I Knew Her When

Wedding Pic  M & P

I knew Mariam when she turned fifty.  She wasn’t extremely happy about that “milestone” to say the least.  When President Bill Clinton turned fifty (he celebrated up here in Lake Placid), he was asked how it felt.  His reply: “It’s kind of sad knowing that more of your life is behind you and not in front of you.”  Those may not have been his exact words, but you get the point.

When I turned fifty (I’m about two years younger than Mariam), she threw me a surprise party at an Irish Pub in New York City.  No one ever did that for me before.

I was there when she turned sixty.  Her thoughts were on retirement.  She’s still working part-time!  Because her birthday fell on August 3, we were often in some strange place on vacation.  Once we celebrated on Cape Cod with the best lobster we’ve ever eaten.  [Note to reader: It was the Lobster Barn in Orleans].  Another time we had her birthday dinner at a nice hotel restaurant in Albany.  I took the head waiter aside and told him I’d like a cake delivered to our table after dessert was ordered.  He said: “No problem, sir,” in a conspiratorial whisper.  After we finished the main course, I nodded at the waiter.  Three other waiters came in and delivered the birthday dessert…to the wrong table!  And, it wasn’t what I had ordered.

They charged us anyway.  Aren’t those little things supposed to be “on the house?”

We recently had a little “debate” about if she was a true “Boomer” or not.  She said that since she was born in 1945, that was too early to be a boomer.  I was born in 1947, which puts me into that group without question.  So, I Googled “Boomer” and found two studies, one put the first boomers as being born in 1945.  Another said that 1946 was the start of that generation.  We both won the “debate”.

Now, today, she turns seventy.  It’s unsettling to Mariam to think of herself as seventy.  She has outlived both her parents and she is feeling the aches and pains of age.

She works in health care.  She has a way with people that is hard to describe.  When she came to Owego, New York for the first time to meet my family, my mother was at Robert Packer Hospital, dying of lung cancer.  My father, two brothers and myself stood around the room not knowing what to do about my mother.  We were never very good at open affection.  The first thing Mariam did was to walk up to my mother and kiss her on the forehead and pull her covers to her chin.  The men just stood and watched.

I decided to illustrate this post with our wedding photo.  It was an informal shot made on the steps of the Columbia University Library.  We were married at the chapel on campus.  But this isn’t a wedding blog.  It’s a birthday piece.  So, why the wedding photo?

It’s here for several reasons.  I wanted all of my friends and readers of this post to know how lucky I was finding such a beautiful woman.  Look at the two of us.  I look like I just failed an audition for “Welcome Back Kotter” and had the general appearance of an Upper West Side psychoanalyst.  She, on the other hand, looks spectacular.  She is wearing a waxen head-piece that her mother wore when she was married.  Mariam, as many of you may know, was a professional opera singer years ago.  She sang at Avery Fisher Hall once and there is a photo of her somewhere in an album of her sitting on Pavarotti’s ample lap with his ample arm around her petit shoulders.  She hung out with the “big guys” as they say.

One morning, after she had attended my Science Fair at Town School in Manhattan (where I taught), I was walking into my lab.  My sixth grade was lined up along the wall.  I overheard one boy say to another as I sipped my tea (while walking at the same time): “Did you see Mr. Egan’s wife last night?  She’s glamorous.”

“Yes,” I thought to myself as I opened the lab door to begin class, “she is glamorous.”

Happy Birthday, Mariam, my glamorous wife.

 

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

 

 

Waiting For All Hallow’s Eve IV: “Do Ghosts Dream in Black and White?”

I broke away from the other kayakers.  They were intent on finding a trail that was obscured and hidden in a small cove.  It was supposed to begin on a tiny stretch of sand and among the blueberry bushes.  It led to a small body of water called Loon Pond (some called it Lost Pond).  I told the group that I had a sore ankle that needed some attention…and rest.  I wanted, for some unknown reason to avoid the woods on this day.  I dreaded the shadows and the patches of darkness among the trees.  I didn’t feel things were right for me about the short hike.  In reality, my ankle was fine…it was the deep tight pain in my left chest area that concerned me.  I wanted the sunshine, the sky, the clouds and the shoreline of green firs, pines and tamarack.  I also wanted to be alone and think.

SunOnRainbow

And my chest hurt.

So, I turned my boat around and paddled for a few minutes.  I had not taken my usual small lightweight kayak (the electric blue one with the white trim).  No, I chose an older Old Town that was bright red.  It had a larger cockpit so I could put my knees up and stretch a little more.  I pushed forward and put my feet on the deck, resting on the PFD that I kept under the bungee cords in front of the cockpit.  I put my head back.  I watched the scattered cumulus clouds drift slowly beneath a deep blue sky.  A slight breeze blew at my back.  I took out my book but was unable to read two lines.  Back into the nylon bag it went.  I pulled my raspberry hat over my eyes and closed them.  The boat gently rocked in the small waves.  The breeze was causing me to drift in the general direction of our home.  No other boats were on this part of Rainbow Lake.

I began to drift to sleep.  My chest made a slight twitch.  A small muscle went tight beneath my sternum.

I began to have a strange dream.  I was alone.  The blue sky was bleeding white like a rain shower falling on a watercolor painting.  All the colors ran.

My body jerked me awake.  I kept my eyes closed for fear of the sun’s glare.  With the heels of my hands, I rubbed my itchy eyes.  I opened them.

My first thought was…I had no thoughts.  I looked around.  Nothing was the same as it was before.  There was no color.  My world was black and white.

I felt my pulse.  There was nothing.

It’s amazing that I didn’t panic…because panic was what I always felt one would feel when one realized they were dead.

I felt no panic.  I just felt dead.  Then I knew that without life, there is no “world as we know it.” There was no color.

So, now what?  I waited.  Something was supposed to happen to me now, but I didn’t know what or when it would happen.  My thoughts began small: Is this the way that all the departed experience what is left of the world? There were no hues, no tints, no reds of passion and love, no white of innocence and purity, no green of life and promise, no blue of depression and loneliness, no gray of nuance and subtlety, no scarlet of lust and sin, no amber of forgotten photographs or letters written when youthful fingers pushed the pens.

RainbowNoir

There was nothing but growing blackness and fading light.  Stark reality.  Basic emotions.  The lack of life’s spark that once I lived, loved and danced to.

I drifted and I pondered.  I became convinced that I was truly dead and that my vision of the world reflected the lost palette of life’s interests.  What was the purpose of color to me now?  Color only evokes emotions or emotions evoke colors…I guess it works both ways.  A musical chord can make you cry.  A particular painting can make you pray.  The sounds of certain words can bring you to your knees.

I had nearly given myself over to my inert fate when a spark of a thought began in my brain or my heart or my soul.

What about my grandson?  He surely loves me and cares about me.  What of my daughter and son?  They surely love me and worry about me?  My wife must love me…for all the mistakes I’ve made.  My brother must love and care about me.  What of my family and friends?  They must think of me with affection.  What of the lovers of years ago?  Perhaps one remembers my name, thinks about me, cares about me and even still loves me…in their own way.

These thoughts drifted into my conscience.  Then something happened.  Like a watercolor artist working in slow motion, the sky began to turn pale blue.  The lake water became a deeper blue.  The forest trees were green again.  The late summer wildflowers turned pink, lavender and yellow.

It was a bright sunny day again.  I looked at my watch.  Only a few minutes had passed.

But I knew I was alive.

And, then you’re alive, truly alive and fully alive…you see the world in a whole new spectrum of tints and hues.

It’s a circle.  Life is emotion.  Emotion is color…and color is life.

Pacific Northwest Interlude: A Song. A Journey. A Metaphore and a Memory

Sitting at the kitchen table, I can see my daughter, Erin and her husband watching a mute TV while a song is playing on an iTunes mix.  Bob is a musician.  He plays the drums and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of most kinds of music I could ever run across in my lifetime.  I think it’s safe to say that he can speak with authority about a vast realm of music with the exception of Armenian Wedding tunes or ancient Celtic hymns to a rock.  From my vantage point, I cannot see my exhausted wife on the futon, holding her Kindle Fire on her chest but unable to read it because she is fast asleep.

The song Bob is playing on his mix is a Dylan tune from years ago.  He knows I love The Bob, but he does too.  (What’s there not to like about a Dylan song from his most creative period?).

This particular song is “Boots of Spanish Leather”.  As I listen, I am thinking back to a time, almost twenty years ago when I was sitting in an authentic Speakeasy bar on Madison Ave. in New York City.  I had just started teaching at a small Private school on the Upper East Side.  This person was my co-teacher in the sixth grade.  She has since moved on to another school and I retired  about eight years ago.  She was very close to my wife and myself.  We ate dinner nearly every Sunday night.  But we moved away and moved on.  We still see her when we visit NYC several times a year.

My friend and I were having an afternoon snack at this old Speakeasy.  It was called The Madison Pub…but don’t go looking for it.  It’s long gone now.  The last time I passed by, it was a bridal boutique.

We sat at a table with a red and white checkered board pattern tablecloth.  I put a dollar into the juke box and picked out a few Dylan songs.  One was “Boots of Spanish Leather”.  I hear the words tonight and I think back to that afternoon…and most importantly, I think of the journey my wife and I just completed (or half completed to be more accurate…we have to drive back home soon).

Is there something I can send you from across the sea,

From the place that I’ll be landing?

For Dylan, it was the sea.  For me, it was the endless prairie.

That I might be gone a long time

And it’s only that I’m askin’,

Is there something I can send you to remember me by,

To make your time more easy passin’.

I doubt that my friend knew what states I drove through.  She’s only a mere acquaintance now.  But at a time before I got sick, we three were fast friends.

So take heed, take heed of the western wind,

Take heed of the stormy weather.

And yes, there’s something you can send back to me,

Spanish boots of Spanish leather.

I’m with the people I love now, my daughter’s family, my grandson, my wife.  And many, many friends have followed my blogs “Travels” on FB or WordPress.

Every now and again, someone creeps into my memory.  Someone who was close to Mariam and myself.

My journey, the song’s lyrics, my recollections can sometimes form a unique synergy.

The Rand McNally Atlas spread out on the table in front of me shows our route here and points out my way home.  But my mind is stretched to its limit when I think of the web of routes and roads and paths and highways and trails that somehow, in a way I’ll never wrap my mind around, link us all together.

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,

Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands,

With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,

Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

–Mr. Tambourine Man

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This Is Not A Blog

Let me say this right from the get go: This bit I’m writing right now is NOT A BLOG!

Tonight we had a dinner party to say good-bye to summer.  Now, up here in Northern New York State, saying farewell to August and the warm (read buggy and sweaty) days is to say hello to the “other season.”  It will be beautiful here for about two and a half days when the Autumn foliage is at its peak.  Then it’s winter and winter up here is the reverse of the Christian hell.  It will get cold, very cold until about mid-June.

Our party tonight took place three days after a review was printed in the newspaper.  The writer said some pretty interesting things about the last of my three books.  The buzz at the table was all about me and the review.  They all knew that I had had some moderate success with several blogs on WordPress.  I think I had about seven views.  Very impressive, if I do say so myself.

Everyone was telling stories about interesting and unusual happenings in their lives.  After the laughter trailed off, someone would say: “That would be a great blog, Patrick.”

I shared something about my father and his quirky personality.

“Ha, ha,” our guests would say.  “Patrick, that would make a great blog.”  I kept saying to myself, I’m not blogging about this.  Later I would say to myself, I’m not blogging about that.

My son Brian’s girlfriend, Kristin, told a funny story about going to a Mets game.

“Hey, Patrick, that would be a great blog.”  My wife mentioned nutty things she had encountered at work.  “Very funny, Mariam, what a nice blog that would make.

I’m not going to blog about that.  I had other ideas that were in a whole other place.  I mentioned that and they all laughed and said it would make an interesting blog.

I’m not going to blog about the blogging comments.  No way.

So, the evening ended and everyone left except for my son and his girlfriend.  They were staying for the weekend.  I was worried that my son and Kristin would return to New York City thinking that all I did was blog.  I tried to assure them that those stories at dinner were in no way going to be blogged.  I can come up my own ideas, I’m a good writer, after all.  Just read the review.

So this posting is about an enjoyable evening spent with great friends and family.  I would not steal any of their stories and turn them into a blog for my own use.  I do have principles, after all.  Some day I’ll blog about those principles, maybe.

But this is a simple story about a dinner party.

This not a blog!Image