This you ask of me

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When my cousin, Maryann called and said she was going out to see her elder brother Saturday, would I like to come, I knew it was something I had to do.

Jerry, the only cousin on both sides of my family who is older than I am, by four years, is dying.  He and his wife with him, fought the good fight, he went through multiple rounds of chemo and then radiation and now his liver and kidneys are shutting down and the medical prognosis was that he might have two weeks left.  His wife didn’t think he’d last a full two weeks.

Maryann, her daughter and I headed out to snow country to their home.  After slipping off jackets and caps we filed into the family room where Jerry was propped up by assorted pillows on a hospital bed.  We took turns going up to Jerry and talking to him.  His voice was very soft and it was hard for him to make himself understood.  I told him I remembered all the fun we had long ago when we were all younger and thinner.  There were the Thanksgivings in my Aunt and Uncle’s basement with a most savory meal, the picnics in the back yard where my Uncle barbequed hamburgers and hot dogs on the outdoor grill he made.  There were always an endless assortment of fancy cookies and cakes my Aunt baked and the coffee to wash down the delicacies.

Right out of high school Jerry joined the Navy and had 3 Mediterranean cruises on the U.S.S. Saratoga, an aircraft carrier.  I used to write him letters and he introduced me to one of his buddies so I could write to him and we did that for a few years and when they left the service I got to meet his friend and we dated briefly before he went on to college in his hometown up in Michigan.  Since then my cousin and I both looked for him but to no avail.

Here we sat in the family room sipping coffee while memories floated forward.  By now his daughter, son-in-law and their three almost adult children gathered.  When his wife came into the room, she said that one of the cousins from another side of the family would lead us all at the memorial service in singing For he’s a jolly good fellow, per Jerry’s request, so she thought we should gather in a closer circle and sing it now while Jerry was with us, and we did just that.

At this point Maryann, her daughter and I were moving forward to say goodbye to Jerry.  I saw the tears drop as Maryann said her farewell to her big brother.  As I approached him and took his hand, I said I was not going to say goodbye, but rather, until we meet again!  By that time I was shaken and in tears, knowing I would never see this cousin alive again.

In the kitchen everyone was hugging and crying and knowing it would not be long before we would all meet again for the memorial.

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Becoming Butterflies

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Roma Downey, one of the three main characters in the  1990s series, Touched by an Angel, was on Dr. Oz this morning and it was as refreshing to listen to her as it used to be to see her on that program so many years ago.  She has a website called Light Workers on which she offers hope and encouragement to anyone who is struggling to find the light, through the stories of other people.

This morning she talked about how butterflies always amazed her, how they work themselves into a dark place and endure that time not knowing what is ahead for them and when they emerge it is as a beautiful butterfly.  The encouragement is that when we find ourselves in some dark place, or brought low by lack of hope, it could be that we, too, will emerge from that crisis into a much better place than we could have imagined.  Sadly too many give up right before the change was about to occur.

Her light and cheerful message couldn’t have come at a better time for me.  Eleven days ago I woke up with such excruciating pain of the sciatica nerve screaming from my left hip to ankle and there was no comfortable position.  For the next three days as I pushed myself to get up, off the bed, walk to the bathroom, to the kitchen and back I began to fear that this was my new life.  Trying to sit on the couch was horrific since it took every ounce of strength to haul myself up and the same with my reading chair.  So I found my sitting time confined to one little wooden straight back chair just outside of the kitchen.  Sciatica has clobbered me at other times, when I was still doing Zumba and zigged when I should have zagged, or when I got overly enthusiastic and had to remind myself that the other dancers were a third to half of my age and I must not try to keep up with them.  But this case was much more severe and I honestly feared it was the end of my life as I knew it.  My neighbor/friend, Marilyn came to help me out with a few things and she drove me to the Chiropractor.   While I was able to back into the passenger seat without a problem, the duration of the ride caused the pain to flare up both coming and going.  With the passage of time, the pressure on the nerve eases up and normalcy returns, but this has been a very slow process.

Now I am moving around better and am hopeful of being able get back to business as usual, if at a less hectic pace or with a much lighter load.   I will look at butterflies not just for their beauty, but for the hope and encouragement they signify.

The ole Rocking Chair

People used to joke about when the old rocking chair gets you – it’s a sign of having become “old”.

While working at my second job out of high school, I bought a rocking chair and kept it in my bedroom.  I dragged it off to Washington, D.C. when my sister complained about it being underfoot in the family home. My maternal grandparents had a heavy beautiful old rocking chair that went the way of all heirlooms and I never saw it after a time in my parents’ home.

In California I remember feeling a comfort sitting in my friend Carol and her husband, George’s rocker listening to their ancestral clock ticking on the mantel. Back in the late 1960’s sheepskins were sold from trucks on corners and I bought one for my rocking chair.  I rocked both of my babies in that rocking chair and it has come with me full circle back to Ohio though no one uses it much and most currently became a shelf for a stack of blankets in the family room.

When I was telling my sister that I haven’t been able to watch television since being stuck at home with a brutal bout of sciatica, she said bring the rocker into the family room and watch the television from there.  I had to move it a little bit and unload the blankets, but sitting on it was perfect for watching television and the sheepskin was warm against my back.  I was able to see televised Mass at six a.m. on Sunday and then a digital art exhibit at a gallery in Columbus.  By then my back was tiring out and I needed to shift positions for a while.  It’s easy to understand why elderly people are associated with the rocking chair, since I found that trying to sit on the couch or my reading chair was like falling into a tar pit, without tar.

Victim as Pawn

Regardless of political affiliation, it would be an honor to be invited to attend the State of the Union Address of any president.  I would go if I were invited.  It would be exciting and really interesting, unless you were the victim of some horrific experience and the President focused attention of the crowd onto you as such.

In an effort and determination to win over popular support for his views on keeping immigrants out of the country, our President introduced a couple whose daughter was murdered by some ruffians who came into our country and became students at the school their daughter attended.  The parents were so drained and exhausted by their loss and subsequent ordeals, the father almost buckled at the knees a couple of times.  But they bravely stood there while he talked.

The parents of Otto Warmbier who was murdered viciously by the North Korean government, were also at that event, also looking worn and as if the tears never stop.  My heart went out to them as well, as I had listened to the events reported on the news before they brought the boy’s body home.

Christian Amanpour talked with a soft spoken gentle representative from South Korea and when she referred to the attendance and participation of North Korea in the Olympics as an attempt to steal the attention of the world from the business at hand, he said simply, “We are not dumb.”  We can see what they are doing, but we were willing to employ this tactic if it offered the tiniest hope to help the circumstances.

Otto’s father was invited to the Olympics to attend as a guest with our Vice President.  No explanation was issued, that I know of, but this was another political step to keep the world eye on the brutality of North Korea.

The families of the victims have already paid a horrific price for their losses without them being further treated like pawns in our political system

Pork Chop Dinner

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Diane pulled into my driveway five minutes early so I did not have a chance to push the snow shovel down the walk from the porch to the driveway, and instead I leaned the shovel against the house and locked the door and carefully made my way to get into her car.  She had been to the drug store and said she’d go past my street anyway, so she offered to drive, which was nice.  We went on to my parish for the Saturday evening vigil Mass to be followed by the annual Pork Chop dinner.  The event is actually called Mardi Gras, even though it is actually on Saturday, which is more convenient for all.

Now that the former school building has been sold, we may not walk through it to the large activity center on the other side of the building.  We walk from the church, across the parking lot, down the alley and to the Activity Center building – which is a hike.  Diane wanted to drive around to the parking lot on the other side, but we found there wasn’t a single parking space, and went back to the church parking lot and walked the walk.  It was cold and the rain was turning to ice, as predicted and the sky was foggy.   Once inside and seated we began to thaw out and we marked our seats leaving our coats there before going for beverages.  Shortly after that we saw the queue for the dinner, so we took our tickets and joined the line.  The aromas from the cooking were tantalizing.

Once our plates were filled and we collected a roll, butter and a small salad, we wound our way back to the table.  Diane commented that the man playing the accordion always played for another group she is in as well and I told her he is also always at the Slovak Dinner that I get invited to in June every year.  He’s also played at the Garfield Hts. Civic Center when they used to have craft fairs there before Christmas.   She said he had a heart attack last summer and I said I thought he looked a little different.  The music was unaffected by his trauma.

The pork chops, mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans were excellent but we did save a tad of space for a sampling of the array of sweets lined up at the dessert table.  I asked Diane if she saved some energy to do some polka dancing and she just laughed, surprised that I would ask.  We bundled back up and left the music and raffle tickets for the remainder of the crowd.   Once back at the alley, Diane said I should just wait and she would get her car and come back for me, which she did.  She dropped me back off and waited until I opened the front door before leaving.

It was a pleasant evening and the meal was delicious, but I was glad to be back home.

Like Flying

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Watching skiing on television as a child, I remember being in awe thinking that skiing must be like flying.  The opportunity to actually try this sport did not open up to me until I was in my late twenties and went with a group of friends to a ski resort in California.  As we got closer to the area in our car, I remember being terrified of being set loose on a mountainside of snow.

My fear soon dissolved when I actually took lessons and got pulled by rope up the “bunny slope” and took my time with the group as we skied and fell and kept trying over and over, for a couple of days until we felt brave enough to ride the lift and try our luck among the more accomplished folks.  There were also people who had less experience and one of them caught her ski on mine as we left the lift and it was I who fell.  As the pain raced up my tailbone, she joked about my falling on my behind.   I never graduated from the beginner level, but I did grow to enjoy my limited efforts on the slopes.

My niece enjoyed skiing to a much greater degree and with full support from her parents she developed the skill to a level that she became a competitive ski racer.  She collected a drawer full of medals before she was twenty.

From the comfort of my favorite spot for watching television I am mesmerized by the Olympic level athletes as they fly across the screen in front of me at what looks like terrifying speeds on very steep terrains.  I find I am holding my breath until they finish the courses and I am horrified if anyone falls and gets hurt.

The events for the night (night here but day in South Korea) end and I turn off the television set and spend a little time checking e-mail and things on the computer before settling down for the night.  Images of figures flying through the air cross my sleep laden horizons and there I ski with them.

Beige Skates

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In the process of clearing out the home my parents lived in for forty years, I found my father’s black ice skates with the pointed blades, up in the basement rafters.  They were not in bad shape considering how old they were.

While I was sitting on a chair in my basement a few days ago, I looked straight across the room and saw my own ice skates.  Looking at the beige skates with the rounded and notched front blades, the history of those skates slowly seeped across my mind.

The year I was nineteen years old I was dating a young man who enjoyed ice skating and wanted to teach me how to do it.  Roller skating was something I had enjoyed since childhood but I never learned to ice skate.  I bought the beige shoe skates at the department store where I had been working since I graduated from high school.

Kenny picked me up and when we got to Forest Hills pond he helped me into the skates and laced them up for me and off we went.  It didn’t take too long before I got the hang of it and about half way through our session, we took a hot chocolate break.

I believe the last time I used the skates was when I took my two year old daughter to an ice rink to see if it was something she’d enjoy.  She had a good fall and that was the end of that.  In her teen years she and her brother both did the in-line skating with the neighborhood kids until they both gave that up for skate boards.

Although I never skated again, I still enjoyed watching the professionals do it well.  One year my cousin Theresa had some tickets to an ice show downtown and treated me to one of the performances.

With the ice skating competitions in process before the 2018 Olympic Games even began, I found that I did not recognize the names of the current generation of skaters and a handful of the ones I used to watch are now the commentators on the younger players as they take the stage.

Sighing as I looked at the now old beige skates, I put them into a plastic bag and carried them up the steps to put where I would remember to take them to a donation box.  The temptation is strong to march them right back to their place in the basement, but I know I will have to be strong and let them go, in the hope that some other youngster may use them.