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.


demolishing part of memory lane on the main line

Sometimes in those moments between waking and sleeping, memories of childhood come floating back.  This morning I awoke to memories of a pink stucco house with blueberry bushes beyond the pool, a pool where my little sister first learned to swim. The house was located at 134 Cheswold Lane in Haverford.

So, no this is not a post about Chester County. This post is about memories.

In the early 1970s, my parents were starting to think about moving from Society Hill to the Main Line. Somehow they were connected to lovely people named John and Jean Markel and they agreed to house sit for the entire summer. My sister and I were fairly little, and this was a strange idea for us because summer usually meant the beach, but this house was magical with a secret pool tucked into the back and lovely gardens to explore. Immediately adjacent to The Merion Cricket Club we could hear every day the pop pop sound of tennis balls when they hit the racquets-  and an added bonus when the tennis balls sailed over the pink stucco garden walls for us to collect.

I think the summer of ’73 because I remember it was the summer they tore down the Haverford Hotel and Mrs. Sharpe’s carriage house doors with the large heavy metal (iron?)  lion heads with rings in their mouths jutted out to the sidewalk on Haverford Station Road. I have distinct memories of walking along Haverford Station Road with my father and how large the lions heads and rings seemed, and the carriage house doors imposing.  I also remember before they demolished the Haverford Hotel they sold a lot of things off, like furniture and fixtures. At one point, the sweeping lawns of this old hotel had rows upon rows of mattresses lined up in the summer sun like corpses.

I have looked and looked for photos of the old hotel, and the only one I can find is from an old edition of the Main Line Times:

ML History: Recapping the summer of ’73 archives By Kathy O’Loughlin Aug 11, 2010


I also found reference to the hotel and Mrs. Sharpe on the Lower Merion Historical Society website:

Catherine H. Dixon Sharpe bequeathed her home and a 2 1/2-acre property at Montgomery Avenue and Haverford Station Road to the township for a bird sanctuary. In 1978 her house was razed, and fencing and trails for walking through the wooded area were added…..A Haverford landmark for sixty years was the Haverford Hotel, built of brick in 1913 at the corner of Grays Lane and Montgomery Avenue. Its stately white columns supported the roof over a wide and gracious porch entrance. Fifty rooms were decorated with Chippendale desks, Chinese screen paintings, mahogany china cabinets, brass sconces, and sparkling chandeliers. Many wedding receptions, including that of President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, balls, other parties, and meetings were held there, but in 1973 the hotel was demolished, and Gray’s Lane House, an apartment condominium designed by Vincent Kling, now occupies the site.

It was a lovely summer. My school friend Paula’s aunt I think it was, lived close by so I would see her and I remember visiting other people my parents knew on Elbow Lane, and other nearby roads and lanes in Haverford and Bryn Mawr.

My father’s job was in the city, so I remember a lot of the time he stayed in our house in Society Hill during the week, and took the Paoli Local to Haverford Station on the weekends.

The Markels house was a magical house, and there are details I remember to this day inside. A lovely wood paneled library with floor to ceiling books, a piano, a Butler’s Pantry loaded with the most beautiful and feminine sets of china and flatware.  I think it was that summer I fell in love with English and French porcelain. 

There were stools in the kitchen which was large and sunny. I remember watching television sitting on a stool – there was a tiny black and white television on one of the expansive kitchen counters.

Outside were what were to me at the time the best secret gardens ever. The gardens were so beautiful and there was also a  lovely pool. I remember the Markels had inside and outside staff who would come take care of things during the week.

Ironically this was the summer I also remember seeing Loch Aerie for the first time because I remember my parents exploring way past the borders of the Main Line.  I remember driving out Lancaster Avenue into Chester County for movies and antique stores.  I remember that there were also drive in movie theaters in Chester County at that time, but I digress.

The Markels house was old school Main Line beauty. The house was large and gracious, but just beautiful and subtle inside. It was also a very livable house.  I think it was because of this summer that a few years later my parents eventually settled in Haverford after a year in Gladwyne.

According to Montgomery County public property records, the people whom eventually bought this lovely house from the Markels sold it to Merion Cricket Club more than a few years ago for a little over $1.5 million:

Unless you lived back on those streets, you really weren’t paying attention to who was selling and who was buying.  I remember before I left the Main Line talks of Merion Cricket Club amassing neighboring properties so they could expand.  I just didn’t pay much attention to it. I was never a member, only ever a guest.

Recently, someone sent me a Zoning notice from Lower Merion Township:

Wow, so now we know why Merion was buying all the properties over the past years, right? They want to become a land locked Main Line Country Club? Forget that the history of the club, and the traditions of the club do not lend themselves to this, that there already are swim clubs and country clubs on the Main Line.  

But given the nouveau Main Line, I completely expect all of these lovely houses Merion Cricket has amassed in these still lovely neighborhoods will fall to the wrecking ball with hardly a whimper.

These are beautiful homes. They are also part of an increasing history of the Main Line no one cares about, or they find it is acceptable to just sacrifice these established and lovely neighborhoods.  This is a change that will impact this area.  For those of us with childhood memories it is sad and / or bittersweet.  I am guessing my own personal memories of a magical childhood summer have surfaced because of this news.

Here is a recent article on the topic:

LM Zoning: Merion Cricket Club seeks demo of club-owned historic homes Viability of club’s future addressed in plan
By Richard Ilgenfritz @rpilgenfritz on Twitter Apr 21, 2017 Updated Apr 21, 2017

Citing the need to attract additional members, officials from the Merion Cricket Club are seeking Lower Merion Township zoning approval of a plan to demolish seven historic homes in Haverford, including those built by famed architect Walter Durham, and repurpose others.

“The club has seen its membership levels drop over a significant period. In order to address the long-term, continued viability of the club, the club has, over the years, acquired the adjoining parcels and has embarked on a master planning process to develop a vision for proposed improvements to the club’s facilities. By providing for improved facilities, the club’s objective is to allow the club to stabilize membership levels, and thereafter return to and sustain its previous membership levels,” according to the application submitted to the Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board…..The Cricket Club has owned many of the properties for more than a decade and under the plans will demolish houses on Elbow Lane near Cheswold Lane and ones near Grays Lane to the rear of its historic property. Four homes in the center of the Elbow Lane to the rear of the club will be retained and repurposed for other uses.

The Lower Merion Conservancy placed the Durham homes that date back to the early and mid-1900s on its Historic Preservation Watch List last year due to concerns that they would be demolished.

Sometimes things done in the name of “progress” are painful. But I no longer live there, so I write about this as an observer memorializing memories of a summer long ago.

Enjoy the lovely day.

unexpected memories of childhood past

I saw the notice of a house sale on a Facebook yard sale group page for West Chester. What caught my eye was the print above.

The subject is now a man not far from my age named Mark. They were done by his late father when we were all kids in Society Hill.   It’s a set of four originally, there were three available.

The artist was Harry Niblock. He and his former wife also a tremendous artist, Margery Niblock, were dear friends of my parents and Margery is still a friend of mine. Our whole family has pieces of their art, and a lot of memories attached to the art especially because as a child I remember when a lot of it was actually created which is really cool.

So I went to the sale. What I wasn’t expecting is I would know the person whose house was having a house sale. She wasn’t there, but she was a woman I knew from the time I was a little girl. 

This lady was widowed twice. Her first husband I knew as a little girl and her second husband I also knew for a lot longer, because he had been married to one of my mother’s closest and best  friends and my mother had introduced the lady and this gentleman when they were both widowed. They subsequently married and he died.

So walking around the sale was a little emotionally loaded. I saw items from the households of two different couples, and their years together. I think what really upset me the most was the fact that there were items that belong to the second husband’s army career. Even a baby picture of the son, his namesake.

 Seeing his various stages of career Army uniform is hanging on a rolling rack actually brought tears to my eyes and upset me. This man did some time in Vietnam. A couple of tours my mother said, and she also said she only ever remembers him talking about it twice. Ever. He was a great guy, a true soldier who loved his family too. I have really fond memories of him.

So I bought some things, namely Harry’s prints and one of Margery’s I didn’t have but remembered fondly. The Margery Niblock prints for sale or the series of prints her friends received every year in lieu of a Christmas card for years. I have quite a few framed and hanging on my own walls. I don’t know how valuable they are, but they are extraordinarily sentimental. Margery taught me as a girl to do linoleum and wood block.

Now I’m sitting in my car before I go home writing this down because it was  almost a surreal experience.  Flashback memories of two different families and my own childhood.
I hope the lady who is moving enjoys her new home. What a morning for memories.

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.


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.

bittersweet anniversaries

  It is a weird bittersweet sort of day. Ten years ago my father passed away. Eight years ago today my cousin Suzy passed  away. And seventeen years ago today I introduced one of my best and closest friends to her now husband at another friend’s wedding rehearsal dinner. So it’s a bittersweet, memory filled kind of day.

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since my father left this planet, but it has.  I don’t talk about daddy dying much. Yes, it happened to me too, the loss of him. I just don’t ever want it to be about me, because it was about him. 

And it might sound odd saying that, but since he died I have always felt a bit of a disconnect with my family about this.  I remember first feeling it when I had to go help pick out his coffin.

Truthfully, I did not want to do that, was told I was expected to be there. I remember walking a few steps behind my sister and my mother wondering why I was there. I had no part in the decision and did want to be there. The truth is Catholic or not, I hate open caskets. The person you love is gone, and what is left is a body that is just a vessel at that point. 

  The last time I spent with my father was with both my parents on their wedding anniversary on November 11 of the year he died. I could tell on that night he was ready to go, but he was determined to wait for my sister to come down with her family from New York so he could say goodbye to her and I also knew he did not want to die on his wedding anniversary. 

I remember now oddly enough an expression on his face that reminded me of his mother, my late grandmother when she was dying. I can only describe it as an acceptance and a knowingness.  I remember we watched the original Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. That was one of my parents favorite movies.  I knew that night when I was saying goodbye that I really was saying goodbye. I told him I loved him and kissed him goodbye.

My sister and mother were with him when he actually died. It was my sister’s turn to have time with him before he passed and I did not want to intrude on that.  I remember getting the call from my mother early that evening that he was gone. I went into the city and it is still to this day a very out of body memory. I remember getting to my parents’ apartment and being told to go and say goodbye to him before the funeral home came to take his body. He had only died about an hour before so it looked like he was sleeping.

My sister and my mother were somewhat hysterical which is understandable, but it was like I was just sort of on the outside looking in. I didn’t want to fall apart because I figured somebody had to NOT fall apart. It was like walking around awake in a bad dream.  After the funeral home came for him I changed the sheets on the bed for my mother and did a couple of  loads of laundry. 

After the oddness of picking out a casket that I wanted no part of, and the plans, the discussions of who would eulogize my father began.  At first my mother did not want my sister and I to do eulogies. But as strange as that sounds I had written my eulogy months before, shortly after my father told us he was terminal. I actually discussed it with him because I wanted to write about my father from a more happy place while he was still alive and not from a point of immediate sorrow just after his death.  It also for some reason felt important to me that he should know what I was going to say. Some might say I was seeking approval, I don’t know. I just wanted him to know what my thoughts were.

The following days sort of passed in a bit of a blur. I remember the funeral mass at Old Saint Josephs on Willings Alley in Society Hill being packed on all levels for his mass. It was a bit overwhelming for me and when I got up to do my eulogy and I actually paused a moment. But I then found the faces of close friends in the church so I was able to focus and do a good job and remember my father on that day from a point of happiness and gladness in my heart.

But today 10 years later, I realize that I have mourned him in a bit of a restrained way all these years. At the time he died I didn’t want to lose control of my emotions because the emotions I saw a raging and both my sister and my mother terrified me.  The reaction to death emotions are also exhausting if you let them get the better of you.

And then slowly as I came to terms with his being gone I began to feel this sort of detachment. I loved him very, very  much, but I never wanted to mourn him in a technicolor grief stricken way.  I wanted to be able to let him go but keep the happy memories. The funny memories that made me laugh and brought us all joy.

I think of my father at random times during my everyday life. He like to garden so in the garden I will think of him. He was a great cook so sometimes when I’m making something I will smile and wonder if my father would like that. I always think of him at Christmas because he was a perfectionist about putting up the tree and loved Christmas.  I also think of him when the cardinals flock to our woods, he loved cardinals.

I will close today, ten years later with the poem I read at the end of my eulogy :




Have you ever had a memory flash through your mind that is so real and tangible, it’s almost like it was happening at the moment you remembered it?

Today, clear as a bell, I had a memory of myself as a child looking out the window in winter. When I was really little, we lived in a very old house. The windows were large and original to the house, and weren’t all air tight like modern windows.

Today I remembered the windows in winter time. The smell of the cold and the crisp cold air leaking in from the outside. I remembered looking out the window onto a snowy street and then blowing on the window to make a little cold frosty pattern that then quickly disappeared. And then just like that, the memory was gone.

This has been a bit of a weird week.

Yesterday I got a Facebook reminder that an old friend was having a birthday. This was a woman I hadn’t seen in many years because life had taken her way out of state where she had gotten married and started a family.

A few years ago we had reconnected and sporadically had kept in touch with an occasional call mostly to leave a message, or Facebook message. So yesterday I went to her Facebook page to say happy birthday. Only what I saw was a post for someone I don’t know saying she had died.

Google, that thing that is a blessing and a curse of online research, led me to her obituary. It really got to me. I was also upset that although one of this woman’s siblings was actually in my class in high school and there was a third sister that somehow people that knew this friend never knew she had died. Out of sight and out of mind in the saddest of ways.

Yesterday I had another one of those crystal clear flashes of memory. I saw my friend basically as I had last seen her. She was a petite woman with a beautiful smile that was almost shy as it developed at times and sometimes it was wistful and other times mischievous. She also had this deep throaty voice. The memory made me smile through tears.

Today another friend said goodbye to her dad. He had been ill and on hospice. When I was talking to her on her way home from saying good bye to her dad and starting the frenetic process of everything that falls under that horrible phrase “final arrangements” I had my third flash of a memory for this week. Of my own father, two days before he died and when he was on hospice.

It was my parents’ wedding anniversary. We watched a movie. The original Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn I think it was. My father turned his head slightly on the pillow and smiled a slight and very weak smile. That is my last memory of him. And then today, poof the memory was gone.

And you know what else in this week of flash memories and weirdness? Trees full of lots of cardinals in my back garden. Every day. About a dozen, if not more. I heard an old wives tale once long ago that said a lot of people feel cardinals appearing represent loved ones or people you cared about and knew who had passed away. When you see them, supposedly those who had gone before you are visiting. Makes you wonder.

Thanks for stopping by.




Memories are sometimes but little fragments, like looking through a kaleidoscope.

Sometimes a song triggers a memory. You hear a song and you stop and remember where you heard it first. Yesterday I heard Vacation by the Go-Go’s. That song always reminds me of the Jersey shore, my friend Karen and her friend Ellie. I heard that song and in my mind’s eye saw us as our late teenage selves when we didn’t worry about tanning and were spending summer in flip flops with sand on our feet. I swear I could almost smell the Bain de Soleil Orange Gelèe.

Other memories and like shards of glass. Fragments that pop into your head in that stage between sleeping and waking, which fall away when you wake up. I had that happen the other day when I first started thinking about writing this post. But I didn’t write it down, and the memory was fleeting.

This morning is September 1st. I woke up with memory of the many years my friend Pam would leave all of her friends “rabbit, rabbit” messages the day the old month ended to remind us to say rabbit, rabbit the first day of every new month. Saying rabbit, rabbit as your first words of the new month is supposed to bring you luck all month long. I still say it.

Today is also Labor Day. As a kid, in spite of the true origination of the holiday , you knew it was the last “official” day of summer vacation. An in between day when you are packing up and coming home from summer vacation. Maybe at a neighborhood barbecue. You wake up and even the air is different. Change is coming, a fresh start in a new school year. And the dreaded thought of homework.

Labor Day marks our transition of summer towards fall. It will feel like summer a few weeks yet, but soon it will be time for hay rides and corn mazes.

Enjoy the day.