Coal For Christmas

[Watercolor sketch by Paul Egan. Date unknown.]

[Note to my readers: If you think you’ve read this blog before, don’t think you’re getting senile. It’s perhaps the fourth or fifth time I’ve posted it.  It’s my version of a pure Christmas Story. I’ve tweaked the story several times to try to make the narrative better, clearer and more truthful.  As the years pass, I hope these newer memories are adding reality and not just wishes. This is not a made-up story by me.  It really happened].  

It’s another year and another chance for me to share this holiday memory. Happy Holidays to you all!

I am a grandfather now, feeling every ache in my joints and every sadness of my seventy-third year.  The stories that my father told me about his father have taken on new meanings.  I’m the old one now.  I am the carrier of the family history.  When a recollection of a family event comes to mind, be it a birthday party, a funeral, a wedding or a birth, I get my journal and I write with haste, in case I might forget something or get a name wrong or a date incorrect. Or, forget the event entirely.

This is especially true when the snow falls deep and the Christmas tree decorations are brought down from wherever they live during the summer to brighten the dark and endless winter evenings. It is a time to recall and celebrate the memory of those who have passed on. It’s time to think again about my family and how they lived their lives so many decades ago.  It’s time for a Christmas story.

I was raised in the post-war years.  My parents were not saying anything original when they would tell me, or my brothers, that we had to be good, very good, or Santa would not leave us any brightly wrapped presents, red-ribboned and as big a box as a little boy could hold.  No, Santa would not leave such a wondrous thing.  But he wasn’t so vengeful to leave nothing in our stocking.  No, if we were bad little boys, as my parents often said, he would leave a lump of coal. You deserved nothing more.

My father, Paul Egan, grew up poor.  Not the kind of poor where he would walk barefoot through ten inches of snow to attend school or go from house to house asking for bread.  It was just the kind of poor that would keep his father only 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 to find and cut a Christmas tree.  I heard this story more than once when it was cold and snowy in the 1950’s. When we had a house in Owego, N.Y. and we had plenty of space for a large tree in the living room.  And we had plenty of fist-sized chunks of coal in the cellar.  In the years when my father was a child, the winters were probably much colder and the snow so much deeper.  And the coal so much more dear.

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.  On his only day off, Sunday, he would sleep the sleep of bones that were weary beyond words.

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 family legend has it that he died in a hospital while staring mutely at a wall.

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

It was cold. Frigid is more apt a term. The chill of the season found a way into a house using the smallest openings. There was never enough flannel.

It was in the early 1920’s.  The four children were asleep in a remote farmhouse my grandparents rented.  Sometime after midnight, my father woke up to a silence that was unusual and worrisome.  It was too quiet. It was too chilly.  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.

In the corner of the small living room stood a stunted Christmas tree.  There were a few bulbs on the branches. My father never spoke about whether there was a string of bright lights, but my suspicions were that there were no bright red, green and white bulbs.

He pulled on a heavy shirt and pushed his cold, bare feet into an old pair of his father’s cold boots that were five sizes too large.  He then 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 now merely embers. Not enough for a house.  The only light was from a single electric bulb, hanging from the ceiling on a thin chain.  My father noticed the steam of his breath each time he exhaled.  He called out.

“Mom? Dad?”

He heard nothing.  Shuffling over to the door, he cracked it open to a numbing flow of frigid air.  In the fresh 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 a common 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.  But deep within, he knew of his parents unconditional love and concern.  He knew he and his brother and sisters were cherished.

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 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 ten or more 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 hole were his parents, picking fist-sized lumps of coal from a seam that was exposed on the inside of the pit.  At their feet was a tin bucket that was nearly full with 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.  The embarrassment was evident on their faces. They certainly didn’t want to be caught doing this in front of one of the kids, not on Christmas Eve.  After glancing at each other once, they looked 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 the ladder 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 load between them. My grandmother carried the third pail.

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 had 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.

The Christmas morning that followed a few hours later was in a warm living room.  My dad never spoke anything to his siblings about the previous night.

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.  That dreaded lump of coal in the stocking that was tacked to the mantle over the little-used fireplace.  My fears left me.  Dad’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 very Merry Christmas.”

For Pete’s Sake

[Lenny Schmidt (L) & Peter Gillette on the ‘Going to Gramma’s House’. A 73- mile bike trip from Owego, NY to Lake Winola, PA. Circa 1960]

How many kids, in the innocent ’50’s can say they were lucky enough to have a river in their backyard? Not many would be my guess. And it didn’t hurt that the Gillette family owned Hiawatha Island, one of the most famous and historic tracts of land in New York State.

I was a patient of Dr. Tracey Gillette on several occasions.  Our regular family doctor at the time was Dr. Philip Nichols. If Dr. Nichols was busy, Dr. Gillette would almost always take me.  After all, that’s what small town doctors did in those carefree days. And it certainly hurt that Dr. Gillette’s only son was one of my best friends.

Pete and I became the best of friends.

If not for him, we would never have had the numerous island adventures that enlivened our teenage years.  

. . .

If not for him, we would never have produced, directed and acted in at least four eight mm home-made monster movies. [While we played at film making, a guy our age named Spielberg was doing the same thing in California.]

. . .

If not for him, Greg Stella, Chuck Carter, Pete and myself would never have found a cozy nook hidden behind the shelving in the school library. Behind those shelves we discussed philosophy, religion, fools and kings. [All with the librarian’s knowledge and permission. Making trouble was not on our minds.]

. . .

Pete missed several months of eighth grade at St. Patrick’s School in Owego, NY. The entire class knew that his father had terminal cancer. Tracy Gillette’s final months were spent taking his wife, 6 daughters and one boy on a tour of America

We all suspected that Pete would follow in his father’s footsteps…take up medicine. Lord knows he had the brains for it. But instead he ended up in the construction business as a laborer. He suffered a back injury which ultimately contributed to his death, passing on September 2nd.

I cannot walk down Front Street, even today, over 60 years since I last spoke to him, without a million memories filling my brain. People tend to keep memories alive. I intend to do this

for Pete’s sake.

 

 

A Young Boy’s Walk

[Source: Google Search.]

My first eight years of formal education was at St. Patrick’s School in Owego, NY. Many former students of many Catholic schools will complain about horrid nuns with rulers and black straps. I had no such issues with the Sisters of Mercy who ran our school. Most knew our parents personally. I can’t blame the good Sisters for the lapses in my education (I don’t know the difference between a gerund and a participle). And it’s ultimate irony that someone who had virtually no science classes ended up being a teacher…a science teacher!

But I digress.

My forth grade teacher, Sister M., liked to take walks. Owego was ideal for school children to walk. The streets are mostly set on a grid sistem. Out the school, keep making lefts when you come to a corner and before you can say Susquehanna, you’re back at the school.

[Source: Google Search.]

Sister M.loved the autumn and there’s nothing like that season in Owego. The sidewalks fill with leaves and all is right with the world. She had the patience of a saint, so on the most perfect days of fall, we would go, as a class, on our ‘science’ walk. East on Main Street and a right on Ross. We’re at the corner of Ross and Front, ready to make the right back to school. I can glimpse my house. I wondered what my mother was doing. Which room she was cleaning or which fall flower she was picking. Our class did this walk, every year, with the particular nun who taught us. The ‘science’ part took place when we got back to school. In the back of the building was an unused room…our ‘lab’. There, using a hot plate and an old used pan, we would choose our favorite leaf picked up on the walk, and  each pupil would carefully dip their leaf into the melted paraffin. The nun stood close by always thinking about the possible and the much dreaded phone call:

“What?! My daughter got scolded with hot, molten wax? It’s true. It’s true that you nuns torture our kids.”

On our forth grade walk, something odd happened to me. At the end of a two-block leaf walk, I had changed. I always enjoyed finding a colorful maple or oak, but on that ideal day, a day with a deep blue sky, the smell of leaves, the hint of crispness in the air and Halloween a week or two away…I saw the true colors shining through. The sky became a deeper blue and the thousands of leaves took on a brilliance I had never seen before. (This same experience happened years later when I was a freshman in high school. I recall lying on the grass in our backyard and staring at a budding spring flower. I never saw a flower the same since. My senses had made a quantum leap into a higher level of insight).

I looked up at Sister M. She had a slight smile on her nearly hidden face. I looked around at my classmates. Did they experience what had felt that moment? I believe for them each moment came at a different time. I had my moment. On their way to adulthood, they all would have their moment. I glanced again and my friends, this time i noticed a young petit girl with dark hair cut in a pixie style.

I began to notice many different things that day. It was a walk I will never forget.

NOTE: All the leaves are still green here in the North Country. But, seasons change fast and so here is my autumn blog.]

The Mermaid

[Source: Google search.]

I shall always remember how the peacocks’ tails shimmered when the moon rose amongst the tall trees, and on the shady bank the emerging mermaids gleamed fresh and silvery amongst the rocks…

–Hermann Hesse The Journey To The East

Once upon a time, I traveled to the Seven Seas…to take a swim in all the waters of the earth. It was in the sixth sea that I chanced to meet a mermaid. Few men get to meet a real mermaid…and few men get to walk away from the mystical, magical and forbidden aura that these fantastical creatures and the spell they can weave.

“Come, swim out to where the sea is truly blue…as blue as blue can be,” I said.

“I can’t swim that well,” She said. “I’m afraid of how deep one can sink.”

“I’ll show you new lands,” I promised.

“I’m in a new land,” She said.

So we lived on an island. I took her to places she only had dreamed of. We had a son who rose from the waves and grew to be a pure and a strong soul.

Then, one day, she swam to where I dangled my feet in the cool water.

“I have to go away,” she said. “I need to see the sunset one more time.”

“Will you ever come back to me?”

“No,” she said. “Did you forget what happens to a mortal man when he falls in love with a mermaid?”

I had forgotten.

She swam away. I never saw her again. She met her last sunset.

[Google Search.]

 

{Nancy Dunn Egan}

{November 22, 1953–May 11, 2020} 

{Good night, Nance}

 

 

The Gift Of The Troll

[Source: google search.]

I tried to be as quiet as a cat as I approached the Barnum Brook Bridge. I put my foot on the first plank and sure enough, my stealth was inadequate. Out from under the bridge, so fast I missed it because I had blinked, emerged the Troll, blocking my way.

“Who is crossing my bridge?” He attempted a snarl and a roar. Instead, only a squeak. He rubbed his eyes. Apparently I had interrupted his nap. “Oh, it’s you again,” he said as his large eyes took focus.

“Hey, Troll,” I said, with some sadness.

“Get ready for the Three Riddles.”

“Do we really have to do…?”

“You know the deal. It’s in your book of Norse Mythology.”

I sat down on the leafy trail. “Okay, let me have it.”

First riddle: “What has hands, but can’t clap?”

“You’re kidding…a clock.”

Second riddle: “You see me once in June, twice in November, but not at all in May, What am I?”

“Hmm. I paused for a moment before it hit me. The letter “e”.”

“Not bad,” the troll replied.

“Not hard,” I retorted.

“Okay Einstein, this is hardest one for today.”

Third riddle: “What has a bed but never sleeps, has a mouth but never talks, and can run but never walks?”

My mind went blank. I had no idea. He had me stumped. I’ll never cross this bridge today. I’ll never get to that quiet spot at the end of trail…the place where I think through my problems. Then I looked at the Barnum Brook below me. That’s the answer!

“A river,” I said a bit too loudly.

The Troll bowed his head in defeat.

“That’s okay, Troll, there”ll be other chances.”

I walked past him and sat on the log bench at the far end of the bridge. He remained seated on the bridge keeping his six feet distance.

“Oh, by the way,” I said as I fished through the pocket of my L.L Bean cargo pants. I pulled out a copy of something I saw in The New York Times yesterday.

“Ooo My My, the Times. A bit upscale for an Adirondack guy, wouldn’t you say?”

I ignored the comment and showed him this:

[Source: NY Times.]

He took the photo and studied. “Oh, poor Floogie,” he said. I always knew it would come to this”

“Explain,” I said gently.

“Where was this taken?” he asked.

“Under the Fremont Bridge in Seattle.”

“I coulda guessed. Made it all the way to the West Coast. He was a friend of mine, Floogie was. He was really into the Troll thing. Did everything the Norse Mythology book says that Trolls do. One day he was emerging from his place under the bridge when a truck loaded with cement accedently drop its load and the cement poured through the pot holes on the bridge. Poor Floogie.”

“Sorry about your friend, Troll, but that’s not why I’m here. He looked up at me waiting for further comment.

“The self-isolation thing is…is really getting me down. I feel like I’m in a hole and can’t get out. It wants to be spring, but we’re stuck in January weather. No flowers. Too chilly to even take a walk. I started my needle point project and made two mistakes on my first cross stitch. I feel like I’ll never be good at anything. My appetite barely exists. I have trouble sleeping. What am I going to do, Troll?”

“First of all, think about how lucky you are to be safe and secure up here in the North Country. The Adirondacks are a special place. Every day is a microcosm of every season. Yes, all the seasons are condensed into one day. I don’t do this very often, but let me show you something.” He reached into his satchel and pulled out a Pan flute. “Stand up, and close your eyes.”

He began to play a soft melody. I thought of spring, of the flowers waiting to rise up and I thought of the leaves of the Poplar waiting it’s time to burst forth. Then, the tune changed slightly. Now I felt the warm breezes from a large lake. I felt the hot sand beneath my feet, so hot I had to run into my dad’s arms and he carried me to the shore and gently placed my into the chilly water of Raquette Lake. I smelled Balsam everywhere. Then his melody changed again and I saw the scarlet and yellow of autumn along the trail. The sky was intensely blue. My brother, Chris was waiting for me a short distance away. Mount Marcy was just over his shoulder. It was to be our fifth time we were climb it. Troll played on. The tune now made me think of knee-deep snow. It was six degrees below zero. The crisp air bit at my nostrils. Finally, the tune came back to the beginning. I opened my eyes and it was early spring. Life was waiting beneath every fallen leaf. All I had to do was give it a little more time to absorb the sun’s energy and crocus would energy.

I just had to wait. I’d get through this. I am stronger than I gave myself credit for. My heart was much lighter now.

“Thanks, Troll. Thanks for giving a vision to just wait.” He grinned up at me. I turned to go when I felt the load in my shoulder bag. It was a round loaf of grainy brown bread I was intending to eat when I reached my private spot.

But a favor demands a return.

“Troll, catch!” I tossed him the loaf. He caught it deftly. He looked at the bread and then up at me.

“What I did was for you alone. No reward necessary.”

“Look. I baked it for my marriage anniversary and for Mother’s Day but my wife isn’t keen on bread.”

He looked out over Barnum Pond. “I had a wife once.” I saw he was trying to wipe away a big Troll tear. “And I had a mother once too. A second tear rolled down his furry face. “Trolls aren’t much different than you humans. That’s why I prevented you from crawling under a bridge and going into a hole, like me.

I turned and began to walk on when I heard:

“Happy Birthday, Patrick.”

“Thanks,” I yelled back with a wave of my right hand.

Now I wonder how he knew about that, I thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Not Sleepy

[Goya’s The Sleep of Reason. Photo credit: Goodle search.]

[NOTE: The following post is rated for sad.]

When I was a young boy, about a hundred years ago, my mother would sit on the edge of my little bed and stroke my brown hair. It was well after my bedtime. I should have been sleeping the sleep of the innocent.

“What do you think you’re going to miss, honey?” she would ask, her voice soft and concerned. “Try to sleep, please.”

“I can’t,” was all I could say.

“Close your eyes so that the sandman can find you and help you go to dreamland.”

“I can’t,” I said again. I wasn’t been bratty or difficult. I just couldn’t stop staring at the ceiling. Nothing much has changed in all these years. I fear the setting of the sun and oncoming darkness. I plead to my wife to not turn out her reading light until I fall asleep.

Sometimes it works.

And then in the morning, I wake from the usual nightmares with my heart pounding and my breath coming in gasps. (At least I don’t wake her up screaming and flailing about the bed like I did twenty years ago.

My dreams are full of frustration and anxiety. Typically, I’m caught in the school where I used to teach, frantic because I can’t find my classroom or my list of students. Sometimes I’m lost in a horrific version of a Manhattan that doesn’t exist on any map. I’m walking endless streets and wandering through a warren of a broken landscape. I’m trying to find my way home. I’m lost. I’m terrified and lonely…and then the dawn comes and I’m back at Rainbow Lake.

[Photo credit: Google search]

Out of breath and fearing what the next night will be like.

Bob Dylan wrote: “My dreams are made of iron and steel.”

My dreams are exercises in frustration and…loneliness. I feel somehow blessed if I can remember nothing of my nighttime. That is a rare morning.

I read that dreams occur during REM sleep. That’s not a good thing because it robs you of the deep sleep you need for a true rest. I never greet the dawn like they do in TV commercials…stretching and ready to take on the day.

I think my condition is inherited from my father. He struggled with insomnia for as long as I can remember.

My legacy to my children? I hope they have a love of books and reading and traveling…looking forward to drifting off with a good novel on their chest.

I don’t want to meet my daughter or my son on the midnight lanes I frequent.

I’d rather they find time to let the sandman into the bedroom.

[Nightscape. Photo source: Google search.]

 

It’s Not Easy

Elisa Pumpkins[Elias has to choose. It’s very important what to consider.]

[DEDICATED TO ELIAS MUIR GOLDSTEIN, MY GRANDSON]

It’s not an easy life being a child. No, the easy part of life is being a grown-up.  They can go to bed when they want, they can watch any TV show on the cable…like The Bachelor in Paradise or Hoarders, take a bath when they choose and even get to drive a car.

All is not perfect in child land at certain times of the year.

Like October. This is when the difficult choices begin to manifest themselves. The major issue at this time of the year happens to be pumpkins. Every year a child (except those that are home schooled and believe that Halloween is a satanic practice) has to choose the perfect pumpkin to display on the front steps of his or her house. This is not an easy matter. There are endless considerations to be made. To make a very long story somewhat shorter, I will use bullet points to illustrate my…points.

The usual first step for the parents is to take the child to a Pumpkin Farm. At such places, many choices come into play. Shall the child have a cup of cider? A candy apple? Or, perhaps a doughnut?

But then, reality begins. Choosing the absolutely perfect pumpkin. And this is the most difficult process of all. A child has to consider a number of factors in selecting the correct pumpkin. if I remember correctly from my childhood, this is what the youngster needs to consider:

  • How does the pumpkin heft? How do two pumpkins feel when held in each hand?  Is there a proper equilibrium?
  • How does the weight (or mass) compare with others with the same volume? This can be determined, in large part by the heft, but it is not based on solid scientific empirical data.
  • What is the carvability factor? How easy would the knife cut through the orange skin?
  • The size. Will the size support a proper face carving?
  • Is there enough surface area to support a carved face? Should it be scary or funny?
  • The specific gravity. How does the pumpkin relate to it’s volume in a bucket of water?
  • Does it have enough internal space (post-carving) to support a stub of a old dinner candle?
  • What is the Curb Appeal? Can this be seen easily from the street? Will it scare away trick or treaters or will it signal that goodies are to be had in the house that sits behind this special pumpkin?
  • What is the life span? How long can the child keep the pumpkin on the front porch before it becomes a moldy mass of yellow pulp that needs to be shoveled from the steps? Can it last into December?

So many things to consider when you’re a child. But the one thing that will not be a worry is that you will have a loving Mommy and Daddy that will tuck you into bed and tell you that the spooks and goblins are not real and that the candy will have to wait.

Then they can get back to Hoarders.

 

Good-bye Rosie

[Rosie. Photo is mine.]

My mother passed away in her sleep on a quiet Easter Sunday morning in 1992. A sad event indeed. Just days before on Holy Thursday, she sat in the living room of our home and told the priest that she was tired and was prepared. She was ready. She also told him she wanted to depart this life on Easter. She got her wish. This event put into motion a series of events, a journey of sorts, in my life, that of my wife, Mariam and Cracklin Rosie.

A day later my wife and I drove to Tioga Gardens Nursery to pick out a spray of flowers for the funeral home viewing. The nursery was owned, I believe, by my high school classmate, Ed Kuhlman. He commiserated his sorrow at my mother’s passing and took an order for a floral display.

“Wait;” he said as we were leaving. “I have a gift for you, Pat.”

He disappeared into the depths of the greenhouse and emerged a few minutes later with a small potted plant.

“Here, this is from me. No charge. It’s a Begonia and I’ve named it Cracklin Rosie. I love Neil Diamond. Take care of her and she will bring back memories of you mom.”

[For all my botanists readers: Begonia x corellina hybrid. The plant scientist who created the hybrid named it after the Neil Diamond song. For years I thought it was Ed Kuhlman’s favorite song.]

We took the plant and departed.  After the funeral and all the necessary things that had to be done, we headed back to New York City. I was a teacher and my wife was a nursing administrator at a major city hospital. We had to go forward to our lives. We put Cracklin Rosie in a nice place in our one bedroom apartment.

The years passed.  We grew older and Rosie (we dropped the Cracklin part) grew up and out. Then up and out some more until she became as prominent a part of our home as a sofa or a library.

In 2000, we bought a lake side house in Rainbow Lake, NY. We rented it out on a weekly basis for several years. It helped to pay the mortgage. Then in 2005, I retired from teaching. Over thirty years of pushing chalk was now to become a memory.

In 2011, we let ourselves be bought out and left the City for our home in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York State.

We brought Rosie with us. By now, she was the size of a china closet. Every time we travelled abroad we had to find someone to watch over her. It was like having a pet; but one that never crawled on to your lap or wagged a tail. In our dining room, she became a presence…a conversation starter…a center of attention. It was like having the skeleton of the Elephant Man watching you eat your pasta primavera.

Sadly, an era is about to close for us. My son, Brian and his fiancee, Kirstin are coming for a visit over Columbus Day weekend. They have agreed to take Rosie back to Queens and become her new owners.

I’m sitting here as I type this and staring at her in her floppy green glory. She has witnessed dinner parties, made way for a Christmas tree or two, watched us having a candle-lit dinner, an argument, a deep philosophical discussion and all the events of life that come with a happily married couple who live in the North Country.

Knowing how this plant/human relationship will eventually end, we gave cuttings to many of our friends. There are baby Rosies in many homes. And, when Mariam and I visit Brian and Kristin, we’ll meet up with Rosie and talk about old times.

She has felt us brush by her as we haul luggage out to the car or back into the living room from our travels. She sensed us. She welcomed us. I think she’ll miss us.

I’ll miss her just like I’d miss an old friend.

Just like I miss my mother.

 

 

A Cemetery With a View

[The grave of Sa Sa Na Loft. Evergreen Cemetery, Owego, NY.

Photo credit is my own.]

I’m back in my home town of Owego, NY for a reason.  I have no one to visit.  Nothing to purchase (I did buy two books at River Row Book Store), but I was there on an early September afternoon for a sad occasion.  I was there to attend a memorial service for a long time friend of mine, Teri Ware Bramlett.  It was held at the Hickories Park under a glorious sky.  The Susquehanna River flowed slowly behind my chair. It was the color of an olive.

But this post is not about that.  Perhaps I’ll post my memories of Teri at a later date.  I had errands to attend to.  The top of my list was going to TOPS and buying flowers for my family’s grave at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.  Then I had to center myself.  Find the place where I can take in the whole of my early life.  And there is no other place than the “Indian Girl’s Monument” on Cemetery Hill (Evergreen Cemetery).  From there I can scan the valley below.  I can oversee my hometown like a king rules from the highest castle tower.

Certain places are obvious, other less so.  The trees are still full and green block some of what I wanted to see.

I sit on the bench with my wife.  I can see St. Patrick’s Church…where I was baptized and where most of my family’s funerals were held.  I can’t make out my old home, too many trees.  I can barely see the backyard of my childhood girlfriend’s house.  I see the Susquehanna, entering the view from the far left and fading off toward Pennsylvania to the right. I can see the Court House.  There’s Lake Street where I hung out with my friends in the 50’s and 60’s.  All of us overwhelmed by the power of hormones we never knew about until we bacame adults.

It’s all below me, but so far out of reach.  My youth was spent on these streets.  Memories began to flood my mind.

It’s time to go.

I realize I’m no longer a physical presence in this village, but I can never fully find myself free from the chains of the past.

A Tale of Three Rings

[Antique wedding ring.  Price? About $5600. European Cut. Source: Google search.]

Eileen, a colleague of Mariam, wanted to meet us for a drink.  We were in New York City for the usual doctors appointments, meetings and our yearly Yankee game.

The three of us sat at the bar of Brendens Irish Pub on W. 35th Street.  I don’t know…maybe we were talking about Tolkein or circuses, but the topic turned to rings, specifically our wedding rings.

We each had a story about our wedding rings.  My story was probably the least interesting so I’ll start with me.  I wore my wedding ring for many years, removing it only for activities like kayaking and picking up hot babes in cheap bars (that was a joke).  Kayaking tends to cause my ring to rub against my finger.  But, for the last several years I’ve not worn my ring.  I began to lose weight and in the dry air of the North Country, my skin shrinks.  I performed a simple scientific test.  I shook my left hand several times onto the sheets of our bed.  The ring slipped off.  Not a good thing so I put it on Mariam’s jewelry tray where it sat until I decided it was time for action.  I needed to take the ring to a jeweler and have something put inside to hold the skin of my third finger.  This is what I got:

The nubs you see on the inside hold the ring securely in place.  I am now wearing the aforementioned ring 24/7.

Mariam’s story is a bit more interesting.  When we picked it out (Macy’s. circa early ’90’s), she chose a cubic zirconia.  It was a fine ring and fooled a jeweler once who commented on the quality of her “diamond”.  She worked at St. Vincent’s Hospital in those days as a Nursing Supervisor.  Often she would help in the bedside care…and that is how she damaged the facet of the cubic.  She continued to wear it for years, until we went to the jeweler on 86th Street and Broadway.  The woman behind the counter said it could be easily replaced with a new stone.  So we did it.

Here is her ring after the replacement:

But the real interesting story was the one told by Eileen, Mariam’s friend.

Eileen and her husband  are Filippino.  His grandmother had beautiful diamond earrings, given to her by her mother.  WWII brought the Japanese to the Philippines.  They weren’t a very friendly lot.  It is historical fact that the Japanese Army did some dispicable things to the Chinese and the citizens of the Philippines.  Knowing what was coming, his grandmother had the stones reset in nondescript (read ugly) metal earrings, which she wore throughout the war, hiding the precious heirloom in plain sight.  On her ears.

They survived the war.  His grandmother then had them reset as wedding rings.  One was lost.  The other was handed down to Eileen’s husband.  That is the one that resides on Eileen’s finger.  And she was sitting next to me.

I was taken by the story.  There are probably a thousand stories that are similar, but this ring…I was able to touch this ring.

As I did, I felt the weight of history, love, family, war and survival.

This is Eileen:

And, this is her ring:

Rings are real material objects.  You can touch them, lose them, pawn them, steal them or even throw them into the East River.  But, they are also symbols of things that endure…like love.