Busy Signal

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It used to be my father’s habit to just show up at the home of one of his siblings and their families, thinking nothing of the fact that he had not phoned ahead to schedule a visit.  They were his family after all, and it should be okay to just come when it was possible to do so.  Before highway 71 was built we drove for a few hours on old route 42 to visit his sister next in age to him only to find that no one was home.

In today’s culture, visits are by appointment only, and just showing up unexpectedly is considered by some, to be rude.  I don’t mind, except that I’m usually in some grubby outfit and may or may not have any particular refreshment to offer so if someone surprises me, what you see is what you get, as they say.

Having spent yesterday afternoon with travelling friends, Kay, Diane and her cousin Janice, I was surprised to find Kay at my front door pounding loudly to get my attention.  I invited her in and asked what was up and she told me she and Diane had been trying to reach me as late as 10:00 p.m. last night and as early as 9:00 a.m. this morning until she decided to come and hunt me down.  I told her I had no phone calls but thought nothing of it since it is not unusual for me to get anything but robo calls, sometimes for days.  I went over to my landline and picked up the receiver to hear no sound.  Dead.  So I pulled out my little track phone and we called Diane.  Line busy.

I fooled around with the telephone on a stand in the kitchen until finally the dial tone returned and I tried Diane again.  Still a busy signal.  Kay and I sat down while she told me they were talking about the Strawberry Festival out in Bedford today and hadn’t we had plans to go?  Yes, we did and I had forgotten all about it and was now in the process of moving things away from the windows as I had a man coming over in the morning to wash the all the windows in the house.  We finally got Diane and she and Kay agreed where to meet at the festival while I would skip it this year, and go on about my chores.

This reminded me about the time when I had a surprise visit from my cousin, Tom.  He doesn’t live that faraway, just far enough that we don’t see each other coming and going.

Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to open the door to find him standing there.  He sighed and said, “You don’t know how glad I am that you came to the door!”  He and his family had just returned from a trip to Indiana to see his elder daughter’s Master’s Degree graduation and my cousin Theresa, his sister, was calling him frantically to check up on me as she hadn’t been able to reach me for a week.

I said, “Oh, the phone’s been out of commission for eight days, so no phone, no computer and since I get so few phone calls any week, it had not occurred to me that anyone would be looking for me”.  Tom said he was prepared to break the door down as Theresa was sure I was in a heap at the bottom of the stairs in the basement.  I keep telling her, that such a fall would surely do some serious damage, but it is much more likely that I will die from the stupid stuff, like arguing with the supplemental insurance company, which I am convinced is the source of skyrocketing blood pressure not only for me, but many a frustrated senior.

Word Lovers Spring Retreat

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Amazingly enough, I found my original directions for getting to highway 90 West from highway 480 so I read them a couple of times before embarking on the drive and this time it was smooth sailing all the way through the entering and leaving of the in-between highway 176.  My guardian angel must have propelled me so that I got out the door of the house before the mid-afternoon traffic rush as well.  It probably helped that I started packing a few days earlier so everything was not pushed to the last minute.

The weather was perfect, a little warm, sunny, and dry, in spite of a forecast that suggested rain for most of the weekend.  The Sandusky Bay looked beautiful and calm. Arriving at the Chautauqua village of Lakeside and parking the car, I was happy to be there again.  Another guest was sitting on the porch of The Idlewyld Bed + Breakfast and she came down to help me lug my roller bag up the steps and porch and even rolled it all the way to the Rose Bud room at the end of the long hall of rooms, to where I was assigned to stay for the weekend.  Jeanne was new to the Word Lovers Retreat and is a friend of our guest speaker, John Ettorre, a Cleveland native, and free-lance writer who would be talking to us about memoir writing.

As soon as I settled into the room, I headed back out and down the street with an eye on the lake.  I browsed around in a couple of stores and bought a lemon yellow tee shirt with the Lakeside logo which had been marked down from $23.00 to $5.00, oh yes, much better and a nice souvenir.  A little further along I stopped for a soft cream cone and sat there enjoying it before walking on to the lake where I crossed paths with Claudia, who was leading a group of the newer guests on a short tour of the town.   Sitting on a bench I enjoyed looking at the lake and people playing on the beach.  When the bells tolled five p.m. I started walking back up the street.  Dinner on Friday nights is usually half past five and I wouldn’t want to be late for that.

We walked around the table filling our plates with open tacos and assorted goodies and settling into the snug dining room to talk and eat.

On Saturday morning coffee is available at seven a.m. and people either walk down to the lake, sleep in, spend time writing, or join in the yoga exercise before breakfast.  After the meal we re-shuffle and get ready for the first workshop.  There is usually a brief free time and then lunch, then the main speaker does a presentation, then more free time before we all decide where we are going to dinner.  There are usually a couple of groups heading in different directions and a few folks who opt to stay at the house and have left overs.  I went with the group who ended up going to the Canoe Club because the Japanese restaurant couldn’t seat thirteen of us before seven p.m. We ate out on the veranda, which was very pleasant.

Back at the Idlewyld we re-convened for open mic; there were three of us who read poetry, I also read one essay and Elise sang.  She is a very gifted singer and her poetry is profound. Debra read the latest chapter in a science fantasy novel she is working on, Claudia read the prolog for her memoir about participating in the Women’s March earlier this year.

As the day winds into dark balmy evening hours, many of us go out to the porch, claim a rocking chair and though sleep beckons, we drift along sharing thoughts and memories before slowly saying goodnight and closing our individual doors to find sleep.

In the morning after breakfast there is one last workshop, the weekend’s rain has come; we do a group hug and part once again filled with inspiration to write as well as we can and wish each other safe travels until we meet again.

The Big Picture

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In the summer of 1969 shortly after I moved to California, Carol, my then roommate, dropped me off at St. Rita’s Catholic Church in San Jose for an all-day conference given by a husband and wife team of philosophy teachers from San Jose State College.  They launched into a lecture about Pere Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit Priest who was about a hundred years ahead of his time in proclaiming “…we are the stuff of the stars…”

Teaching at a University in Paris got him in trouble with the Church with his advanced views.  After removing him from teaching, the Church sent him to China since he was a paleontologist, where he unearthed one of the important early skulls and so made his name in that field as well.  He was just too brilliant to fade quietly away in Asia.  He wrote several books, The Phenomenon of Man, Hymn of The Universe, To Save the Earth, and others.

After listening and taking voluminous notes at the seminar, I was awe-filled and greatly inspired with hope for humankind.

A recent episode of Call the Midwife was ending and the narrator spoke softly about “…the invisible but real cord that connects us all…” which took me back to the words of Deepak Chopra one evening in an auditorium in Akron, when he said all of us sitting there were not the same people who we had been when we first took our seats, since we had been together there breathing the same air.

Listening to a video of Tom Chi, co-founder of Google X really tied together all of these thoughts on interconnectedness for me.  He talks about the heart – there is a molecule of iron in the cells – and iron, is formed in supernovas; and breath – how a breath exhaled travels completely around the world in 4 or 5 days.  He spoke about Laniakea, the super cluster of galaxies of which we, on the Milky Way, are a little dot in the big swirl.

Tom Chi spoke about how what each person does – contributes to the palate of the rest of the people on earth.  For example, he said that the piano was invented in 1700.  Before the piano was invented, the beauty of piano music was not available for people to enjoy.  So each generation builds on what the previous generations have contributed to society. Even when we feel small and alone, it seems we are not at all, and are actually doing our part to paint the big picture.

Forever known to the world as Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, William Shatner, a recent guest on the Tavis Smiley show, said he believes that all living things are related and that from life through death we evolve into something else.  He is, however, very concerned that once that happens, he will be alone and that causes him to fear dying.  He also does not believe that we will then have to atone for our sins.  This is the difference between one who has faith in God, and one who does not.  Perhaps he will be pleasantly surprised to find himself in the company of not only all of his ancestors, but all creatures who once inhabited the earth.

Commercial Holidays

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The greeting card industry has capitalized on the acknowledgement of assorted sentiments for many years.  Mother’s Day is the single busiest day for the phone company, no doubt as a result.  But for the reminders about this and other appointed times to take a moment to say thank you and/or I love you, people today might keep right on with their insanely busy schedules, completely forgetting to even call or write to the ones they do deep down care about.  So the commercial value is somewhat overlooked and everyone feels as if they have done their duty or are at least rewarded by the pleased responses from the folks who receive the cards, flowers, candy, calls or some token of affection.

My cousin Maryann’s two children have always been generous to her in their show of love and affection, so this first Mother’s Day without her son, I expected would be especially difficult for her.

I was invited to join Maryann and her daughter for dinner which would be shishkebabs that Becky’s beau, Kevin would grill.  He is the chef in that couple and he enjoys grilling.  Each skewer held an assortment of tomato, pineapple, onion, pepper, chicken, shrimp and beef chunks.  He went on to spend the day with his own mom, but still did the grilling and the three of us really enjoyed his work.  They brought fried rice from a nearby Chinese restaurant and Maryann made a fruit salad, so that was a very nice meal.

Becky only mentioned her brother a few times and showed some pictures from his childhood that she had on her i-phone, but otherwise the mood was comfortably light, for which I was really grateful.   Of course, I could not help remembering past celebrations when our numbers were larger and we were indulged by Aunt Elizabeth for prime rib at her favorite restaurant.

I was glad to be with family and to share a nice meal.  As if that were not enough, Becky presented me with a lovely flower arrangement which had white roses and other pink flowers in it.  I was really touched.

When I got back home there was a phone message from my Lebanese next door neighbors inviting me to come for dinner.   I thought I should stop there at least for coffee.  I seem to be getting accustomed to their super strong espresso like coffee.  After an hour or so I tried to take my leave, but they insisted I stay for a serving of watermelon, so I sat back down and when I finally left my “family” next door, it was beginning to get dark, so I had spent the whole day in good company.

A spiritual day

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The St. Padre Pio Prayer Group meets for Mass, prayers, a guest speaker and “festa” as Cindy calls the meal we share afterwards in the school cafeteria.  It has been about two years that I have been attending these services and am convinced that as a result I have grown spiritually.  That is why earlier this year I talked my cousin, Maryann, still raw from the loss of her son last summer, to join me.

The first two times she came along she did not seem all that interested but came largely to have a visit with me.  Last month however, she not only seemed more positive about it, but with the blessing of her grief counselor from Hospice, where she volunteers, she signed up as a new member.  I was glad for her since I am convinced it will be good for her in the long run.

When we talked on the phone a day or two earlier, I mentioned that my parish called me to advise me that the Mass I had requested for Mark had been rescheduled to this same Saturday at 4:00 p.m. so I asked Maryann if she wanted to go with me to that Mass too and she said yes.  As Mark’s family, we were asked to carry the gifts to the altar right before communion.

We’ve had some serious rain this spring, but this particular Saturday the rain came down in torrents and never let up all day.  Of course it would be this day when we were in and out all day that the rain was so harsh.

Once we left the Padre Pio service, it was not yet noon, so we had lots of time to fill.  I had wanted to go to a tiny Polish grocery store near my parish church for a long time, but I never seem to be in that area before they close on Saturdays at 3:00 p.m., so this was an opportunity.   The cashier immediately recognized me from years of going to the late morning Mass on Sundays.  We then browsed around the small store.  I told the lady behind the butcher counter that I was looking for hrudka, an old fashioned sausage ring which was a staple in my parents’ home as I was growing up.  While it was a staple, it was one of those meals that only my father and I enjoyed.  I don’t remember what my sister and mother ate but I’ve never been able to find as tasty a hrudka as the ones I remember, even the ones I’ve had from the West Side Market just west of downtown were not as good. The lady said they carried them and that theirs were very good.  Ok, willing to take a chance, I bought two.  One to put in the freezer and one to cook soon.  Maryann said she and her brothers disliked it so much they couldn’t eat them without catsup.  A veritable desecration, I thought. Maryann did find another kind of sausage she likes and bought one.

From Peter’s Market, I drove us around Garfield Park.  One of the interior roads was blocked off and the ride around the park took about a half a minute and that still left us about an hour and a half to spend before the Vigil Mass began, so we came back to my house and had some chilled water and rested and talked and I put on some dry shoes.

At 3:30 we headed back out to Saints Peter and Paul for the Mass for Mark.  The Mass and our participation was very nice and we were back in and out of the still pounding rain.

Next on the agenda was dinner over at Tony’s on Pleasant Valley, and I for one was really looking forward to not only the hot meal, but the soup, which turned out to be beef barley, one of my favorites.  We both ended up ordering chicken paprikas and both were soon too full to finish and for me that was a second day’s dinner.

My cousin did enjoy the meal and I was happy to have kept her busy all day.  We said good night and she drove on to her home.  My jacket was wet through in spite of my using an umbrella throughout the day.

No one home

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After reading Rose, a chapbook of about 75 pages of poems by Li Young Lee, I began to think about those which expressed missing his deceased father which led me to thoughts of my own long gone parents and their last home where my sister and I both lived with them until our lives took us elsewhere.

The house looked the same as ever as I sat on the couch and stared out the front room window as my father often did.  I can still imagine him there sitting on the couch reading his assortment of newspapers and magazines, the sun lighting up the print as he browsed.

No one else was there.  Nothing was cooking and I did not make anything.  My mother had been dead for seven years and now my father was gone as well.

I wondered if I would sense anything about them, as if one or the other of them was still there, just off in a different room or in the basement for some chore.  It was quiet, peaceful and now felt empty.

I crossed the Cuyahoga each weekend just to have a walk around the house and yard to be sure things were unchanged and unharmed.  Sometimes I gathered up debris which fell from my father’s beloved trees, apple, and pear.  Why plant a tree that did not yield fruit?  It was the same attitude my father had about flowers, you couldn’t eat them, so why waste the space.  Those old depression day memories of always being a little hungry never left him.

I threw an old plastic cup my mother used for water when she took her medicines, into the trash.  It was ugly and worn and I thought she deserved to use something nicer.  This was something I told her more than once, but old habits die hard, as they say.  There were much better cups and glasses in the cupboard.  What was she saving them for?  In a high cupboard I found a whole set of glasses with the first letter of the family name etched on each.  They must have been a gift, and judging from the thick coat of dust on them, a lovely gift that had gone unused.  I had never seen them before.  Now they are within reach in my kitchen cupboard.

A deep orange glass vase was left in a corner where it collected dust since I bought it for her many a mother’s day ago.  I put it by the front door to remember to take it home.

Although my father talked about moving to the other side of town where most of the rest of the family lived, he never did so and I always felt that it was because he felt like somehow my mother was still in that house though he knew she was gone.  He said he would get up sometimes in the night to find the water running in the kitchen sink.  And of course he had dreams.  Once he reported that he asked her how she could be there when she was dead.   If she answered him, he did not say.

One time when I went to the cemetery where they shared a headstone, directly next to his parents, I noticed that he never had my mother’s death date inscribed on the stone, as if he never quite believed she was gone.  Perhaps it was too much of a finality for him.  I called the office there and had both his date and her’s inscribed on the stone.

A trail of loss

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Some people seem to make big sweeps through closets or whole rooms and just get rid of things and they feel gratified doing so.   In my family it seems that many of us just cannot do that and therefore, when the time comes to move, we have either two full moving vans full of stuff, or there are the last minute garage sales, or we drive it one car load at a time to the new residence.  In my case, for the last move, I ended up with two trucks of stuff besides all the stuff I simply gave away, and the carloads I transported myself.

Once here and spending a full year unpacking the many cartons of stuff, some of which I had forgotten we had, since the last residence was too small to open all the stuff I had shipped from California I also found that there were many things which never came with us from Sunnyvale.  Since I have always worked very hard for almost minimum wages, or maybe it is the lasting effect of being the off spring of children of the great depression, I feel sad when I have lost something or it has been taken away from me without my permission.

One of these items was a figurine of two deer running.  When I was sixteen and my sister fourteen and we made our first trip to Slovakia where we were each given one of these lovely sets ceramic deer as a souvenir.  Mine had one antler broken and I put that into a tiny box and recently found it with my costume jewelry and missed the figurine all over again.  Another item among the missing things was a set of porcelain cups from Japan.  One was white with a red design and its mate was red with a white design and both were rimmed in gold.  It was a husband and wife set and a wedding gift.

There were two Star Wars beach size towels for the children which anyone might be glad to have found in their possession.

A knife with a steel blade that my father made for me with a resin handle and inset with pictures of my daughter and I was another of those irreplaceable things that I doubt would have any interest to the family who ended up with our box or boxes of belongings.  With so many years between the move from California and my unpacking in this house, I doubt the moving company would even have kept a record of that shipment and since I had to sign a paper in Illinois that I received our shipment, they are off the hook.

Once settled here, I have made an effort to thin out the assortment of things I brought and some odds and ends left by previous owners.  While I am not good about doing a clean sweep, I have donated numerous things to my friend Marilyn’s church rummage sale; returned things to a couple of cousins that come to me from their families somehow, or that I knew they could make better use of than I ever would, and little by little, things are finding new homes.  I’ve begun putting the dozen or so glass vases I’ve acquired with cut flowers, through the dishwasher and wrapping and putting into a bag to give to a florist I occasionally go past, and this past week, one of the more rewarding experiences was giving a co-worker a bag full of florist marbles to put into a vase she brought into the office.  She was so happy and said the bright blue marbles added the look of water to the vase in which she put some artificial flowers her daughters gave her.  Sometimes it just doesn’t take much to make someone happy.