One Molecule And I’m A Rosemary

[Note: Not my mother’s cards and letters. Source; Google Search]

My mother passed away on a sunny Easter Sunday morning. This is what she wanted. She had seen the priest on Holy Thursday and whispered in his ear that she had chosen the date. She was a good Catholic. The year was 1992. I had the night watch duty to stay by her side and listen to the pump. I was up all night (I recall watching The Robe with Richard Burton). I checked the clock. My shift was over and I was exhausted. As I climbed the stairs I brushed shoulders with my father who coming down to relieve me.

“Anything change?” he asked.

“She breathing steadily,” I replied.

Twenty minutes later, my mother passed on.

Several weeks later my father asked me to go through and discard any personal belongings of hers that any son or nephew or niece might want. I sat at the art Deco bedroom vanity and pulled open the top drawer. Swatches of fabric, buttons and knitting needles faced me from the drawer. I went to the second one and it too held little of interest to me. Then I slid open the bottom drawer and found myself holding a bundle of old cards. Each card was addressed to my mother and sported a 3 cent stamp. They were tied together with a pink ribbon. I opened one card and pulled it from the envelope. It was a “Happy New Baby” card. Little lambs and tiny birds decorated the inside. I read it.

“Dear Mary, oh, so happy about your new baby. I know its a boy but maybe next time you’ll have your girl.” They were heartfelt messages but they read a little like sympathy cards. I checked the post marks. They were posted on June 2, 3 & 4. I was born on May 31.

I saw and calculated. All this meant that sometime in the Fall of 1946, a rogue molecule or cell or whatever kicked in a Y chromosome…making me a male.

So, I was christened Patrick. My girl name was supposed to be Rosemary. I wondered how hard it was to be a girl. My situation was not without some advantages. By the time I reached puberty, I knew more about the female than many of my ‘girlfriends’.

An eighth grade girls rises from her seat and walks up to the nun…already in mid-lesson…and whispers in her ear. A nod. The girl was gone for ten minutes. I knew what was going on.

I’m not claiming to be unique in any way. Many of my friends had sisters so they were probably pretty aware of life.

I lacked the lipstick and lace, but I feel confident that my mother loved me without conditions. After all, on a family trip to Philadelphia, my dad and two of my brothers went out to the old Connie Mack Stadium to watch the Phillies. I confess I was a little disappointed to be asked to go with my mom to see The King & I at a downtown theater. In the end it worked out quite well. I could only think of the baseball field as hot and sunny, two conditions that I have a deep dislike for. But, there I was, weeping as Yul Brenner’s hand dropped off his knee…he died in this scene.

Here is what I learned from that day:

*I tend to be a little bit of a Romantic.

*I’m capable of crying in public.

*Memories stay with me whether I like it or not for a long time.

After a life of working with adolescents (I taught for nearly thirty-five years) I learned I had a very emotional side to me which I did my best to subtlety disguise my fuzzy exterior for a patina of gruffness…not frightening, just enough to keep the hounds at bay.

Family secret of sorts:

Now that I’m approaching the age my mom passed, I’m grateful for all my parents did for us…dad rising early to be off to IBM and my mom…forever cleaning the large house my dad purchased in ’45. But while my siblings excelled in sports (except for my eldest brother, Chris whose idea of a good time with a workout was to roam fields and backyards for arrowheads) I had within me a different set of rules. My mother, I now see, taught me to touch, to glance the feminine side of my being.

It’s no big secret that humans have these two forces, often at war, the male and the female.

I’m grateful to my mother for instilling within me a perspective that maybe, just maybe not all men are privy too.

I’m also grateful that my mother kept her from actually raising me as a female. And I’m glad I wasn’t given the option to wear lipstick. I could never find a shade that went with my boyish brown eyes.

A Memory Is Immortality

To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.

—Anon

[A cremation box, not my brother’s]

I stood and stared at the box. I was alone. All the relatives, guests and friends had left after the service. The room was quiet except for the almost imperceptible recorded tones of funeral music. I stood several feet away from the box, in the center of the room. I took three steps backwards and sat in one of the empty folding chairs. I continued to gaze at the box. I had asked the funeral director if I could have the room to myself for a few minutes to gather my thoughts.

The box, golden hued, had only a few words printed on one side:

Daniel Charles Egan

March 1, 1945 – December 26, 2019

Inside the box were the cremains of my brother…my last brother. I began to wonder which Dan I was thinking about. Was this the teenager that took apart a ’57 Ford in the backyard and after honing the cylinders, put the entire thing back together. (He had two bolts left over when he finished.) Was this the guy who used-up most of my Brylcreem on his curly hair before a sock hop at Owego Free Academy?

Or was this the boy that swam away hours at Brown’s Tract Pond when we went family camping each summer in the Adirondacks?

Was his the hand behind the wickedly fast snowball that nearly took my ear off, or maybe the future boat maker who turned down an offer of $11,000 for his hand-crafted Adirondack Guide Boat?

Was this the reader who was fascinated by the history of the Mohawk Valley, who collected Native American sinker stones or flint chips of arrowheads?

It occurred to me that in that box were the remains of a great many Dan Egans.

But not all of Dan’s existence consisted of possessing skills (he was a licensed pilot) and knowledge. Early in the 1990’s life began to take on a downward spiral. His only daughter died tragically.

This was quickly followed by the passing of our mother which was shortly before our eldest brother, Chris died. In the late ’90’s and into the next century Dan survived cancer only to lose the battle in 2019.

All that was left of my last brother was inside that box.

Now, as the years pass, more and more of his friends have died. He survived (barely) Viet Nam and was still being handed a piece of Viet Cong shrapnel that the surgeons found every time he had a hip replacement.

So, that’s the end of the life of my brother.

Or is it?

Many years ago I read the perspective of the Native American view on death. To them, it’s all about stories. As long as someone is spoken about after death, then they never really have died. The memory of someone lives on into the future…as long as there is a story to tell or a song to sing about that person. As Dan’s story is told, he’s not in any box. He’s sitting next to me, alive as he could be. Dan’s memory will fade in our hearts over time…but he’ll remain part of the living world.

I know it’s my turn next, but I have children and they will have children and they will carry Dan’s story with them. They will know Dan through the tales I will tell. One could say that it’s only a box with some ashes but the story doesn’t end there.

Go ahead, speak of the departed…but tell the listener to speak with loving generosity.

Back To The Beach

I’m sitting at the dining room table in our house in Fort Meyers, FL. It’s probably 90 something outside. We were here before, about two streets over, back in November, 2014 to January 1, 20015. We were pulling a small RV back in those days. This time we own a small cottage which will be used to escape the brutal winters of the Adirondacks. Not much has changed here. The WiFi still is not strong but the pool is refreshingly warm (I don’t do cold water).

I admit that those winters drove us away. If you’re one of my many friends from FB, I agree. I should have moved south years ago. We took the car/train from Washington, DC to Orlando. It cut hundreds of miles off our driving time. Each hour that ticked towards darkness, swallowed us further into the heart of the south.

[The south drifts by at sundown.]

We got a good price for this place and the past several days we’ve Walmarted and Costcoed our own imprint into the place. All the posters of sand dollars and conch shells, Flamingos and periwinkle shells were everywhere.

Now we’re going to put our own shell posters and shadow boxes with shells wherever we choose.

And here is something I haven’t said in several years:

“Mariam, let’s go swimming.”

Nearly There

The purpose of this short but sweet blog is two-fold. The first is to let you know that we are on our way to our house in Fort Meyers, Florida. It was just as the snow was nearly melted at Rainbow Lake when we decided to see what it was that we bought. It’s going to be hot and it’s going to be humid, much like we needed it.

The flowers shown above are from the rear of the parking lot behind Starbucks which is located just beyond the car lot at our Marriott Residence Inn. I thought you’d like to see the colors unlike the small patch of green outside our lot at the Residence in Scranton.

We’re taking the car/train from Lorton, VA to Orlando.

The tree colors are better than snow and patches of green.

The second reason for this blog is to try out my new iPad. This my first blog attempt at this…while the fish bakes.

ITSY BITSY MACHINES

The mega international company, IBM, was born in 1911. It was first called Computing-Tabulation-Record Co. Someone, most likely Thomas Watson, after some corporate maneuvers, changed the name to IBM.

My father was hired at the flagship company in Endicott, NY in 1936. He always told his sons that if he took the offer of employee stock options back in the day, our family would have been worth millions by the 1990’s.

The joke was on us.

His kids used to joke with dad.

“Where do you work, dad?” “IBM”, he’d answer.

“You mean ‘Itsy Bitsy Machines.’

Here is a very brief history of how objects that were so big got to be so small (and then big again).

The first attempt to store information was done on an ‘IBM’ card:

[SOURCE: Google Search.]

Information storage then went to the great invention, the Transistor:

[Typical Transistor. Source: Google Search]

Today, computers are now ‘Main Frame’, like a lot of little units working together.

[Typical Main Frames: Source: Google Search.]

I wouldn’t be typing on my laptop, and in 1969 we never would have landed on the moon if big, bulky electronics hadn’t gotten so small (and this is just the beginning.

Late Autumn is My Least Favorite Season of the Year

There once was a time when one could look down at my hometown of Owego. NY and see nothing but the green leaves of summer.

No more. Now you see red brick and white roofs.

It’s like a snapshot of the moment the instant the last leaves are gone but weeks remain between those last leaves and the first buds of spring. The Autumnal Equinox is a month away…not to mention the Winter Solstice.

It’s a long wait until the Begonias, and Tulips begin to appear.

Slowly falling snow, gently descending leaves and small buds waiting to yield a flower. The warmth of an august afternoon…with a kayak beneath your seat beats naked trees anytime.

The Irish in Me

I will arise and go now to Innisfree…

-WB Yeats The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I”m drifting off to sleep in the late minutes of March 17. I’m dreaming of Kilkenny, Sligo, Dublin and Galway.

What’s happened for me on St. Patrick’s Day? Actually, nothing that involved crowds and singing and rowdy behavior.

We cooked an Irish Beef Stew, listened to the Clancy Brothers, the Dubliners, and Enya and of course Van Morrison’s Raglan Road.

Then, we put on The Quiet Man.

We’re homebound. I feel so sorry for the Irish and all the others who are going through the same thing.

Such times, indeed.

The Busker in the Square

[Photo is mine]

See the guy? Not the one standing center stage…but the one just beyond him with a microphone and black guitar case at his his feet. Yellow flowers are behind him.

To me, he’s the Busker of the Square. He has secured a spot in the plaza in front of the University of Porto. Prime location indeed!

He knows his music. He has a great voice (he can echo the nuances of Dylan’s:

No, No, No. It ain’t me Babe.

He stands out there at least three of seven days. Always on weekends. He has mastered Simon & Garfunkel. I heard “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” at least three times a day. He does a wonderful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Three times a day?

His repertoire includes:

John Lennon’s “Imagine”, “Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and others we’ve forgotten. But, he’s always there and sometimes he sings me to sleep in the mid-afternoon.

I always drop a few Euros in his guitar box. I appreciate his love of music and his desire to share his talent.

Two Churches in Porto

I’m in Porto, Portugal. It’s not Florida and it’s not northern Dorset, and I’m not shoveling 4′ of snow in the Adirondacks.

But there is an interesting church across the square facing our apartment. Actually it’s two churches. On the right is the Igerja do Carmo, used by the monks of the Carmo. On the left is the das Carmelitas for nuns of that order. The interior walls are a mix of faux gold decoration and beeswax candles.

If you look closely, you will see a slender building with white window frames. That building is slightly over 1 meter wide. According my guidebook, it’s the narrowest building in Portugal.

So why is this tiny building there? At some point in history, a law was passed that stated that two churches could not share the same wall.

It may sound witty, but I find it heartbreaking. The narrow building was, perhaps built to separate nuns from the monks. This seems to be the prevailing theory.

Requited love? Unrequited love? Lust? Desire? A moral struggle? Legendary liaisons?

Only the interior walls, the statues of saints, and the God they believed in can judge those generations of souls.

I certainly won’t.