it with grace and courage. Sometimes as adults, we yearn for the simplicity of childhood. For some, childhood wasn’t so simple and growing up freed them. Life is a complicated puddle of color and emotion and life circumstances never entirely predictable although to say we have a hand in our own fates is to an extent true because life is what we make of it.
2015 was about renewing more relationships time and distance had interrupted over the years. One of the most marvelous things I have discovered about Chester County is who lives here. Not just the amazing new friends I have made since moving here, but people from all stages of my life I had lost track of through distance and life circumstance…who all live in Chester County now.
In 2015 I got to see the Duffy’s Cut site and get to know it’s patron saint, Dr. William Watson of Immaculata. What a marvelous educator. And just a super bight, genuine human being. A perennial student of history, I deeply appreciate what he is about. I also met some other like minded souls who also find other things in Chester County that I find important of interest. Loch Aeirie and the ruins of Ebenezer AME on Bacton Hill. I am also happy to discover there are many like minded people out here when it comes to historic preservation and preservation of Chester County’s amazing beauty and natural resources.
2015 was a year of super fun non-profit events. My favorites were Natural Lands Trust’s Stardust, Brandywine in White, and Main Line Animal Rescue’s Bark-O’Lounge (where I learned to wear my glasses while bidding on silent auction items!!)
2015 meant the loss of some family of my father’s and a dear family friend. That was kind of hard. But they left wonderful legacies of their own. And memories to keep us smiling for years to come. 2015 also marked a decade since my own father passed. Time passes so quickly.
2015 was also an amazing gardening year. I expanded my gardens and they rewarded me. It is one the most fun things for me to just go dig in the dirt and it has been that way since I was a little girl.
2015 I became a cover girl when one of my photos graced the cover of County Lines Magazine. I also had my own photography show thanks to Christopher and Molly Todd of Christopher’s Restaurant in Malvern.
The last two months of 2015 have been a crazy kaleidoscope of everything. Friends, family, and holidays.
This has possibly been one of the best Christmas seasons of my life and at four and one half years cancer free the emotion of the season and the joy is felt by me most profoundly. And somewhat humbly.
I am truly grateful to you my readers and the insane numbers of people who visited according to WordPress . As a blogger I am a writer and I have some amazing mentors and friends who are full-time writers. They inspire me daily. I understand that not everyone appreciates my style, and that is ok.
My journey through Chester County and the second half of my life continues to evolve and grow. It’s hard being a stranger in a new land, so I really appreciate those folks who have made me feel so welcome and shared experiences with me and pointed me in new directions. Intellectually as adults we have to continue to grow. It keeps us alive.
And as 2015 draws to a close a special note for my friends and family and especially my sweet man. You are the bedrock of my life and the love your show me is almost indescribable. I am a fortunate woman indeed. To be loved and respected and valued as an individual just as you are is one of the greatest gifts in this world. Trust me when I say I love you all in return. To the moon and back.
Here is a wish and prayer for an amazing 2016 for all. There is no place like home, is there indeed, Dorothy?
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.
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.
What is the thought process behind being thankful?
Are you thankful? Why are you thankful?
I saw this quote the other day about happiness and being thankful. It is above, super-imposed over one of my photos. It got me to thinking. (Yes, advanced warning this post is a flowing stream of consciousness.) How is it we are thankful (and happy) and why?
Being thankful for what you have can be paid forward quite simply. Human kindness, for example.
At fifty, have I lived a perfect life? No, but seriously, who here is without flaws on this planet? Life is a giant learning curve and we learn from our experiences good and bad, right?
I am thankful for my life, especially because it could have ended up so differently than it is now. I got through the ending of an unfortunate relationship (and that is putting it kindly), survived breast cancer, and found the love and life I deserve.
If God and fate hadn’t done a literal lift-out for me a few years ago, I would have been quite literally stuck in a life that would have become rather unpleasant and devoid of love and affection. So I am honestly and truly thankful.
I have discovered that truly unhappy people are quite often very angry people. They have a limited sense of personal accountability and are hyper-critical of everything and everyone around them. The ex-factor and one of his sisters are prime examples. I am truly sorry they aren’t happy, but their continued fascination with my life is well, psychologically interesting while also being creepy and pointless. It’s like they live on their own planet.
Obsessing over me is not only bizarre, but how can they waste so much negative energy? It’s just not healthy and well, life is short and they need to be responsible for their ownhappiness. It has been almost five years, so why bother? Who cares? I sure don’t.
Will I reference things that occurred during a relationship that spanned nigh on a decade? Sure, it is part of my life experience. I write about all sorts of life experience and other relationships. But why am I responsible for their happiness and/or misery of other people not part of my world? The answer is I am not, but I have accepted they will probably never move on. However, that is their stuck, not mine.
People who are oddly warped like this make me really think about what it is to actually be thankful and happy. I see what my life could have been and what it is now. I have someone who loves me and shares their life with me and are committed to our family. That is a far cry from being with someone who expected commitment but not only couldn’t really share their live, in the end even commit to a cell phone plan.
I am not the only person male or female my age (or younger or older) who has going through good and bad relationships. It’s life. But for some reason, the simple act of being thankful and happy just drives some people cuckoo. Probably because they aren’t either thankful or happy.
The thing about being truly thankful is acknowledging what it took to reach the path of happy. As human beings we are a work in progress, but to be able to roll with life’s punches and blessings is an acquired talent. For me, for that light bulb to go off truly, it took having breast cancer. Having to face your own personal sense of mortality shows you what your true mettle is. It also made me dig deep and look at what I wanted out of the rest of my life and the type of people I wanted to surround myself with.
A dear friend from high school asked us her friends, something interesting today:
“If you were on of 10 people still alive on the planet, how would you live differently?
Would you still wear make up, get dressed up in fancy clothes, put nice things in your home?
In other words, do you do the things you do now to make yourself happy or others happy? “
It might seem overly esoteric and philosophical to some, but you know, I get it. So what would you do? I would continue to do everything possible to make myself and my loved ones happy. I would be thrilled to give up make-up for the most part.
Another quote I read made me think:
“Life isn’t all about the happy times we have. It’s about living through all the challenges life has given us, and all we have ever been through.”
“If you worry about what might be, and wonder what might have been, you will ignore what is.” ~Unknown
Lifestyle. Opportunities. Wealth. Just think how far we’ve come in the past 100 years—especially when you look at what we have today compared with our great grandmothers’ generation.
My great grandmother married very young, lived in the same place her whole life, and had 11 children. She never had a “career” and never got a chance to go on a vacation. Her life was hard, poor, and lacking in any real opportunity.
I wonder if she ever dreamed about moving to another city, or transforming her life, or about seeing the world with just a backpack. I bet she did, but back then there weren’t as many opportunities as we have today…..But when there is a wealth of opportunities, choices, and places where we could choose to live, you’d think we’d all be happy, right? Wrong.
…..We can’t settle on what we already have or be satisfied with what we’ve got because we’ll always be wondering about the next big thing.
It’s called “the grass is always greener” syndrome. We think someone else is having a better time elsewhere. We make ourselves miserable by constantly thinking about the unknown in an endless quest to find happiness.
We lie awake at night torturing ourselves over what we should do next, wondering if we’re missing out on something big. We feel we’re wasting our lives if we’re not doing something more important.
There’s also this sense of time pressure, particularly with my generation who had the saying “The World is your Oyster” drilled into us from a young age.
This means there can be a sense of urgency, because we feel like we’re running out of time and should be doing something greater or somehow we’ll fail.
We also think we’re special and that our lives are destined to be adventurous, thrilling, and hugely successful. And when they’re not turning out that way? We become depressed. We want more. We get “grass is greener” syndrome.
….Focusing on things we don’t have is a recipe for disaster. It only leads to a miserable existence and causes us to forget what’s most important—and that’s what’s happening right now.
As John Lennon once said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” And that’s certainly true……Mindfulness helps you to appreciate life as it happens. It stops us from agonizing over what might’ve been or what could be. It just brings us back to the present.….But whenever you feel yourself losing focus and wondering about where you’ll be happy next, bring yourself back to the present, look at what you already have, look around you and enjoy the moments that are happening right now.….Happiness is a state of mind.
Out of the mouths of others, but oh so true.
Life is an evolution. Part of that evolution is how we grow, how we love, how we appreciate life, and a sense of spirituality.
Thanks for joining me on my random flowing stream of consciousness.
Chester County is home to many cool artists, writers, filmmakers, and so on. One of my favorite contemporary authors is Lisa Scottoline. She calls Malvern home base.
I was drawn to Lisa’s books initially for the Philadelphia-area settings. But my affinity grew with the characters in her books who lived in the little neighborhoods in South Philadelphia like the one where my great aunts, Millie and Josie lived once upon a time. A lot of Lisa’s books had characters based in a way on her life experience and once she became a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, some of what she wrote was also based on her mother, Mary Scottoline.
I do not know Lisa Scottoline. I have met her at book signings over the years, including ones set up by my mother way back when she started to write. But her little nuggets of what can only be described as “growing-up Italian” have made me laugh, made me smile, and sometimes just shake my head over the years. Probably because I am half-Italian.
Lisa Scottoline fans learned via her author Facebook page that her mother, (known to readers as “Mother Mary”) passed away on April 13th, or Palm Sunday. I hate to say that is so Italian, but it’s so Italian. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully, it just to me, IS.
Here is an excerpt of Lisa Scottoline’s recent column:
I am very sorry to have to tell you that Mother Mary’s health has taken a dramatic and unexpected turn for the worse, so this won’t be a funny column.
Except for the fact that she is at her funniest when times are darkest.
She’s been newly diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, has moved up north with me, and has entered hospice care at my house. Mercifully, Brother Frank, Daughter Francesca, and family and friends are all around her, and she is resting comfortably. So comfortably, in fact, that the hospice nurses, who are saints on wheels, cannot believe it. One nurse asked Mother Mary if she was having any pain – and she pointed to me……Please don’t think my tone herein is inappropriate. This has always been a column about family, the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears, and I think it’s appropriate to have both here, maybe even in the same sentence.
I would guess if you’re a fan of this column, and especially of Mother Mary, that you have a great sense of humor, and the Flying Scottolines have always handled disaster with humor. In fact, catastrophe is our middle name.
That’s why you pronounce the final E, to make it Italian.
I also know that many of you have gone through this heartbreaking journey yourselves. If you have, you already know that hospice plunges you into a world different from any other, filled with irony and incongruities.
I laughed and I cried when I read this column. It made me think once again of my great aunts who lived at 11th and Ritner. It also made me think of my father whom we saw through hospice at home too. It is a very intense time when a family member goes on hospice, but it isn’t all sad. It gives you some final and very lucky times with those you love.
Please read the entire column….especially if you come from peasant stock like me.
Today my friend Bonnie Cook wrote the obituary article on Mary Scottoline and here is an excerpt:
Mary Scottoline, 90, formerly of Bala Cynwyd, the hilarious, sometimes profane, larger-than-life maternal figure known to readers as “Mother Mary,” died Sunday, April 13, of lung cancer at the home of her daughter, Lisa, the author and Inquirer columnist.
“We are heartbroken to report that Mother Mary passed away at home this morning, though she was at peace and in the embrace of our love. We choose to remember her as here, making us laugh,” Lisa Scottoline said Monday on her Facebook page.
Mrs. Scottoline dealt with her final two weeks the way she did everything; she was cheerful, unfazed and funny.
Near the end, when she couldn’t speak, she communicated with family and caregivers by means of a whiteboard. How are you, they wanted to know.
“Aside from this crap, I’m doing fine,” her son Frank said she wrote.
The youngest of 19 children, Mrs. Scottoline grew up in a strict family in South Philadelphia. More or less ignored, she had to fight for attention….When daughter Lisa and Serritella wrote about the rough air between mothers and daughters in their Inquirer column, “Chick Wit,” and books including Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim, they found that Mrs. Scottoline’s persona flowed seamlessly onto the pages.
“She loved being in the book,” said Lisa Scottoline. “Her personality and spirit was big enough for any room twice over. She stood for a good, strong, funny woman.”
The stories resonated with readers, who found elements of Mrs. Scottoline in their own mothers.
Fifteen years ago, Mrs. Scottoline (pronounced Scott-a-LEE-nee) went south to Miami Beach to live with her son, Frank. She was very well-liked, he said. She enjoyed cooking Italian meals and pampering her pets.
She always said exactly what she felt. “Thank you for today,” she once told her son.
I took a large excerpt, I know, but this is a very cool piece about a woman I wish I had known, but at the same time over the years I felt I knew on some level because I had a couple of these no nonsense yet completely amazing little old Italian ladies in my life, my great aunts.
Mary Scottoline, like my great aunts was a force of nature. She leapt off the pages written by her daughter and granddaughter. And every single time I smiled and thought of my great aunts.
My great aunts were also very opinionated and matter of fact. My Aunt Josie had been the working girl while her sister, my Aunt Millie kept house. Josie was the most direct of the two. She was the strong one, and my Aunt Millie was the softer of the two, more ladylike. Aunt Millie always had one small bottle of Coca Cola at 4p.m. every day unless she was watching her figure, and at those times she would skip it.
The aunts never married and as was the tradition, the unmarried siblings lived in the house they were born in. The other character in their life play on Ritner Street (who also never married but had a girlfriend) was PJ, my Uncle Pat (Pasquale). PJ was a gruff and lovable guy who sometimes terrified me as a little kid. He did not have a mean bone in his body, but he liked to tease his little great nieces in his big gruff voice. He also did cool stuff like make wine in the basement. PJ died when I was pretty little. I think it would have been neat to know him as I got older.
The great aunts would say things like “you kids”. As I got older I realized that meant everyone under about 60 years old.
When we stayed with them as little girls we went to early mass. As in it was still dark outside. Hence the famous family joke “it’s holier when it’s earlier.”
Millie and Josie taught me to make pasta. By feel, basically. A little of this, a little of that, and rolled out by hand on the huge ceramic topped kitchen table. (I often wonder if that table is still in my father’s sister’s garage. It was such a big table that no one has had a kitchen big enough to hold it as far as I know.) Millie and Josie’s kitchen always smelled of a combination of tomato sauce and coffee. I loved that table and all it’s drawers.
Oh and speaking of that kitchen table? Did any of you out there love the movie “Moonstruck“? Remember the scenes when they hustled everyone into the kitchen to talk at the kitchen table over coffee? I am sorry but those kitchen table scenes to me are hysterical because as a kid I remember all the grown-ups sitting around the kitchen table solving weighty world issues….over coffee. You could never have enough coffee no matter what time of day or night. And Lordy, it was all high octane strong coffee. No decaf there.
They also had a canning kitchen in the basement and I remember my aunts putting up tomatoes and pickling hot peppers and cucumbers and things when I was little. The produce came from my Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl’s garden in Collegeville. Collegeville was referred to as “the country” in those days. No developments back then, and they originally backed up to a farm with horses. (Of course today Collegeville is like one big development, but it didn’t use to be.) Aunt Rose was one of their two sisters who married. The other sister was my grandmother, Beatrice.
When we were really little girls, my sister and I often spent New Year’s Eve with our great aunts and their other little old Italian lady friends. I remember one’s name was Tomasina. We got to stay up with them as they watched Dick Clark and whomever on the little black and white television in the kitchen. They would all be clustered around the kitchen table. I think they played cards sometimes. And they gave us watered down anisette at midnight to toast the New Year with them. And did I remember to say the kids weren’t allowed to touch the television sets? We weren’t.
In the summers, the great aunts would sit on the front stoop with folding lawn chairs, and all the other ladies and their families up and down the block would come out as well to escape the heat of the large, but not air-conditioned at the time South Philadelphia row houses. The street was alive with the music of voices in Italian and English, a cacophony of sound.
All of these Italian ladies were opinionated. They said it as they felt it, and it just was. But they were also the most compassionate, smart, and loving women.
They don’t make ladies like this anymore. I am very lucky I had a few in my life, even for a while.
So Mother Mary Scottoline, I did not know you in the traditional sense, but did know you in another sense through my own personal experiences with my great aunts and their friends. If I had any anisette in the house, I would raise a toast to you, as reading about you over the years has helped me keep my memories of my great aunts alive.
To my readers, thanks for stopping by on this rainy day. Always remember what you are from, it is a part of who you are.