Dan & Daughter At Rest

My father is hidden behind everything I am.

–Adrienne Egan “Danny Boy” (From a high school essay)

[Long Pond with Long Pond Mountain in the distance. Photo Courtesy of Terri Mendelson]

I have long dreaded what was about to take place. As I approached the shore of Long Pond, the memories began to weigh heavy on my heart. How often had I stood in the sand since the early 1980’s when my older brother, Chris, discovered the St. Regis Wilderness Canoe Area? A group of friends followed me to the beach. My son, Brian, carried a backpack that held a black box. I was about to say a final goodbye to my brother, Dan. He was the last of my brothers…the last Egan from Owego…except me. I was alone now. I thought of a phone call in 2019.

Mariam and I were in a pub in Dorset, England. The establishment was closed except for several dozen locals. It was Christmas Day. The dinner was for those who had nowhere else to go for the holiday. Mariam had located the small square in the pub where cell phone reception was weak but present. She punched in the number. It was a phone call I wish didn’t have to happen.

I spoke (or tried to with a broken signal) to my brother, Dan. He was in a hospice bed and he had about forty hours or so to live. I managed to say “I love you” but I don’t think he could make out the words.

Two days later, while we were settling in for dinner at the White Lion Inn, Mariam’s cell rang. The message was simple. The message was clear…and final. Dan had passed away.

I signed a paper to allow for Dan’s cremation.

Years later, in early August, 2022 I sat up in bed and realized that I was the one responsible for the cremains. I chose August 27 for the day to fulfill Dan’s will and have his ashes left in Long Pond.

~ ~ ~

Many years ago, back in 1991, just after I arrived in New York City to take a new teaching job, my phone rang. It was my father. What he told me sent shivers down my spine and tears to my eyes. Dan, who had been badly injured in Viet Nam, was told by the doctors that a) he would never walk again and b) he would never father a child. He proved the good doctors wrong. He walked with a limp…but he walked. And, he had a daughter by a young woman named Diana. The child’s name was Adrienne.

All was well until it wasn’t.

Adrienne and other college mates were having a party event on the roof of Adrienne’s dormitory. The facts are vague in my mind. The others left the roof…left the roof for Adrienne. She fell asleep. She rolled to the roof edge. She fell. She died.

Something died in my brother that day. His personality darkened. But he pushed through much of the grief…as much as one can…and he began to age. We all aged. But Adrienne was destined to be the teenager that lived in Dan’s memory. For the rest of his days.

Dan has been reunited with his daughter in the urn.

They both will enjoy the sunsets and storms that roll over Long Pond. The ice of winter. The buzz of mosquitos and black flies will fill their ears. The wind will howl in the dark nights of winter. The burning sun of summer. The meteor showers and the Aurora. The rainbows and the woodsmoke. These are all the things that Long Pond will offer them as it welcomes the new arrivals.

[For the Memorial Service. Photo courtesy of Bart Durkin]

Paying It Forward: More Late Night Thoughts on Greg

“And when I come to the dim trail-end,

I who have been Life’s rover,

This is all I would ask, my friend,

Over and over and over:

//

Stars that gleam on a moss-grey stone

Graven by those who love me–

There would I lie alone, alone,

With a single pine above me;

Pine that the north wind whinnys through–

Oh, I have been Life’s lover!

But there I’d lie and listen to

Eternity passing over.”

–Robert Service Heart O’ The North

[Greg just outside Owego. February, 1960]

A Labatts Blue in his right hand, a left hand on my shoulder. We were arguing in an Owego tavern that if I would just give him fifteen minutes he would prove to me how cell phones were going to ruin my life. I deftly avoided the conversation. Greg was set in his ways. Not only was he mistaken, but without cell phones, I would never have to take his call and tell him how to get to our Adirondack home so many times in the early days of 2011.

I was privileged to be given the opportunity to delivery his eulogy. I regret nothing of what I said. My major failure was what I had left out.

So, gather the grandchildren, the aunts, sisters, brothers, a wife, and his sons. Gather his friends alongside his family. We are now the Flame Keepers, the storytellers and the sources of one man’s history. It must live on and on. Say it all loud and with conviction. Make no apologizes for a flawed human. Tell his life like it was. Hold nothing back. Don’t leave the painting half-finished. Future generation not yet born will thank you.

[Greg on Avalanche Lake at the base of Mt. Colden]

The day will come when the younger generations will be asking those who lived back in those days: “I wonder what Grandpa would say about that?”

If only he were still by my side. I knew him well but still have as many questions as the stars in the sky.

Yesterday morning I was walking a wooded path. The trail headed east so I had to squint and shade my eyes against the sun. I saw him. I’m sure it was him. He was standing on a mountaintop with the rising sun ahead of him. The morning mist was slowly being burned away by the sun.

[Greg on the summit of Mt. Colden. Temperature was about -10° F. Year was 1960-61]

Was he waiting for me? He beckoned. To me? He pointed to the east. Did he want me? Did he need me?

Then, somehow I was near him. His eyes were filled with tears of contentment. There was a hint of sadness for those he left behind. But he seemed filled with joy that he had at last reached his final destination. His final summit.

I heard his voice clearly in my mind: “There is no end to this, Pat. There are more trailheads and beginnings than I ever thought existed.”

He took a step away…distancing himself. “Don’t be long. I don’t like waiting.” These were his last audible words to me. “Let’s have one more cup of coffee till we go to the valley below.”

Thanks again, Greg. This time for teaching me how to enjoy ‘nuclear’ wings at Rattigan’s and how to savor a Lupo’s Spiedie.

We each learned from the other. But I doubt he ever fully understood what an Emoji was. Then again, maybe he did.

[Me in an alpine valley, Alaska. 1967]

A Spadeful of Earth

Grief is the price we pay for love.

–Queen Elizabeth II

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

–Abraham Lincoln

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’

–Erma Bombeck

[The High Peaks of the Adirondacks]

The photo above is the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. My friend, Greg Stella and I used this beautiful region as our playground. Every peak, every valley had our boot prints in the mud and the rocky summits felt the back of our heads as we daydreamed away the hours after an ascent. After the ascent. Such a misnomer. It implied a “last ascent.” There was never really a last ascent. There would be another, and then another…and another. In the area shown in the photo were the majority of the oft-mentioned ADK 46. Other peaks were found outside the frame. There were 46 peaks (according to the original survey) that were 4,000′ or higher. If one climbed all of them, he or she would be eligible to join the “46 er’s” and get a patch to proudly wear on your parka or rucksack. Greg and I climbed about twenty or twenty-five of these peaks. We decided, sometime in the 1980’s that ‘bagging’ the summits wasn’t what we were searching. It became less about the numbers and more about re-climbing our favorites…some many times over.

The room in the funeral home in Owego, NY, set aside for the service was filling up fast. I was going to give the eulogy, but I had to wait until a full military service was complete. Then the priest said the words that were so often spoken at funerals. He spoke of God’s mysterious ways and equally mysterious reasons to bring down upon us congregants the unspeakable grief of an unbearable loss. Then it was my turn. I positioned myself at the podium, away from the slide show of my friend’s life. If I looked at them, I knew in my heart I would not be able to string two sentences together without a box or two of Kleenex or even better, Angel Soft. I had to focus on my note cards and pretend my heart was still whole and not cracked open with grief.

We climbed in the rain, the snow and the sleet. We slept in lean-tos when it thundered like an angry Greek God over our heads. We curled up in our cheap sleeping bags when the ambient air temperature was -30° F. And, yes it’s true. If you left your hot chocolate out beyond the roaring fire, it would freeze over in about four minutes. We slept on bare rock summits on balmy summer nights. If it was during the New Moon, we would drift into sleep under unnumbered, uncountable myriads of stars and distant planets that made the midnight hour almost bright enough a time to read a book…or a poem. But hiking wasn’t our only shared experience. We rock climbed in the ‘gunks near New Paltz, NY, entered and competed in the General Clinton Canoe Regatta. Cooperstown to Bainbridge on the lazy Susquehanna. For that we were given a small trophy and a patch for our anoraks. This was in 1976 and we came across the finish line 74th out of a field of over two hundred. Not bad for two canoeists with no training.

I completed the eulogy and held my composure better than I thought I was capable. I knew I had to be strong for his family and other relatives. I took several quick glances at Greg’s urn. It was beautiful. I wondered how they put his cremains and his spirit, talent and humor into such a small square container. If I sound like I’m bragging about all the amazing adventures Greg and I shared, nothing could be further from the truth. I felt humble and insignificant beside such a grand person, larger than life and now silent for a very long time.

We’re at the graveside. There are his parents. Over further are his neighbors. Further on are my parents. In between are our childhood friends who never walked off a plane after a tour of duty in Viet Nam. There were old girlfriends and so many others that we walked past on the streets of Owego in years gone by. Someday, I will mingle with the soil of this hallowed ground not too far from my friend. The priest said his final words. We all stood and began to slowly drift away to get on with our lives. Someone said my name. I was handed a shovel. The small hole was nearly half filled already. I scooped a spade full and let the earth fall on the top of the urn, covering two cloth patches. A green Adirondack Mountain Club patch and a red “FINISHER” patch that I had given to Patti before the service. Soon the grounds person laid the final sod clumps and tamped it down.

It was over, the ceremony that is. What was just beginning was the flood of memories so many of us spoke.

Good-bye my dear friend. I know we will meet again, on a new trail, in another place. This will happen sometime on a sunny day, when the clouds won’t be hanging so low and seem so impenetrably grey.

[Greg and I climbing a mountain in the High Peaks]
[Photo courtesy of Brad Brett]

It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,

It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

–Robert Service

[All photos are mine unless otherwise indicated]

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 Day Bob Dylan Dies

[Source: Google search.]

This is not an obituary.  It’s not a eulogy.  It’s a foreshowding.

I’m a sensitive guy.  I’m seventy years old and I cry at the final scene of Casablanca, several times during Dr. Zhivago, and at the end of Sleepless in Seattle.

I make no apologies.

But, lately, my generation (mostly the Boomers)  have lost more than our fair share of rock stars (or musical artists, if you prefer).  Music defined the Boomers.  We grew up with the Beatles.  Yet, years ago we lost George Harrison, John Lennon.  More recently,  David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Fats Domino…and more than I can remember or even want to think about because it saddens me so much.

I’ve seen him in concert, perhaps twenty times, and even if the show seemed “phoned in”, I still walked away from the theater or the arena with a deep respect.  Respect for a man who is spending his later years on a “never-ending tour”.  According to BobDylan.com, he has sang Like a Rolling Stone well over 2,000 times!

But, there is a date, as yet to be determined by the gods, when my ultimate favorite poet/rock star and Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan will join his comrades.

Dylan (as of this writing on December 10, 2017) is seventy-six years old.  His death could come in three days, seven months, nine years…but the way our musical icons are leaving us so fast, I am dreading the day when Dylan’s number comes up.

Some morning I will wake up and read on the front page of the New York Times that he had died.  Some people who don’t know how valued this poet is to me will not understand why I will cry.

I guarantee that I will cry,  I will weep.  I will sob.  I will mourn.

My sadness will be blowing in the wind.

 

A Silent Eulogy: Late But Heartfelt

B:WFlowerSteve

Is it possible that a eulogy can take forty-one years to deliver?

The dreaded answer is yes.  I know because I spoke that eulogy…silently, silently so that only I heard the words.  It was a rambling prayer over a heart-breaking death.  I knew the young man who had died.  In truth, I was with him when he passed away, away into the unknown world that we all dread…whether we admit it or not.

He is interred in the soil of his hometown in sunny and warm Louisiana.  His soul departed on a snowy trail, on a cold night in the mountains of the Adirondacks.

I’ve talked to him, about him and prayed for him for four decades.  Our conversations weren’t all one-sided.  I felt his presence.  I felt his answers.  I’ve felt his forgiving words when I find those occasional moments, when the moon is rising and the air is crisp and the snow is five inches deep…just like it was that night in November of 1974.

Once before, many years ago, I stood over his grave.  I remember that day.  It was unbearably hot in the southern sun.  I thought then of how I was so near him in such an opposition of environments…from when we last walked side by side.  Now, I’ve returned with time heavy in my arms and dried wildflowers of the North Country in my hands.  Now, the temperature is at a mid-point…from that night to this day.  It’s 55 degrees.  There are pine cones on the ground…not a flake of snow within five hundred miles.

Yes, I’ve talked to him and relived our friendship when I stop to recall memories, those sweet and terrible memories.  I’ve spoken to a few people about him, but I have never, until now, written a word about my friend.

I’ve waited too long and kept too many recollections lock away in my heart and brain.  I need to share these with you.

We met in a hallway at the college I attended in Louisiana, or perhaps we met at the Pizza Inn where we worked evenings to earn a few extra dollars.  I have never encountered a more curious individual.  He picked my brain for hours about what life in the North was like.  At the Pizza Inn, we were often left with the task of closing for the night.  But, we wouldn’t simply clean-up and lock-up.  No, after the lights were turned off, and before the ovens were shut down for the night, we would make a pizza, the likes of which was never seen on the menu.  We’d lock the front door and find a booth in the back dining area.  And there, by the light of a single candle (we didn’t want to attract the police who would be checking the locks on the doors of the businesses along the avenue), we would drink beer, eat pizza and talk for hours.  We’d argue.  We’d laugh. We discussed the philosophy of life.  We talked about women.  We talked about racism. (He was the farthest thing from a ‘redneck’ I ever encountered in my years in the 1960’s South.)  More than once, when we left for our cars, the eastern skies were getting light.

Time flew for us when we had important matters to ruminate about.

A few years later, after I graduated and moved back to New York State, we kept up our friendship through letters.  We had a chess game in progress for months, sending moves to each other on post cards.  I don’t remember whose turn it was when our game ended so abruptly.

He was curious about life outside of the South so he moved to Binghamton, where I was living.  He got a job.  I moved to Pennsylvania to begin a career of teaching.  He wanted to join me on a hiking trip to the Adirondacks over the Thanksgiving break of 1974.  I said yes.  I wish I hadn’t.

I will place this humble bouquet against the headstone.  My wife will stand at my side.

I will say a prayer for him to a God who I feel has been too quiet for too long.

My private prayer for the dead will start with his name.

I will say: “Hey, Steve.  It’s been a long time.  Sorry I’m so late.”

O, Southern sun, shine warmly here,

O, Southern winds, blow gently here,

Green sod above, lie light, lie light,

Good night , dear heart, good night, good night.

[This is not Steve’s epitaph, but it could and should be.  I found in on a gravestone of a nine-year old boy named Addison Foster, Jr. in the City Cemetery of Natchez, Mississippi]

HandAt Steve's grave

My Grave Nightmare: A Halloween Story

SpookyImage

Was it a day in full blinding sun or a night in deep gloomy shadows?  Was I asleep?  Awake?  I don’t remember.  No, it was both.  I wandered about in my dream with my eyes open, my dream that quickly became a nightmare.

What I looked upon were reflections of my darkest thoughts and fears.  My sub-conscience was trapped in the dreaded landscape of the land of the dead–the churchyard, the cemetery, God’s Little Acre, the lawns and fields of the departed.

AngelOverlookingGraves

The angel stood on the rock and watched over the mute stones.

“O, What has come into this world that these once vital souls, who lived, loved and danced and sang must now repose until the Day of Judgement?”

I stood watching a man mourn the loss of his wife, lover, child, parent or self.  He cannot bear the loneliness of existence.  He pulls at the door.  It is solid and firm in its closure.  The door is thick bronze.  I touch his shoulder to offer solace.  He, too, is bronze.  It’s all metal and stone except for the dust that lies within.  He will remain in this torment until the acids of the rain reduce him to molecules.

BronzeAtDoor

I walk on.  I don’t know why I do this.  I know what awaits me behind the next tree or over the next hill.  I walk into the trees.  Roots have begun to ensnare a gravestone.  The trees will absorb the crystals in another century.  Then, who will remember?  Where will the flowers be placed?  Where will the tears be spilled?

RootedGrave

The only comfort for my eyes are the green and living leaves, mosses and lichens.  Objects with life hold firmly to the ultimate symbol of death.

True irony.

I leave the dark trees and stand to meditate the monument before me.  I read the inscription.  It’s not an epitaph–it’s a promise:

Somewhere in Mexico–when you were hurting and in despair, I sent my angel to comfort you.  You are not alone.  I will be with you even unto the end of the earth. 

ComfortAngelCaption

There is an old house with an open door.  I grew up and passed from childhood into manhood in an old house.  I must enter.  I walk into the foyer and along the hallway.  There she is.  The transparent image of a long-ago lover.  Or is she the sister I never had? Or is she my mother as a beautiful youth?  Or is she someone unknown to me–coming to hold my wrinkled hand and place her young cold lips on my warm cheek.

Instead, she passes through me and ascends the stairs to meet another shade–someone her own age to play with–someone as spectral as she.  I watch her ascend the stairs and experience an overwhelming sense of melancholy.  I wished to know her in life.  I probably would have given her my heart–the heart she would break when she passed away.  My heart breaks as easily as ancient Oriental porcelain.

SpiritGirl

I leave the house to her spirit.  I whisper a prayer for her restless soul.  Does anyone hear my words?  I walk on into a monochromatic world.  There at my feet is the grave of a man who is holding…is it his own face?  The head of someone he is longing for?  The visage of a family member?  I walk by and he continues to stare, without terror or anger into another pair of eyes.

HoldingHead

I have seen too much for a living and mortal mind to comprehend.  I want to be awake.  I don’t care if it’s just past mid-night or if the sky in the east is becoming pale.

Pale!  Enough pale! I want to be amongst the living and the breathing.  I want to mingle with lovers who embrace with a terrible passion for life.  I want to walk along flowered paths rich with bees and insects and birds singing for the company of a mate.  I want to help a lame farmer till his field, an old woman with arthritic joints knead her bread, a teacher tell his students the truth about life, calm a couples angry words, write a song a child will love, write a book that will make a man weep, kiss a wanton woman, drink a dark ruby wine, eat a mushroom in a desert, draw a picture that a blind person could see, dig a grave, speak words at a burial, pour Holy Water on an infant’s forehead, stand on a mountain peak so very sharp and pointed that the highest crystal pierces my thick boot soles and makes my foot bleed so that red stains on the heather will guide a lost soul to the low meadows.

I can feel sleep falling away.  But, I sit up in bed, still in a deep slumber and see my last vision for the night.

It’s the Angel of the Fog.  But is she fading away or growing more real?

FoggyAngel

I rise and boil water for tea.  I wrap myself in flannel.  I rub the Sandman’s leftovers from the corners of my eyes.  I am fully awake and fully alive.  I will use and live this day to its fullest.  I will live with faith and hope.  As I slowly stir a drop of honey into my tea, I begin to wonder…

What will tonight bring me as I put my book down and let the dark envelop me?

Do You Really Want To Go There?

Dark Lane 4 Blog

It’s early Autumn.  The air is crisp.  The broad leaves of the oaks and maples are sharp and bright in the sun.  Against the darker conifers, the reds and yellows are more muted–less distinct and less joyful.

There is a lane.  It seems to possess a faint voice calling for you to follow to wherever it leads.  The fair-haired, blue-eyed woman beside you urges you to take a few steps into the forest.  Her white hand suddenly is gripping your right forearm.  Without words she is telling you to not take another step.

“We don’t know where this path leads,” she says with her eyes.  You brush a red leaf from her soft hair.  You look down the lane again.  Something is urging you to explore–to follow the trail to its end.  On your left, a woman with dark eyes and pale flesh takes your hand.

“Come,” she whispers in your ear.  “We can’t keep them waiting.”

You look to your right.  The fair one has a distressed look as she stares down the lane.  Her hand trembles.

Turning your head, you see your car parked miles away.  How can this be?  You’ve only taken a few steps into the woods.  A breeze picks up a few leaves and stirs them at your feet.  The branches of the trees begin to weave and roll and shudder.

There is a tug at your right arm.

“Let’s go back,” the fair one says.  “I don’t like this.”

“Let’s move on,” your pale lover says.  “It’ll be good.  I’ll see to that.”

You are unable to move.  You stare into the distance and wonder where it will end and how far the walk will be.  Will there be a pool of clear water?  A bower of red and scarlet leaves?  An old farmhouse?  Does the backdoor–the screen door, bang in the wind?  Is the spring rusty?  Are the rooms empty?

Is there a house at all?  If not, why the road?  All roads lead to something in this forest.

You’re frozen with indecision.  You want to go forward and you want to run back to the car.

What about your lovers?  You look from left to right.  There is no one there.  Was anyone ever there?  Are you awake?  Is this a dream?

You look back at your car.  It is not in sight–there is no car.  Looking down, you see there is hardly a path.  It’s all overgrown.

A woman’s voice calls to you.  It’s a song–so very sad.  You’ve heard this lament before.  Nothing good can come of this, you’re thinking.  Nothing good.

It’s never good when you’re alone–in the woods when the sun begins to set.

Our Appeal To The Great Spirit

AppealGreatSpirit

[Source: Google Search]

It was the icon of our school.

It stood in the large foyer of the Owego Free Academy high school.

The title of this equestrian sculpture is Appeal to the Great Spirit.  The artist was Cyrus Dallin and it dates from 1909.  The original bronze statue is at the entrance of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  A small version rested on a table in the Oval Office of President Clinton.

My classmates and I were lucky to see this amazing piece of art everyday as we moved about the building near the main office and entrance.  I believe it stood in the old school (now a county office building) before it was moved to the front lobby of our high school.  It was never vandalized (to my knowledge), but more than once, some student would stick a cigarette between the fingers of the Native American as he sits upon his horse.  The Marlboro never lasted long there–a teacher or administrator would remove it.

But, somewhere in the minds of the students was the question: Why is he making a plea?  What does he ask for?

I recall having to spend a few minutes in the lobby alone with the statue sometime between the years 1961-1965.  I leaned against the wall and stared at the figure.  I felt I knew what the man on the horse was seeking.

As a boy growing up in Owego, NY, I collected arrowheads and sinker stones along the banks of the Susquehanna River.  The town is steeped in the history of the natives who lived on the site, undisturbed, until the late 18th century.

I pulled down my copy of the 1965 Tom-Tom yearbook.  I don’t find the Appeal; the cover is a stylistic “Indian” printed in white on burgundy.  But, I sensed his presence.

Other yearbooks in other years used the figure on the cover.

I look at the brochure inviting me to the 50th reunion of the Class of ’65.  There is the statue.

I think back on the years we walked past the statue dozens of times a day–on our way to gym, the office, the nurse–the front door.  The ‘message’ of the figure is unmistakable.  A young Native American in full-feathered headdress has his arms out stretched.  He is asking his god, his Great Spirit, for something.  Is he asking for forgiveness?  Is he pleading for a cause that he and his people would eventually lose?

As I leaned against the wall that afternoon, I wondered what his plea meant for us.  I didn’t know the answer then, but I think I have an answer now.

I stare at a downloaded image of Dallin’s work.  I think of four years among my classmates, my girlfriends and my teachers.  I think of a warm day, a June afternoon, in 1965.  Closing my eyes, I can see hundreds of people, parents and recent graduates walking past the statue.  We’ve just walked across the stage and received our diplomas.  For most of us, passing the figure on the horse would be the final time we would have an opportunity to look at his pleading arms.

Some of us would go off to war and lose our lives.  A few would come home from the war and lose their lives.  Many would move away, never to return to Owego.  Many would go off to a college and perhaps return–perhaps not.  And, many would stay in Owego and marry and have children and take their kids to football games and attend reunions.

A few would pass away from illnesses that we never knew much about, or even heard of, when we sat in our classrooms–those many years ago.

I can only speak for myself.  My answer to what the young man is appealing for is clear.  He, as our symbol, is asking the Great Spirit for a kind of guidance.  We didn’t know it when we left the building that day in June, but deep inside, we were scared.  We were afraid of what the future held for us.  We wanted more guidance than the well-meaning speeches we had just heard.  On the outside, we felt we had “made it” and were now on our own to discover the secrets of life.  But, on the inside, we feared what we would find along the trail of years that lay before us.  We feared we would lose our way.  Some of us did.

There are statues and monuments to great explorers like Captain Cook, Robert Scott and Henry Hudson.  They were all going into the unknown–without accurate maps–not knowing what awaited them.  Aren’t we all deserving of a statue? We all went “where no man has ever gone before”, and we did it without a starship.

Yes, the figure on the horse was our icon but he was also our Ultimate Class Speaker.  He had absorbed our hopes and fears for four years and now he was asking his (and our) Great Spirit for a guide to carry us from that day to this day.

Now we can say we “made it”.

On September 12, I will sit down at a dinner and look around the room at my classmates, now in their late 60’s.  I’ll see familiar faces of friends I’ve never lost touch with.  I will see faces of those I haven’t seen since the last reunion I attended in 2000.  I’ll see people I haven’t seen in fifty years.  And, I’ll see the empty seats of those who are no longer with us…there will always be a place at our reunion dinners for those who swirl among us in our memories only. Those of us who carry on with our lives are left with fleeting moments and stories to tell.  This is the double-edged reward for a long life.

Gary sitting behind me in homeroom.  Doug and Donny and David.  Nancy and Glen and Keith.  Too many to mention…too many to forget.  Too many.  Too soon.

We have followed our individual paths for over half a century.  Countless appeals have been made by each one of us, and countless more will find their way to whatever Great Spirit we choose to speak.

Let us raise our glasses…

OFA65 SeniorsSketch

Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

We’d fight and never lose

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days…

                                                     –Mary Hopkin

 

 

 

Unexpected Memories

DennyinOwego with Camera

Seventeen years ago today, my older brother Denny, passed away.  It was not a sudden unexpected death but a slow decline with cancer.  His family misses him terribly.  My brother, Dan and I miss him.  I think about him a great deal.

We were a family of four boys.  Denny was the second oldest, born in 1942, he was a five-year-old when my mother brought me home, wrapped in blankets…a few days old.  The 1990’s were a bad year for our family.  I lost Chris, the eldest in ’95 and then Denny in ’98.  Now, only Dan, the third born and I are all that remains of that interesting family that lived on the corner in Owego.

Everyone who has siblings is aware that each child has a distinct personality of his or her own.  That was certainly true of the Egans.  Chris was always the science guy.  Too many pens in his pocket.  Too many rocks or fossils filling his pockets.  He went on into academia.  Dan, as a teenager, was into cars and model rockets.  I spent most of my energy in a world of dreams and fantasies of writing while struggling to keep up with being like Chris.

Denny was different.  He was the quiet one.  He didn’t like to be the center of attention, but when you spoke with him, he had a sharp wit and sensitivity that most people lacked.  To my knowledge, he never got into a fight or did anything destructive.  As an older teenager, he befriended a guy named Bob.  We all knew that Bob was gay (or queer as we would have put it then).  Denny knew it.  But my brother was probably the only friend Bob ever had.

There was an introspective nature about Denny that set him apart from the rest of us.  He loved baseball and he followed the Mets from New York to Houston when he was transferred by his company, Shell Oil.  He named his son after Tom Seaver.  He would spend hours in his room playing a board game that involved shaking dice in a can to determine the way a play would go.  I recall the game was called APBA baseball.  There’s probably a video version of it around now.  But I can still hear the rattle of those dice in the can to this day.  In fact, every time dice are thrown, I think of Denny.

It’s an unexpected memory.

He kept meticulous records of players and teams in a smart neat notebook.  He wrote the stats in a perfect format.

It’s no wonder he went on to become an accountant.

Denny never made a big deal of being a Catholic as I recall.  He was an altar boy, as we all were.  But he kept his God to himself.  He was like me in one way, however.  He seemed always conscious of death; it held a morbid and fearful power over him.  There was a story that one of his childhood friends died as a young teen.  The funeral was held at the family’s house.  I think I remember Denny telling me that the boy’s mother pushed him forward to the casket and made him kiss the boy’s forehead.

Maybe this event didn’t really happen.  In later years, my mother always denied such a thing happened, but I still wonder…

Maybe it was an unexpected memory.

Denny was also the only one of our family who saw two ghosts in our house.  The details aren’t important here.  But, over the years, I asked him about those sightings and he never wavered in his description of what he saw.  He believed it.

When Denny got sick, he was fully aware of what his situation was.  On the phone, a few months after his diagnosis, I asked him how he felt about things.  He answered:

“I know things don’t look good for me.”

I was amazed at his calm attitude.  Me, I was in tears nearly every day until I got the dreaded phone call on that dreaded day in June of 1998.

Just yesterday I picked up a sachet of balsam that is a common tourist item in the Adirondacks.  I put it to my nose and the balsam scent filled my mind of memories of camping as a family here in the Park…in the long ago days of the 1950’s.  I never think of Denny as a camper, but as a child, he loved the sand and the swimming and that balsam odor that permeated the summer forest of Golden Beach and Eighth Lake Campgrounds.

I have that sack of balsam beside me now.  I can smell the 1950’s, my cot, our tent, Chris’ canoe, and the sand on my feet.

Oddly enough, I smell a memory of Denny…the demons he carried around inside himself for decades…and I think he would love to sit with me on a beach once again.  We would tell ghost stories and roast marshmallows.

Strange how powerful an unexpected memory can be.

Rest in Peace, Denny, God knows you deserve it.

1stBirchtree