Let It Be


I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea

Sometimes I turn, theres someone there, other times its only me…

                                                        –Bob Dylan “Every Grain of Sand”

Parents, send your children to bed (or the media room).  Men, if your wives are of a delicate nature, take them away from your laptop.

I am going to expose myself, my soul, fears and hopes in this, my 200th blog post on WordPress.  Yet again, I will fall into the bitter pit of memories—some bad and some good.  That has become my blog “theme”, I guess; trading in on old dusty thoughts, lovers long gone and the cracks in my heart.  Here I am again, standing in the rain at the corner of Bittersweet and Nostalgia.  It always rains here.  There’s no atmosphere without some discomfort.  It could be rain, snow or tears.  Doesn’t really matter, though.  I turn my collar against the wind and go back to the Hi-Ho Motel to wait for the next train for El Paso.  Then I remember.  There’s probably no more trains to anywhere anymore except some open-pit coal mine providing good clean green energy for us all.  No more whistles that broke the heart of Hank Williams or Box Car Willie.  Now, it’s the next Short Line coach to Toledo.

Last year, on the RV trip to Orting, Washington, I did hear the occasional train whistle.  But the long line of flat-cars never stopped.  They only slowed down to obey the speed limit as the tracks crossed empty streets and country roads.

Yes, there’s no authentic atmosphere without some discomfort.  No one lives in a world of warmth and protection (except, hopefully, children) without living through periods of self-doubt and a tablespoon of dread.  I once had a great deal of faith that got me through the night terrors, but after heart-breaking losses, deaths and illnesses, I often feel like I live in a city populated by millions…alone.

I fall in love quickly and easily and that is a serious fault.  That has led to too many broken hearts in my chest cavity.  When a very close friend died in my arms (he had lived all of twenty-three years), I realized that there really isn’t a lot of time for us, on the earth, to wait for the most perfect choices.  So, I made decisions based on the old trusty phrase: Carpe diem.

But, as usual, I digress.

It’s change that obsesses me now.  Yes, our house could burn down tonight…that’s a big change.  But, it’s the slow insidious change that happens to you during life that frightens me.  I was born on May 31, 1947.  That is 67 years and 6 months ago.  I never was a victim of amnesia.  I was never abducted by aliens (that I recall).  But, I look at a childhood photograph of myself and then quickly stare into a mirror.  I have changed.  But I haven’t gone anywhere to undergo this change.  I can’t say it happened when I wasn’t looking, because I always looked.  I look different and I think different (I used to be a Conservative, for God’s sake).  And, all this happened without a break in the flow of my life!  All the changes I see happened during a day to night to day flow that was never broken.  The lines on my face came slowly, never overnight.

There are years I lived and yet somehow missed.  Students I loved, taught and counseled…I can see their 6th grade faces but do not remember their names.  Women I have slept with are memories now…not out of disrespect…just the passage of time.  I was numb with shock when I heard that one of my long-ago lovers is now dead.  I know that this is trivial and self-serving to many of you, my friends, who have lost a spouse or future partner.  I can only speak to my own experiences.

Somehow, it would make more sense to me if all these changes happened one night.  I’d wake up and be middle-aged.  But, it didn’t.  It happened as I was looking—but I never noticed a thing until one day…

“Hey, that’s life.”  This is what is going through the minds of many of you who are reading this.

I taught with someone many years ago.  Her husband died part way into the school year.  She was the Head of the Middle School and it fell on her to give the graduation speech that would send the 8th grade girls onto the high school.  One sentence will remain with me forever.  She said: “Change is inevitable.  Growth is optional.”

I stood there with the other faculty members.  I cried.  I knew what she had been through even though I had not lost anyone in my life…yet.

What she said was absolutely true.  I knew that then, but I was into my early 40’s and had no idea what was in store for me in a few short years.

I guess I catch on slowly—just like when your hair starts to turn gray.

It’s never overnight.


birch tree 1

[Circa 1954]

birch tree 2

[Circa 1970’s]

birch tree 3

[Circa late 1970’s]

Birch tree 4

[Circa early 1990’s]

A Watercolor Found

My father never said much about his life.  He did have his favorite stories that he would tell us when his four boys were…little boys.  Some of the tales were family jokes, like this one: “We were so poor, one Christmas we got a pair of roller skates.  We had to wait until the next Christmas to get the key.”  We knew he wasn’t serious…we didn’t think so, anyway.  Other stories were about the neighborhood bully who would wait at the end of the street…the street that my dad had to walk along to get to school.  This bully would then shake him down for his lunch, which usually included an apple from a tree in my father’s backyard.

“Give us an apple, Egan,” he would say.  My father usually gave it to him.  After all, what small boy would, in his right mind, resist a guy who had something wrong with his neck, and so, he had to turn around with his entire body, like Frankenstein’s monster?  All the while pounding an iron fence railing into the palm of his hand as a way to reinforce his toughness.

To make matters worse, the boy’s street name was “Stiffy Stefanko.”

That was my father’s childhood.  How much of it was true?  I certainly don’t know, but being Irish, my father knew a good story and how to tell it.

I’ve already written about that Christmas Eve episode and the coal.  It was one of my last blog posts.  I’m fairly sure there was a great deal of truth in that story.

My dad went through a rough time in the 1960’s when he felt he was about to be pushed out of IBM because he didn’t have a college degree in Engineering.  He told me once his manager had spoken to him about how much time he spent in the bathroom.  My guess is that the manager was about 28 years old.  My father had joined IBM in 1936.  How humiliating that talk about time in the bathroom must have been for a middle-aged man who had made bombsights for the U.S. military during WWII?  He had bought a house that people thought was expensive because it was on Front Street in Owego, NY.  It wasn’t expensive.  He worked for years on repairs and improvements.  I remember when my parents burned the mortgage sometime in the 1960’s.

My dad never talked about religion.  He only once said that he was not prepared for First Communion, only that he was waiting for a friend in a church and the nun grabbed him and told him to get into line.

As the boys went away to college, my father began to have some time to breathe.  He took masonry classes at TCCC.  He took night classes in Mechanical Drawing.  (He even moon-lighted for a time to make ends meet.)

He was interested in many things.  And, I found out too late that he was something of an artist.

While he spent his last months at Robert Packer in Sayre, he told me he was having nightmares.  In these terrible dreams, men were trying to break in the up stairs window and shouted at him: “We’re taking this house, Egan, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

That was probably my father’s greatest fear…to lose the house he had worked so hard for so many decades.

After he died, in February, 2004, it came to my wife, my only living brother, Dan and myself to clean out our family home, 420 Front St. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.  To throw away the objects of your childhood was a heart-breaking thing for me.  I grow attached to things.  It’s a long story.

But, in all those letters, medical bills, post cards, and IBM pay stubs from 1956, I found a small drawing glued onto a bit of cardboard.  It was a winter scene.  My father drew it with a fair hand probably as a gift to my mother, perhaps as a wedding present or a homemade holiday card.

My father always wanted a cabin…somewhere.  It could have been a cottage in Ireland, a cabin in the wood lot he owned off Gaskill Hill Road.  Or, a farm scene he remembered from his childhood when he lived in the Pennsylvania country near Scranton.

But, it was not the house that ran short of coal that Christmas Eve.  I can see the smoke rising from the chimney.  It was not a poor farm house…rather it was a cute little place set on a hill and surrounded by snow.

This was probably the house of my father’s dreams.  No bully waiting at the corner.  No black-faced father just home from the mines.  No coal-pit beyond the hill.  No cold bedrooms, only warmth inside.

I am connected to that picture somehow,  even though it was sketched out 15 or 20 years before I was born.  It’s my drawing now.  But I’ll never own the scene he painted.  That is his dream…and always will be.  I’ll have possession of a piece of paper but the inspiration and the dream that created the little sketch will never truly be my own.

On the back it says: MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR…all in caps and heartfelt.

And, a name in black ink in the lower right corner:


Paul Egan #2  copy




Cooks of the North (A True Story of Survival)

If you’re traveling in the north country fair

where the winds hit heavy on the borderline…

–Bob Dylan “Girl From The North Country”


We who chose to live here in the North Country are a hardy breed.  You can see signs of this all around you.  The cows have thicker hides, the trees have thicker bark and the lakes sometimes gets real hard…hard enough to walk on.  Some extra hardy types actually put little wooden huts or tents on the lakes and fish through the two-foot layer of ice.  And, they do this starting in late September.  I have seen, with my own eyes, odd vehicles that don’t have wheels to move through the snow.  They have treads of some kind and the engines make a whistling noise and the air turns blue.  The people who ride around in them wear lots of clothes and all those layers are covered with a heavy one-piece suit.  They even have helmets.  It looks like a sub-Arctic Area 51.

They claim its fun.

Sometimes it’s so cold that if a guy were to go tee-tee in the woods, the tee-tee will freeze before it hits the ground.  Actually, that’s not true.  There is no ground…there is about three feet of snow and ice beneath your frozen feet.  And this happens no matter much you paid L.L. Bean for those fleece-lined, thinsulated, wool and felt-lined boots.

So, if you’re thinking of moving to the North Country, be advised that no matter what size home you buy, you will need to pay a guy named Bear to build an extra room just to hold your winter clothing, skis, snowshoes, mucklucks, and fleece gloves.  Don’t worry about the extra room in the summer…there really isn’t one.  There is a window of about 16 days where it’s not snowing or raining…and that is sometime in August (that would be the 14th to the 29th, to be exact).

You’re asking yourself as you read this: “Hey, just how hardy is this guy who is pushing 70 years of age?”

Two mornings ago, I woke up and it was 41 F in the bedroom.  Ok, it’s December, that sounds about right, right?  But this is my bedroom!  Even with the fleece blankets on me, I was chilled.  (I don’t own an electric blanket because I may want to have another child someday.)

We discover that something is wrong with the oil burner.  Not only am I hardy, but I’m smart.  It only took me about an hour to realize that the lack of heat was due to something being wrong with our oil burner.

Being hardy means being far-sighted.  Several years ago we had a wood-burner stove installed in our family room downstairs.  So, I lit a fire.  Isn’t it good?  As sure as flapjacks are good…the room downstairs got warm.  And it got even warmer until the little thermometer (digital/Radio Shack) said 88 F.  Now, I tend to be chilly a lot in these later years of my life, but 88 was a bit much.  Especially when I had no idea where any clothing not made of fleece or wool happened to be stored.

So, I watched the fire from the other side of the room.  I used my birding spotter scope to check on when a new log needed to be added.

By now it was near the dinner hour.  For some reason I didn’t feel like my pre-dinner dish of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.  But it was my turn to cook.

So, I went up stairs to the kitchen and planned dinner.  Something quick and easy.  I decided on a stir-fry.  I like to have a nice glass of Chardonnay while I cook, so I took the bottle out of the fridge and put it on the counter so it would cool down a little.  I prepared the carrots, mushrooms, peppers and rice.  I mixed the soy sauce and put aside 1/4 cup of peanuts and scallions for the garnish.

I knew that stir-frying can sometimes be splattery, I put on my special North Country L.L. Bean endorsed red apron from Macy’s.  It was lined with fleece.

I then put the silverware and plates in the microwave to add a touch of warmth, and cooked.

It turned out to be a great meal.

But, we only have TV upstairs so we bundled up in fleece and wool while we ate and watched Episode 6 of Season 3 of Game of Thrones.

I felt a chill watching all the violence and sex.  They kept saying that “winter is coming…the white walkers are coming…it’ll be a long winter.”

I can relate.


[I’m really not that overweight, it’s the blanket I was wearing under the apron.]


[The meal just before it frosted over.]


Coal For Christmas


My father grew up poor.  Not the kind of poor where he would walk through ten inches of snow barefoot or go from house to house asking for bread.  Just the kind of poor that would keep his father one step ahead of the rent collector. His parents provided the best they could, but, by his own admission, he was raised in the poverty that was common in rural America in the 1920’s.  My grandfather and my grandmother should be telling this story.  Instead, it came to me from my own dad and it was usually told to his four sons around the time it came to bundle up and go out, find and cut a Christmas tree. I heard this story more than once when it was cold and snowy in the 1950’s. In the years when my father was a child, the winters were probably much colder and the snow deeper.

It was Northeastern Pennsylvania. It was coal country and my grandfather was Irish.  Two generations went down into the mines. Down they would go, every day before dawn, only to resurface again long after the sun had set.  Because of some misguided decision on his part, my grandfather was demoted from mine foreman to a more obscure job somewhere else at the pit.  Later in life, he fell on even harder times and became depressed about his inability to keep his family, two boys and two girls, comfortable and warm.  It all came crashing down, literally, when their simple farmhouse burned to the foundation.  After seeing his family safely out, the only item my grandfather could salvage was a Hoover.  My father could describe in minute detail how he stood next to his dad and watched him physically shrink, slump and then become quiet.  He never broke the silence after that and died in a hospital while staring mutely at the walls.

But all this happened years after that special Christmas Eve that took place in my father’s boyhood.

It was in the early 1920’s.  The four children were asleep in the remote farmhouse my grandparents rented.  Sometime after mid-night, my father woke up to a silence that was unusual and worrisome.  It was too quiet.  There were no thoughts of Santa Claus in my father’s mind that night–the reality of their lives erased those kinds of dreams from his childhood hopes. There was no fireplace for Santa to slide down.

He pulled on a heavy shirt and pushed his cold feet into oversized cold shoes and went down stairs to the kitchen where he knew his parents would be sitting up and keeping warm beside the coal stove.  But the room was empty and the coal fire was burning low.  The single electric bulb, hanging from the ceiling, was on.  My father noticed the steam of his breath at each exhale.  He called out.  He heard nothing.  Shuffling over to the door, he cracked it open to a numbing flow of frigid outside air.  In the snow there were two sets of footprints leading down the steps and then behind the house.  He draped a heavier coat over his shoulders and began to follow the prints.  They led across a small pasture and through a gate.  From there the trail went up a low hill and faded from his sight.  He followed the trail.  Looking down at the footprints he noticed that they were slowly being covered by the wind driving the snow into the impressions.  A child’s fear swept over him.  Were the young kids being abandoned?  It was not an uncommon occurrence in the pre-Depression years of rural America.

In his young and innocent mind, he prayed that the hard times hadn’t become that hard. He knew their parental concerns and he knew he and his brother and sisters were loved.

He caught his fears before they had a chance to surface. His parents were on a midnight walk, that’s all.

At the top of the hill, he saw a faint light from a lantern coming from a hole near the side of the next slope.  He slowed his pace and went to the edge of the pit not knowing what he would see. He looked down.

He knew this pit from summertime games, but it was a place to be avoided in the winter. The walls were steep and it would be easy to slip in the snow and fall the dozen or so feet to an icy bottom. The children never went into the field with the pit after the autumn leaves fell.

He dropped to his knees and peered over the edge.

At the bottom of the small hole were his parents, picking fist-sized lumps of coal from a seam that was exposed on the hillside.  They had nearly filled a bucket with the chunks of black rock.  They looked up, quite surprised, and saw my father standing a few feet above them.  They looked back at each other with a sadness that was heart-breaking.  They certainly didn’t want to be caught doing this in front of one of the kids, not on Christmas Eve.  They stared at each other and then up at my dad.

“Boy,” my grandfather said, “The stove is empty.  Come on down and help us get a few more lumps, will ya?”

My father was helped down and after only a few minutes his hands were black from the coal.  The bucket was filled.  They helped each other out of the pit and walked back to the house together. My father and his father carried the bucket between them.

In a very short time the coal stove was warming up again.  My father sat up with his parents until they finished their coffee and the house was warmed a few degrees.  Dad kissed his mother and father and went upstairs to bed. He fell asleep, he always would say, with a smile on his face.

Twenty some years after the midnight trip to the coal-pit, my parents and my two older brothers moved to Owego, New York. I was born two years later, in 1947.

. . .

When I was a young boy, my father took me aside one Christmas Eve.  I had not been a very good boy that day, and I was afraid.  Neither of my parents, however, had mentioned “The Threat” that would be used to punish a child if you were naughty and not nice.

My fear left me. Father’s voice was warm and full of understanding.

“Pat,” he said, “If anyone tells you that you will get a lump of coal in your stocking if you’re not a good boy. Tell them, ‘I hope so,’ then wish them a Merry Christmas.”


The Great Hiking Pants Problem


If a sweater was hanging in an empty forest, would it still be Cobalt Blue?

I ponder these kinds of questions…maybe a little too much.

Every time my wife suggests a hike, I can find some kind of excuse.  And most of them are real concerns of mine.  It’s not that I don’t like to hike in the glorious woods of the Adirondacks, but there’s often an honest reason to stay at home.  I don’t “do” bugs.  Black flies are a nightmare to be avoided.  So, there goes May, June and most of July.  The mosquitoes, of course, are around most of the time, except when it’s -36 F. (and even then they can find a way to my skin).

The mud of spring is a no-go in most people’s book.

“I have new hiking boots, Mariam, I can’t get them dirty!”

That pretty much leaves some of September and early October.  The leaves are in full color and the weather is cool and crisp, like a maple syrup crepe.

But, a new challenge has come up.  I was browsing through a few holiday catalogs and I found a reasonably priced ($39.99 + tax) pair of hiking pants from Cabelas.  These Trailhiker II Pants had it all.  I especially like the 9-oz 100% cotton-canvas basketweave fabric.

Basketweave pants?  Wait a minute.  I’ve caned canoe seats before and that’s where I hear the term basketweave…but pants?  I began to sense trouble in the road ahead.

I looked over the rest of the description.  The knee patches were double-layered.  There were 7 pockets!  Seven! (with a reinforced knife-clip patch and a hidden cell-phone/media player pocket.)

What happened to the old pair of jeans that had 4 pockets?

As I was narrowing my search down, I was confronted with one last, but insurmountable problem.

The color.

I remember when Lands End began to bring in strange color names.  They were glorious names that evoked the seashore or the mountains of Maine.  But they were still a bit strange.  Then L.L. Bean jumped on the wagon and a whole new lexicon of hues and tints, dyes and washes made my pants search more and more difficult.

Now I had to think about not what felt comfortable…but what was going to look good (color-wise) in the place where I was going to wear the new pants.

I looked over the choices for the Trailhiker II pants.  I could get them in British Tan, Otter, Gunmetal and Foliage.  On the same page a Henley sweater was listed.  The colors available: Nutmeg, Evergreen, Dark Midnight and Sandy River.  I flipped the page.  Another Henley sweater.  Colors? Cobalt Blue, Sage, Cayenne, Antique Brass, Black and Brown.  Brown?  I was forgetting about Brown.

I picked up a copy of the L.L. Bean holiday catalogue.  I flipped through the pages checking out the colors from Freeport, Maine.  A sampling: Weathered Leather, Saddle, Plum Wine, Heather, Dark Indigo, Charcoal Heather (maybe that was two colors), Collegiate Blue Camo, Mountain Red Buffalo, Deep Garnet, Glacier Blue (I’ve been on a glacier…it wasn’t this color), Cabernet, Dark Terracotta, Bright Mariner, French Blue (now we’re talkin’), Pink Lilac, Deep Mint, Crisp Lapis, Molten Red, Treeline, Warden’s Green, Moss Khaki, Alpine Gold and Dusty Olive.

I was exhausted.  Colors swam before my eyes like an Esther Williams water-color palette.

I turned back to Cabelas for relief.  After a few pages I found a pull-over in Medium Brown.  Whew!  Then I realized that Cabelas was mostly a hunter’s catalogue.  You were not likely to find a Medium Brown pull-over in Miami.

Thank God I couldn’t find my Lands End catalog.  I might be in the early stages of sensory overload right now.


I woke up screaming the next morning.  I was soaked in sweat.  The room was spinning like Linda Blair’s head.  I had this unspeakably horrific nightmare last night.  I dreamed that when I went for the mail, Mike, our local postmaster, told me that several dozen back issues of the J. Crew catalog were found in the back room of the post office.

They all had my name on them!




How Three Moments From An Evening With Bob Dylan And His Band Will Stay With Me


It was December 1, 2014.  The mild afternoon had turned into a chilly evening. A light rain was falling on the gritty sidewalks of the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

The marquee of the Beacon Theater on 75th Street told the story of the next few hours in my life:



The tickets hawkers were wandering amid the crowds who were amassing at the front door;

“Tickets? Need Tickets?”


I took my seat on the aisle in the first row of the balcony.  Next to me was my son, Brian.  My wife, Mariam sat in the third seat.

Great view of the stage, I thought.

I posted a picture on Facebook of the unattended instruments on the stage.  “8 minutes to go,” I wrote.  At 8:10 the house lights went down and a gong-like tone rang from the large speakers.  A guitarist stepped into the dark from stage right.  A dark curtain behind the drums and pedal guitar parted.  Four or five men walked out.  One man wore a cream-colored suit and a planters hat with a black band.  It was Dylan.  The lights came up slightly and the crowd cheered with intensity.

There is no need for a total recap of the songs.  I knew that when the show ended, Bob himself wouldn’t make it out of the stage door before the set list for the evening was posted for the world to see on bobdylan.com.

I’m not a music critic.  I have nothing to offer in the way of commentary on chord changes, lyric alterations or technicalities.

This was probably my 16th or 17th time I’ve seen Dylan in concert.  The first: the early ’70’s when, backed by The Band, he filled Nassau Coliseum.  I’ve seen him at Jones Beach in the heat of a summer’s night.  I sat in Madison Square Garden at least twice and saw him once with Tom Petty and later with Paul Simon.

I saw him at Roseland Ballroom when the audience stood for three hours.  I was so close to the stage that I could see drops of sweat collect at the end of his reddish-blonde curls.  It was at Roseland that I bent over to scratch my shin.  I stood up and Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen were on stage with him.

I last saw him in the summer of ’13 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.  He seemed tired.  The sound was poor and the stage was quite dark.

I was disappointed.


But this night, this rainy night of December 1st, he was solid, strong, not too raspy-voiced and in control of every step and every note.  His band was “infinitely listenable.”

Here was a hero of mine who, at the age of 73 was singing songs that helped define my own view of the world, relationships, life and death.  There were three sublime moments that night.  Three moments that rose up and flew to that place in my heart that taps a reservoir of memories and emotions.

The First Moment came quickly and simply.  Therein lies the power of that Moment.  Early in the show Bob walks from the center stage microphones and sits at a baby grand piano.  If you turned your head to say something you would have missed it.  If your attention had wandered…you would have missed it.  The audience had stopped cheering, the lights were down.  Bob sat in a shadow at the key board.  Then it happened.

A woman, below me in the orchestra section and to my left yelled, plaintively two words:

“Thank you.”

Her voice was not a GO BOB voice.  It was quiet, almost pained…lonely and singular.  It could have been the parting words of a heart-broken woman to her lover who has just walked out the door after gathering his blankets from the floor.

The people near her heard her.  I heard her.  I wondered if Bob heard her.  The moment was over in about six seconds and then the lights went up and he started a song.

I felt overwhelmed by how she, speaking on an impulse, spoke for a billion people who listened to Bob for over 50 years.

She spoke for me.

The Second Moment was during the first song of the encore.

Signature riffs and chords did not announce the song.  You listened to hear a recognizable phrase amid an altered version of the original piece.

Then there it was:

“How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?”

“How many deaths does it take till we find that too many people have died?”

Written a thousand years ago but all about what happened in the last few minutes…somewhere.

And, the Third Moment…it was NOT a Dylan song.  But it worked and it was a perfect end to an emotional night.

The words were written by Jerome Moross and Carolyn Leigh.

“Like the lamb that in the springtime wanders far from the fold,

Comes the darkness and the frost, I get lost, I grow cold…

All I can do is pray, stay with me,

Stay with me.”


I said good-bye to my son at the subway stop.  Mariam and I walked back to where we were staying.  We walked back in the drizzle.  Christmas trees lined the sidewalks…over priced but smelling like our own backyard.  That balsam scent stays with you.

I miss my son already.  I wanted his company.  I wanted him to stay with me.

My wife held my arm…my back was sore…she’ll stay with me.

In a lifetime of good-byes and loss, death and divorce, aging and illness, graying hair and arthritis…it’s heartbreakingly comforting to know something and someone will stay with me.

Thank you, Bob.