My changing channels…

I’ve heard a whole gamut of terms:  flighty, ditzy, “squirrel,””thinking while blonde,” scattered, distracted, daydreamer, unfocused, undisciplined, attention deficit.  And I’m proud to say I’ve displayed many of these qualities over the years.  I wear them as a badge of honor.  Say what you will, my thought process is challenging-even to me-but it’s mine and it enables me to feed my insatiable curiosity.

Since my thoughts change as rapidly as one changes television channels with a remote control, it feels as though my cognitive pistons are firing at a frantic rate most of the time.  My thinking ability does not run to the precise and tangible; math and science are not my bailiwick.  My head searches for language, history, facts, anecdotes.  It’s not easy for me to focus.  Deadlines are difficult.

This morning I was working on a chapter on the book I’m writing.  I have a self-imposed deadline.  After writing a page and a half, I threw my pen down in frustration and walked away.  Yes, I write in longhand first.  It works for me.  While I was composing that small bit of writing, I got up at least twice to retrieve two reference books, consulted an online source, looked out the kitchen window twice…you get the idea.  And what I did write was completely different than what I intended to write.  It is in line with the chapter topic but took on its own life as I looked up something and then started flipping through the book, following a parallel train of thought.  Instead of writing about the history of principals of one particular school, I wrote about an aspect of the character of the hamlet in which the school is located.  The writing is good, and interesting, but my brain was starting to entertain multiple tangents and was overheating like an old car radiator.  My version of unscrewing the radiator cap to release the pressure is to throw the pen down and walk away.

The idea is to sit down and try to soothe the fire in my head.  And then I pick up the iPad and start writing a blog post.  Talk about squirrel behavior!  I have to laugh.  It’s just the way it is.  Hard to manage but it’s what makes me unique.  So, the next time I see you maybe you’ll understand why our conversation may go in several different directions and why my gaze may drift away from yours from time to time.  Don’t take it personally.  I’m listening, truly.


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The Alone Girl babysits, reluctantly…

Babysitting was a major source of income for pre-teens and teens in the 1960s and 70s. It seemed most girls were expected to babysit. The Alone Girl fell into that trap. Mainly, babysitting was about having some disposable income. There were girls who were enthused about babysitting and thought it was wonderful. The Alone Girl did not share that mindset.

To the Alone Girl, it was a necessary evil. Living as a “have not” in a society of “haves,” the money earned from babysitting allowed the Alone Girl a very, very modest way to try to keep up with the “haves.” Back in her day, the girl earned fifty cents per hour for babysitting. She could buy a pair of Levi’s (all the rage then) for under $10 so a handful of nights spent babysitting meant a new pair of pants.

To her relief, the girl never had to babysit any diaper-clad children. Since she was tremendously sensitive to some obnoxious odors (think of poop, vomit), this made the task a little less onerous. Four families utilized the Alone Girl as a babysitter. The Alone Girl was mature for her age. She was dependable, honest, polite, athletic, and no nonsense. The girl followed all rules dictated by parents. Though curious by nature, she was not one to peer into drawers, closets, or cupboards. She happily looked at any photos displayed and read anything stuck on the refrigerator. When left some food and/or soda, the girl ate one serving and drank one soda. She never had visitors over nor did she talk on the phone.

The Alone Girl was always somewhat disappointed she never got to babysit kids like her and her brother. The girl had happy memories of her own babysitters who played games with them inside and out. She enjoyed being active. The Alone Girl’s babysitting charges were kind of odd kids. Odd to her, anyway. The little girls always wanted to play dolls or dress up. The little boys always wanted to participate in what their sisters wanted to do. The Alone Girl read many, many stories to children over the years. This was a pleasant activity as the girl was a voracious reader all on her own. With time and experience, the girl learned to develop an array of voices to match the characters in the stories. The kids always wanted more. But for the day the Alone Girl was implored to read “The Nutcracker” nine times, it was mostly okay.

Babysitting was often done on a Saturday night. There were not many choices for television viewing in those days. Kids went to bed at 7. From 7-8, the most watchable program was “Hee Haw.” The girl learned a great deal about country music from watching that show. On rare occasions, the girl worked on homework, did some reading for English classes, or read a book she’d brought with her. For the most part, the Alone Girl didn’t mind sitting in the quiet for hours though the darkness outside often made her anxious. Two of the families lived far enough from the girl’s house that the father would drive her home. This always made her nervous, she had reason not to be trusting. Small talk with almost-strangers was not her forte.

It wasn’t all a drag. There were humorous moments. Two little boys who lived down the girl’s block were a handful to babysit. Their behavior was unpredictable. There was a weird kind of rush in babysitting these kids because the girl never knew what would happen next. She had to be on her toes. Plus they had a habit of disappearing. One summer afternoon the girl head them squabbling in the backyard. As she headed in that direction, they came charging around to the front of the house. One was aiming a brick at the other. The girl acted fast and said, “give that to me.” Sure enough, the kid threw it at her. Lesson learned: be very specific with instructions. Luckily the Alone Girl was a tomboy and could catch just about anything thrown her way. Injury avoided.

Another day with these two resulted in food preparation experiments. They told the girl they would make individual pizzas for lunch and then peanut butter cookies. Sounded good. The girl thought of the English muffin pizzas her mother sometimes prepared. That’s not what came out on the plate. A piece of white bread, smothered in ketchup, with a slice of American cheese on top had been rushed through the broiler at warp speed. The girl laughed and ate it because she was hungry. It was disgusting but the aroma of peanut butter gave her hope. Several minutes later, a tan hockey puck was delivered to the girl. Hot from the oven, it was as solid as petrified wood but smelled a whole lot better. Inedible, but amusing. This is why the Alone Girl preferred evening babysitting. Kids were sleeping and she had quiet time.

As with most things one doesn’t enjoy doing, the girl learned from her experiences despite herself. It furthered her ability to be responsible and independent. It allowed her not to have to ask her mother for spending money because the girl knew money was tight. It gave her a sense of worth because she knew she did a good job and the parents liked her. Teenaged trials and tribulations were not a waste of time, however unpleasant they seemed in the moment.

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Eyes on the prize…

imageWhatever that means.  Ok, I’m well aware what it means.  Though I’m not a Happy New Year Scrooge, I also don’t embrace the whole start over and make a resolution thing.  On the way home from an errand recently, I experienced a prophetic moment.  “Roadhouse Blues” by the Doors came on the radio.  As I slapped my thigh in rhythm, the lyrics took on a new meaning for me.

“Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.”  Well, duh.  But at that moment I thought it was brilliant.  I wasn’t making a resolution, I was singing a song.  It’s important for me right now to focus.  My current writing project is at the stage that it has become a bit of a chore.

It pains me to admit that it’s tedious.  A non-fiction project, the fun for me has been gathering the research.  Poring over hundreds of old newspaper articles is fun for me.  Tracking down elusive reference sources is like solving a mystery.  Putting the information together in my head is enjoyable.  It’s the translation to the page that is lackluster.

My method of writing is old-school.  I write best in longhand.  That’s how I learned.  Pushing a pen across the paper is comforting to me.  And yes, that means I have the extra work of typing it in.  I loathe typing.  I’m not kidding.  It’s just so god-awful boring.  As soon as I begin to feel a tad bored, my focus dissipates and my mind wanders.  It snaps back quickly as I challenge myself to edit as I type.  For me, it makes my writing better.

But I challenged myself to type this chapter directly into the computer.  Bad move.  I estimate it’s taking 2-3x longer for me to complete this chapter.  Live and learn.  From now on, when my mind starts to wander I will channel the Doors.





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Memories from lunch tables past…

I never know where my mind is headed.  After seeing some posts from former colleagues on Facebook recently, I was reminded of the fun we had at the lunch table.  As a high school teacher, the lunch period was truly an oasis in my day.  It was one moment in the day when I could relax.  For the bulk of my twenty five years, I was happy to sit at one of the tables in the faculty room.

Students are under the false impression that faculty rooms are magical places.  They aren’t.  A few old, donated refrigerators held a myriad of lunches, some months old.  The decor in the faculty room is early institution.  Aside from several round tables, complete with mismatched chairs, a bank of wooden cubbyholes that served as our individual mailboxes, a very large coffee machine, two dilapidated microwaves, and a toaster oven that had been home to more fires than a home fireplace, the most important part of the faculty room was housed in a small side room.  That small room contained two copy machines.  Those poor copy machines were sadly mistreated and overused.

Anyway, I digress.  The round lunch table is conducive to conversation.  A comfortable cadre of six lunch goers would probably be the ideal lunch table.  Nope.  Didn’t happen that way.  Lunch wasn’t fun until we had ten plus eaters around the table.  This is not good if one is into some personal space.  However, it is optimal for diversity of conversation and lunches.  I was always curious to see what others brought for lunch.  It’s the grass is always greener concept.  Anyone else’s lunch always looked better than mine…oh, except for that leftover fish that was reheated in the microwave leaving a smell that permeated the room for days and gave me the dry heaves.  That individual didn’t give a fig that the odor bothered us, believe me, we were quick to complain.  She basically conveyed that it was her lunch and tough sh*t, we could leave if we didn’t like it.

Some years I had the opportunity to experience the first lunch period, our school had four lunch periods.  One day I was warming up some leftover pork chop mess in the microwave when I chanced to look at the clock.  It was 10:22.  A.M.  It didn’t seem right to be eating a pork chop that early in the day but, hey, I had arisen at 5:30 and I was hungry.  Never again was I bothered with the time of first lunch…until it got to be around 1 pm and I was positively ravenous.  One afternoon my stomach growled during class.  A student looked at me and said, “Do you have first lunch?”  I smiled and nodded.  “That sucks,” he said.  I smiled and nodded again.

Conversations around a crowded lunch table were often fast and furious.  I have an innate ability to follow many conversations at once, even at adjoining tables.  It was a gift that came in handy as a teacher.  But it was the gift that kept giving over and over in the faculty room.  I heard a lot.  A whole lot.  And plenty I didn’t want to hear.  Mostly the conversation was mundane…people chatting about families, their kids, their vacations, their kids, their planned trips, their kids.  You get it.  All well and good for those who were married and had kids.  I never minded hearing the kid stories but sometimes it got old, especially since I didn’t have kids and couldn’t participate.  But, for the most part, conversations were congenial.  Except for one colleague who was hell bent on getting married and worked hard to attain that goal.  A little more than twenty, yes 2-0, years later it happened.

Many years ago, before each classroom had a phone, the faculty room was one of the few places that had a phone.  One of our colleagues taught in the room next door and she had some very challenging students.  There had been a fight in her classroom the week before and she had sent a kid next door to have one of us phone the office.  The following week we had heard a commotion and then heard banging on the large bank of windows that faced a courtyard.  It was a kid hollering for us to call the office for another fight.  When asked why she hadn’t come to the door, the student explained the fight had broken out in front of the classroom door and no one could get out.

Fire drills during one’s lunch period were a bummer, especially if unplanned.  Everyone had to leave the building, even if it was lunch time.  Sometimes it cut some serious time from the lunch period.  For the most part it was an enjoyable time of the day.  Oh, except for when one or two colleagues would whip out the dental floss and have it while still seated.  I mean, gag a maggot.  That also gave me the dry heaves.

As I became older and was juggling some health issues, I no longer enjoyed mashing in at the lunch table.  I needed space and so sat at a mostly unpopulated table.  This of course caused teasing and smart remarks.  No worries, I’m pretty good at snappy comebacks.  Plus as time went along, people retired and that changed the personality of the lunch table.  Still and all, lots of good times were shared in close proximity, dental flossing aside.

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Lessons from Linus…

I’m blessed to have grown up during they heyday of the Peanuts comic strips.  I just love the characters and their antics.  During this stressful time of year, I often think of their holiday specials to keep myself grounded.  The holiday season can be melancholy for many.  Here in the Northeast, November can be an exceptionally gloomy, dreary month.  We are all bombarded with manic holiday advertising that starts way too early.  So I channel Charlie Brown.

At one point Charlie Brown says to Linus, “Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy.  I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”  Right now I’m in this spot.  It is somewhat magnified by the fact I live in a suburb where much of the population practices excessive materialism.  I was a child of privilege in that I was raised with morals, values, discipline, love, and manners.  Money was something that was in short supply.  I’m not complaining.  On the contrary, it taught me a true appreciation for what matters most.  But I feel for the “have-nots,” especially at this time of year.

So I consciously think about what Linus tells us in the Christmas special.  He explains to Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about and ends with, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  I’m not here to make a religious pitch.  Let me simplify.  The scope of our national and worldwide news is full of sadness and tragedy.  So many have so little.  So many suffer so much.  So many have so much.  What little bit can one person do?

I will be honest.  It galls me that millions, and I mean multiple millions, of dollars are being squandered on political campaigns.  Couldn’t that money be put to better use?  The homeless, the mentally ill, disease research, hunger?  Those are just the tip of the iceberg.  We pay loads of taxes and yet, do we see the money being spent properly?  Never mind, not going there.

I’m increasingly discouraged by Facebook.  FB has never been an “end all, be all” thing for me.  I like it because I can keep in touch with folks.  More and more I see posts about people showcasing their material goods and lamenting they don’t look as good as they did ten years ago.  It’s a turn off.  In the grand scheme of things, we won’t be remembered for a lovely diamond ring or the largest Christmas tree on the block.  We will be remembered for the things we’ve done and for what we’ve done in relation to our treatment of others.

In fact, this post has taken a huge turn in my train of thought.  I was prepared to write about far different things.  But Linus is reminding me that I need to be the type of person that I’d like others to be.  I need to focus less on life’s faults.  I need not to think of those who would much rather have the biggest and the best.  I need to embrace more people who are kind and do charitable things.  And I need to find a better way to make a difference in this life.

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The Alone Girl and her dog…

The Alone Girl didn’t care if dogs were supposed to be man’s best friend, her dog was her best friend.  Moving from Burlington prior to second grade, the family’s dog accompanied them.  Mickey was a beagle mix, given to a beagle’s wanderlust.  And that proved to be her undoing.  While out roaming, she was hit by a car and left to die.  Someone traced her tag to our family and my dad retrieved her collar.  He broke the news that Saturday morning.  The girl sat on her bedroom floor and cried and cried.

Within weeks, a new pup came to live with the family.  She was a cross between a standard dachshund and a mini dachshund and she would become the girl’s lifelong friend.  As the girl’s family fell apart, her bond with her dog increased.  The dog was full of fun and stubborn.  She loved to chase the tennis ball.  There was a never-ending supply of those because the girl and her brother both played tennis.  Truly comical, the dog also chased croquet balls which she was not big enough to grip in her mouth.

The dog raced alongside the girl as rode her bike around the block.  The dog listened carefully whenever the girl spoke to her.  The dog licked the tears that ran down the girl’s face when family trouble overwhelmed her.  The girl was never alone when the dog was with her.

A day came when the dog, about five years old, had difficulty walking and using her back legs.  Within a short time, the dog was dragging itself around the house sustaining rug burns in the process.  The girl and her brother were taught by the vet how to press the dog’s bladder area to allow her to go to the bathroom.  At that time there was only experimental surgery with no guarantee it would work.  The family made the painful decision to put the dog down.

The summer came and went and the grief was subsiding.  Another school year started.  Toward the end of September the girl answered the phone one evening.  It was the veterinarian asking to speak to the girl’s mother.  Maybe her mother hadn’t paid the bill.  The girl didn’t know.  Her mother got off the phone and told the girl some astonishing news.  They were able to pick up the dog.  What?  Seems as though the vet couldn’t put the dog to sleep and had an intern working that summer.  Each day the dog received hydrotherapy and the feeling came back to her legs.  Though not 100%, she was close.

It was as though the dog knew it had unfinished business.  She needed to return to help the girl finish growing up.  The girl was able to love the dog for another eight years.  All good things end, though.  One early spring day, when the girl was in college, she took her canine friend to the vet for the last time.  The grief is as fresh today as it was then.  No other pet has been able to take that dog’s place.

age 12002

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Whatever happened to…

social graces?  At the risk of sounding like a cranky older person, okay I am a cranky older person, why aren’t manners more prevalent in our society these days?  I’m sure you’re dying to know what has prompted me to write about this.  Even if you’re not, I’m going to tell you why anyway.  A few days ago, yet another supermarket cashier called me “sir.”  And yesterday I was standing next to a table, my pocketbook was on the table, waiting for my companion to bring our food order.  So I was saving the table for our use, I just wasn’t seated yet.  The eating establishment, while not a brand name fast food type of place, is very busy and it was lunchtime.

Two men came by and set their trays on the table.  I’d say they were late 30’s to late 40’s in age.  Momentarily stunned, I said I was saving the table.  One shrugged and pointed to an empty table by the door.  I told him if I’d wanted to sit there I wouldn’t be saving this particular table.  They shrugged again and started eating.  Really?  We ate at the table by the door.  I was stunned.

There is a massive deterioration of values and manners in our society today.  I don’t mind saying it.  I don’t care if people criticize me for it.  What has happened to basic decency and respect?  I’m not going to rant and rave.  It does no good.

I will simply say that I will continue to use the many social graces I was taught.  I will say please and thank you, I will hold the door for people, I will look people in the eye when speaking to them, I will listen when I ask people how they are, I will continue to go out of my way to do nice things for people.  For example, God provided me with extra long arms.  Many times I’ve retrieved items on upper shelves for folks at the grocery store.  It is truly my pleasure to do so and people are very appreciative.  How difficult is that?

So, I really was going to rant and rave.  But I’m really pleased that I turned it around and realized I will make more of an impact if I continue to model desirable behavior than if I just complain about it.  

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Bits and pieces…

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.”  William Cullen Bryant

The shrill light of a rising sun challenged my vision as I drove east yesterday through a frosty early morning.  Pockets of clouds hung in the small valleys as I wound through the Berkshires.  Many trees were bare but stubborn oaks showed their orange colors.  Along the sides of the road, in places where men long ago blasted through tall hills, the scarred rock faces glistened under thin sheets of autumn ice.  Grassy areas not yet hit by the sun were robed in frost.

I was on my way to share a last goodbye.  In the company of others, I gathered with a group of other relatives and friends.  The air was crisp, the sky a flawless blue.  A modest cemetery in a small, old town in Connecticut welcomed back one of its sons to rest among his family.  Three older Veterans aimed their rifles three successive times.  The cold air amplified the shots.  The bugler played “Taps.”  John’s long life journey was complete.

I’ve never known my Connecticut relatives very well though I’ve heard about them since my youth.  My grandmother was the oldest of three kids.  Born in New Haven, she eventually fell in love with a man from Albany and moved there when they married.  My mom and my uncle spent time, during many summers, in Connecticut visiting the relatives.  My grandmother’s sister married, had one child, and settled in a small town near the rock quarry where her husband was superintendent.  My grandmother’s brother married, had four children, and ran the only pharmacy in Portland, CT.

Oh, how my mother and uncle loved visiting their cousins.  If the timing was right, their uncle rented a cottage at Cornfield Point and they got to enjoy being at the shore.  Stories of clamming, grape arbors, picking blueberries, walking past the tobacco barns, and walking across the bridge to Middletown were told innumerous times.  I could always tell my mother and uncle were transported back to those times in their memories, their eyes filled with wistful remembrance and soft smiles gracing their faces.

Cousin John was someone I began to know as an adult.  But I didn’t know him very well.  I was fortunate to meet him a few times and to speak with him on the phone a few times.  But I relished hearing his correspondences with my mother and uncle.  The greatest generation knew, and knows, how to pen an informative letter.  John was jaunty.  He was innately curious, a wonderful conversationalist and a man true to himself and to his family.  I knew his sister, Cousin Betty, much better.  She was a lovely, sweet woman much like their mother.  Their brother, Cousin Roland, died tragically in the mid-70’s before I was able to meet him.  My mother always speaks fondly of him and what a sweet kid he was.  The youngest of the four siblings, Cousin Bill, spoke beautifully of his oldest brother yesterday.  Bill acknowledged he didn’t get to know John well until he was grown because John was fifteen years older than he.  But Bill’s words gave great testimony to the honorable man his brother was.  It seems fitting that John passed, during his 98th year, on July 4th as he was proud of his service to his country.

Requiesce in pace, Cousin John.  You’ve left a significant legacy among your family.

November 13, 1920-July 4,2019

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Thankful and grateful…

No slices of fiction or poetry today, just stark reality.  A year ago today, I was trying to do too much too fast and I took an epic tumble on the hardwood floor at my mother’s house.  More concerned about how hard I’d hit my head, I ignored the pain in my elbow.  I returned to my house and told Jim about my fall and assured him I was okay.m after all, we had to go to the grocery store to pick up some stuff for my mom.  Then we were hosting my neighbor for cheese fondue.  I delivered the groceries and returned home.

At that point my head felt fine but my elbow was beginning to hurt.  Jim talked me into lying down while he prepped the fondue for me.  Long story short, we had a successful cheese fondue despite my having to use my opposite hand to eat.  After dinner I told Jim it was time to head to the ER.  Splinted and medicated, we returned about 11 that night.  I was so fortunate to have him there for a few more days to help me out.  

In fact, my neighbor Rob, a retired nurse, came and showed me how to wrap the ace bandage around my splint.  I’d broken my left elbow which for most people wouldn’t be a big issue.  I’m left-handed.  Honestly it was inconvenient but not as awful as my broken ankle or broken leg.  Rob, and his husband Bill, would have me for dinner a few times so I wouldn’t have to cook.

Never did I think it would be a prelude to a very challenging time.  Late afternoon on the day before Thanksgiving, I received the phone call that my mother was lying on the ground near her back steps.  Somehow she had fallen.  I arrived within ten minutes, just after EMS.  To see her bloodied and in tremendous pain out there in the cold was a shock I still feel.  She had broken her femur in four places.  I spent Thanksgiving at the hospital while she had surgery.  Again, Jim came to my rescue.  I arrived home around 5 that evening.  Jim had arrived from having Thanksgiving dinner at his son’s house.  His son, Greg, sent along a complete dinner for me along with a piece of pie.  Again, so much to be grateful for.

The ensuing months were a challenge.  My mother went to a facility for rehabilitation.  The big catch was that she could not bear weight on that leg for several weeks.  She could only toe touch.  The situation tested our patience.  I won’t even get into the issues we had with the facility.  With the exception of two days, I was there each day for two months.  Again, Jim was a huge help and Greg sent along some Christmas dinner.

Finally, at the beginning of February, my mother was able to move to a facility for respite care.  We knew she couldn’t go home because she lived in a two-story house with only a half bath on the ground floor.  It also became clear that she might not ever go back to her home of over fifty years.  But she would only agree to move to a condo like mine.  The model I have is the most popular, seldom comes up for sale, and is snapped up in a nano-second.  God was truly on my side because my neighbors Bill and Rob gave my name to a woman whom they met while out walking in the neighborhood.  She was in town to relocate her mom…who lived in a condo model like mine.  Long story short, we acquired the condo knowing we had to make some improvements in addition to then selling her house.

My mother was doing well in respite care.  I picked her up to have Easter dinner at my house along with Jim.  We had an early afternoon dinner and it was very good.  But my mother and I both realized that Jim was not himself.  He was very short of breath and just didn’t act right.  After I returned my mom to her facility, I went home to find Jim really struggling to get his breath.  I told him I was taking him to the hospital.  He doesn’t live in this area, just comes up to visit me.  But we have some wonderful hospitals here so I was confident.

Turns out Jim was in bad shape cardiologically speaking.  He’d had a heart attack and by the next day had a catheterization and a pump inserted into his heart to help it beat.  Within five days he had quintuple bypass surgery.  I’m thankful that his children were also a big part of that journey.  And one of my close friends was in town the day of his surgery and she spent the day with me at the hospital.  I will never forget that.

Jim negotiated the surgery and recovery well.  We were all stunned that he would be discharged home and did not qualify for a rehab facility.  I was in the midst of wrapping up renovations and repairs on the new condo and getting my mother’s house ready to list.  Thankfully Jim was able to stay at his son’s home for several weeks while he recovered from his surgery.

While he was recovering I spent most of June readying the condo and putting the house on the market.  It sold quickly and by the end of the month, my mother was in her new condo.  Jim was back at home but ended up in the hospital again close to where he lives, 90 miles south of here.  This time his daughter was able to take him in while he recovered.  My summer flew by helping my mother get settled.  She is able to get around well with a walker.  At this point she is still gaining strength and mobility and enjoying her new home.  It is literally around the corner from mine so I’m able to pop over there easily.  Jim is continuing to do well.

Though my mother and I are our only family, I am so thankful to have lots of wonderful supporters.  My neighbor Linda, and her sweet dog, Skippy, helped me negotiate many a day in this past year.  There’s a lot to be said for a kind word and a little pet therapy.

Some of my longtime friends were wonderful and kept track of me through phone calls, emails, and texts.  A few other wonderful neighbors checked on me often.  If someone had told me last October 16th what I would face in the coming year, I would have laughed hysterically.  It’s been humbling, exhausting and very emotionally draining.  I’m just glad to still be in one piece and working once again on my school district history project.  I plan for the book to be out in the spring, unless more challenges come along.  If they do, I will persist.

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How could I ever forget?

The sky was a startling blue, the air crisp.  It was the fourth day of the new school year and I remember thinking that it would be a great day to be outdoors.  But a rare and beautiful day created an exciting atmosphere and I looked forward to getting to know my five new classes of high school students.

Never did I have a thought on that idyllic day that evil would rear its gruesome head.  Evil doesn’t care about fabulous weather; evil doesn’t have empathy; evil doesn’t have a conscience.  On that glorious day, September 11, 2001, evil unleashed a barrage of attacks on the citizens of our country.  Each year we are told never to forget.  How could I?

During my lifetime I’ve experienced many historical events.  I received the polio vaccine on a sugar cube in kindergarten.  I witnessed numerous lift offs and splashdowns of space flights.  I watched reports of the kill counts during the Vietnam War.  There were assassinations:  JFK, MLK, RFK, Anwar Sadat, John Lennon.  The Challenger exploded.  We endured the launch of the AIDS epidemic, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War.  I’ve never forgotten those things.  How could I?

September 11, 2001, was fast becoming a surreal day in my mundane existence.  After monitoring the television throughout second period, classes changed and another teacher occupied the classroom for the next period.  I wandered up and down the main hallway looking for a classroom with a tv on.  I found one.  The teacher was glued to the events unfolding, most of the students were chatting amongst themselves.  I was struck how they did not display the agitation or sense of urgency the teacher and I possessed.  These events were unprecedented.  The attacks in NYC felt personal.  NYC is 150 miles to the south of where I live.  Later in the day I learned one of the planes turned over our city to follow the Hudson River south to NYC.  I’ve never forgotten.  How could I?

It was hard to know what to do.  There is no protocol in place for what to do in the classroom when terrorists attack the country.  We watched more than our fair share of news coverage.  I let students talk about what was going on and ask questions.  I didn’t stop to really think about the day’s events until the students were dismissed.  After-school activities were cancelled, sports events postponed.  It seemed best for everyone to be able to go home to be with loved ones.  I needed some time to process what had happened.  I can’t forget.  How could I?

At home, I continued to watch the news coverage.  A photo appeared on the screen.  Five burly men struggled to carry an individual in a chair.  They were dusty, dirty, and sweaty, but they bore their burden with reverence.  He would later be named as the first victim of 9/11 and I had known him briefly many years previous.  It was Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest and the NYFD chaplain.  I had known him casually during his few years at Siena College in the late 1970s.  Father Mychal spoke to everyone he encountered.  He would stop us on a walkway outdoors and speak with us.  He cared about all of us.  I know why his firefighters loved him.  I know he loved all of them.  His loss affected me deeply.  I’d been experiencing a distant type of grief all day long.  Seeing Father Mychal in that picture, looking like Jesus in the Pieta, pushed me over an emotional edge.  My tears began and would run off and on all that evening.  People had lost spouses, children, parents, grandparents, significant others, and all manner of loved ones.  I cannot fathom how they were feeling.  Out of respect to the victims, I will never forget.  How could I?

Posted in Grief, history, life lessons, loss, Patriotism, tragedy | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments