A Memorable Gift

Now that the Christmas Holiday is here, and there are 364 more shopping days until the next one, it’s time to consider the memories.

In the days leading up to this Christmas, I took some time to recall my other fifty-nine Christmas Days. I tried to think of those many gifts I received and remember.

I had to think a moment.

I do recall one gift from when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. A time when I considered myself sophisticated by having outgrown the need for Santa Claus. My parents got me an electric guitar. A gift that was so far beyond my expectations as to make it seem impossible.

Of all the gifts, I can still see that moment in my mind’s eye as the reality of the instrument in my hands took hold. I am sure they experienced some buyer’s remorse as I fought to learn Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and a host of other bands not on my parent’s playlist.

It is this single gift that I can recall with little effort.

Now I know for a fact I received hundreds of Christmas gifts over the years. Gifts from family and friends who spent time and money picking out things for me. I know they put much care and thought into the process.

And yet, despite knowing this, I cannot recall them without great effort.

I do recall the faces and voices of those who, once being a big part of Christmas, have now passed away.

But I do not remember the gifts.

I remember the family gatherings around Christmas.

But I do not remember any of the gifts, given or received.

Of all those many gifts, long faded into the fog of hidden memories, there are few I remember.

But I do remember the moments of Christmas. The moments of waking on a Christmas morning and making your way to the tree.

The faces of my parents at the excitement of sharing Christmas with a child.

The first Christmas with my wife as we started our own traditions.

The first Christmas with my daughter, just a month old, who had no idea of what all our excitement was about

The many more Christmases as my daughter went from an infant to a young woman.

She is now married and hosting Christmas as her own. Yet all those gifts vanish into lost memories.

These things I remember. Not the gifts, not the giving, not the receiving but the people that I shared those moments with.

This I recall.

We forget that these gifts are but the dust of life and our time with those we care about will pass with alarming speed.

Hold onto the memories of the things that matter, not the memory of things themselves.

All these years my subconscious knew what was important. It preserved the important memories and hid away the insignificant.

Perhaps it is time to pay attention.

Christmas Past

For most of us, it is the memories of Christmas past that drive the spirit of the season. The innocence of belief in the magic of a Jolly Old Man and his generosity tempered by expectations of good behavior brings a smile to one’s face.

My sister, as she is wont to do, recently posted a picture of one of those Christmas moments. It is not a digital image, not a tweet, not an old Facebook post, but a picture taken with a camera that required one to wait for the result.

A simpler time.

Emblazoned on the image is the “text” of that era; the date the picture was taken, ‘Dec 61.’

I was five years old and my sister was three. We were quite fashionably dressed for the time as you all can see.48408043_10213412298443623_9201548041008447488_n

A moment in time of an age of innocence. I don’t know if I have ever seen the photograph before now. The moment and the picture are lost in fading memories. My parents would have had the film developed and placed it among their other pictures. Perhaps they showed it to me, perhaps they didn’t. Pictures weren’t so important to me at the time.

I wonder if my eyes were closed to preserve the moment in my mind? I wonder if somehow, I knew the next time those same eyes saw this moment, it would be from a time then long in the future?

Or I wonder if I closed my eyes, so I could enjoy those fleeting moments of that simpler time, somehow suspecting that once my eyes opened time would draw me inexorably to a loss of that innocence.

May your Christmas be Merry and Memorable and may you always keep a part of that innocence alive in your heart.

 

 

Memories: Random, Recreated, or Otherwise

Hanging On

While rummaging through what is known in most households as the junk drawer, I came Good Conductacross this medal. It is a Good Conduct medal issued to my father during his service in the United States Marine Corps.

I believe he received it early in his enlistment before he ended up on an all-expense paid cruise up the coast of South Korea. Followed by some beach time. (The Marines call it an amphibious landing.) Other than the North Koreans shooting at them, Inchon was lovely.

He later got a full land tour all the way to the Chosin Reservoir where the Chinese cut the trip short. Along the way, he gathered some other tokens of his time in Korea, three Purple Hearts, Two Bronze Stars, and the Silver Star.

But this one he gave to me and seeing it brought back memories. Funny how it is the only thing I have from when we lived in Pawtucket, RI. But here’s the story.

It was 1960 or 61, just before we moved to Cumberland. My sister Peggy–do not call her Peggy Ann. She hates Peggy Ann so do not call Peggy Ann, Peggy Ann—were playing in a neighbor’s yard. In this yard was a rather large hole being dug for some purpose I never knew. In the bottom of this hole were pipes, rocks, and water.

The hole was several feet deep and surrounded by…nothing.  Different times, those.

Of course, we were intrigued.

Anyway, Peggy An..I mean Peggy got too close and tumbled off the edge. I managed to grab her by the jacket.  I wasn’t strong enough to pull her up.  All I could do was hold on.

Eventually, someone noticed this. Whether it was me yelling or them I don’t know, but the next thing I knew my mother ran over and pulled Peggy up.

When my father came home from his tour of duty with the State Police (they lived in the barracks then, so it was a few days later) my mother filled him in.

For my actions in the line of facing deep, muddy, and dangerously unprotected holes and for hanging on I was awarded the medal.

I wore it to bed.

I wore it to Kindergarten.

I wore it to Church. (Yes, I used to go there, under penalty of parental damnation mostly)

And somehow, after all these years, it’s the one thing I’ve held onto…or it held onto me.

Night Baseball

On a recent walk along the bike path onto Martin Street in Cumberland, I chanced past a field where I experienced my halcyon days of Little League baseball. It was where I believed my professional sports career would flourish.

Halcyon, yes. Flourishing career, not so much.

I believe I set a record that stands to this day in that league. I was hit three times by a pitch at-bat in one game.

The pitcher, a rather sizeable 11-year old who looked like he shaved and, I believe, parked a car somewhere hidden from view since I never saw his parents, had two conflicting abilities. He could throw a fastball, and he lacked any control over the direction of the ball.

Combine that with my sloth-like reflexes, and you have a recipe for disaster.  I wasn’t so much a batter as a backstop.  My ability to move as if in slow motion earned me the nickname “Turtle” from my teammates. The longest ball I ever hit bounced off the fence in center field, and I got thrown out.

At first base.  Slow doesn’t even come close.

I’m not sure which one of those guys gave me the name, no matter how well deserved and accurate as it may be, but I recall Eddie Reilly, John Johnson, Scott Partington, Greg Vartanian, and others hollering it with great vigor in between laughing at me and falling to the ground.

Now that I think about it, I was bullied. I probably have PTSD from all those games, plus the bruises. I should sue.

What sparked this memory was the changes going on in the field.  They are installing lights for night games.

NIGHT GAMES in Little League.  Next thing they’ll have signing bonuses and no-cut contracts.

Our idea of night games were those interminable games when the score was 25 to 23 in the fourth inning, 8:30 on a Saturday night in August, and the darkness creeping in.  At the sound of the ball hitting the bat we all had a fleeting glimpse as the ball disappeared into the night. We pretended to look for it, but we were really trying to figure out where it would not land so as not to get smacked in the head.

Now they have lights.

They probably have pitchers with some control over the ball.

Where’s the fun in that?

When You Say It: Unexpected Reactions to a Shared Human Element

Age has always been a minor, albeit varying, factor in my life. As children, we all go through those stages where we want to be older. Rushing what we perceive as our unlimited time. As we get older, some try to resist. But most of us eventually reach a truce with reality and just accept time’s passage.

FatherTimeA recent conversation, for whatever reason, stunned me. While speaking with someone interested in telling his life story (a complicated one involving bank robberies and prison time), He asked how old I was, wanting to see if I had any point of reference to the Watergate incident and a man named G. Gordon Liddy.

I told him I was in high school and had watched the Watergate hearings. I prefaced this by saying, I’ll be sixty-two this year.

As the words came out, it caught me by surprise. I could not put my finger on why my age stunned me. Hanging up the phone after arranging a meeting, the memories of those sixty-two years rocketed through my brain.

So, I do what I always do when something strikes me as odd, or funny, or troubling. I write about it. It is a habit I’ve developed over, incredibly, sixty-two years.

I have a misty memory of the first grade where I was sent down the long, intimidating hall to bring a book to the eighth-grade classroom. In my mind, the eighth graders were ancient ogres. I had to navigate around them like giant redwoods. They were the scary “big” kids. Old and dangerous.

Now, I’m shocked when I see graduate students from Brown University driving cars. They look so young. My grandfather used to say, when cops and priests start looking young, you’re old. He had that one right.

When I was seventeen, a group of friends and I would stake a claim to one of the many dunes of Horseneck Beach. We had our stash of fake-id acquired cold beer and plans of conquering bikini-clad young women.  At least the part of the beer being cold was true. Our tales of sexual conquest pure fantasy that improves with age as it drifts further from the truth.

On one expedition I recall a conversation, between our fruitless attempts at charming any girls, about how we would be forty-four years old in the year 2000. Both elements seemed unreal and unreachable. Here I am in the year 2018. Both 44 and 2000 are distant memories.

My daughter, her birth another life-altering event when she arrived in 1988, will soon reach one those milestones in life. I won’t say she’ll turn thirty this year, but you do the math. To some, such things are traumatic. I never found them so. How she’ll react is as personal to her as it is to everyone. Age and the progression of time is the one equal opportunity aspect of this shared life.

Age discriminates against no one. Time gives itself with little regard for anything.

I suppose it may be the reality of understanding the unknowable allocation of the time we each have left, and that we are all ticketed for the same departure event, which caused this simple conversation to shock my consciousness.

Time continues its unalterable passage. The summers of our youth will take on almost mythological alterations of reality. By holding onto these memories, we may embrace the summers of our future with greater appreciation.

We can strive to enjoy every day for within each moment is the potential to create a memory.

Age is a state of mind. But it is not what defines, hobbles, or imprisons us unless we let it.

 

Just a Dog…

(A repost from 2 years ago.  People die all the time and I rarely think of them, but Max I remember quite often with a smile and a tear)

He was just a dog…

His official AKC registered name is Maximus Gluteus but we knew him as Max.

He died the other day, taken all too soon in an unexpected way. He seemed as full of life on his last day as when we first saw him a mere nine years ago.

Max arrived at the cargo facility at Logan airport from his birth state of Kansas. Wrapped in a kennel big enough for a Pitbull, he looked like an undersized rat.

We had found him online and brought him to be a companion for our other Yorkie, Ralph.

He exceeded all expectations becoming not just a companion to Ralph, but a true member of the family.

This memorial is not meant to be sad, although the sadness has enveloped us since he passed away, but to celebrate all he gave of his life to brighten ours.

He was just a dog…

He brought a joy of living to wherever he was. His life was full of experiences and fun.

He traveled on planes, becoming a Florida dog for a time

He climbed hills in Connecticut and mountains in New Hampshire

He chased seagulls on the beach, squirrels in the backyard, and hunted any creature that dare invade HIS home. Make no mistake, wherever he lived was his home.

He had a sense of humor.

A door accidentally left open gave him the chance the snatch an onion from the closet. Eating what he wanted and leaving the rest for my daughter to find when she returned from work.

Several days later, he pretended there was something in the same closet. Scratching and pawing at the door. My daughter opened it, expecting to find a mouse. Max dashed in, grabbed another onion and hightailed it under a table, out of reach. Enjoying his snack.

He never cared much for toys, unlike Ralph who hoarded them. Max did take delight occasionally taking one of Ralph’s toys and running away with it. He would find a place in the sun, put the toy down at his paws, and dare Ralph to try to take it back.

Made Ralph crazy.

Max had his faults. He had no social skills with other dogs. He would attack anything. It was more fury and show then teeth but it could be embarrassing.

This also showed he had no fear. He was a five-pound bundle of fur, barely the size of a rabbit, with the heart of a lion.

If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I can picture Max as a lion. Poised on rock, mane flying in the breeze, roaring to scare everything around him.

Max would love that.

He was just a dog…whose passing made me cry. Yet knowing him, laughing at him, or just holding and petting him made every tear worth it.

I will miss him as long as I live. The sadness of his passing will fade, his memory and joy for life will not.

He was just a dog…Max

 

The Best Year(s) of Life

One route for our daily walk takes us past Cumberland High School.  Walking by the place I spent four years of my life sparked memories. It got me to think about those very different times.

As often happens, my mind’s synapses fired off sounds, images, memories, and thoughts.

I wondered about what I might consider the best year of my life. It became evident there could be no such thing. The many good years I’ve had have far outweighed any bad ones. The year of falling in love and marrying. The year of my daughter’s birth. Each of these, and others, were among the best.

I tried to broaden the perspective. To think of what I might consider the best year in the various stages of my life. One rose above the others.

The summer between my junior and senior year of high school rose to the top. 1973, 17 years old, on the cusp of adulthood without the full responsibilities. I had a car, a great job at Almacs, and great friends from school and work.  A future of possibilities before me.

It was a great time of my life.

It was a summer spent walking the beach with friends, at Scarborough or Horseneck. Talking waveabout our plans for the future, or for the next night.

Listening to the music of Steely Dan (Reeling in the Years)  Seals and Crofts (Diamond Girl), and Chicago (Feeling Stronger Every Day.)

Waiting in the warm sun for the perfect wave to body surf to shore, hoping against hope the pretty college-age “older” women would notice, even if we knew they were out of our league.

Shared experiences between friends who continue to be part of my life.

1973 was part of that all too brief time when one lives life for the moment. Not much of a past to regret and too naïve of the future to worry.

One of the many concepts of Einstein I struggle with is his concept of time. He once said, “The distinction between the past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

I hope Einstein is right. I hope the past is still out there. The stubbornly persistent illusion lets me close my eyes, feel the warm sun on my skin, look for that perfect wave, and hear the sounds of time playing the music of my memories.

My Mom and Her Determination

Here’s a reposting of a piece I wrote some time ago. It’s the time of the year…

It has been almost 8 years since my mother died. Thoughts, sights, and sounds remind me of her almost daily.

Words she often turned into her own askew versions. Her penchant for reading EVERY street sign whenever she was in the car. Twinkies she hid in the freezer in violation of her diet. The one constant reminder is my white hair, undeniable genetic evidence that part of her remains with me.

These are memories of a special woman.

Each year, on a particular date, there is a poignant reminder of something she did for me.

I suspect she had similar traditions with my brother and sisters; she was that kind of a mom.

She had a way to make you feel special.

Nevertheless, this one was between us.

As many of you know from my writings, I do not share the faith that my mother did. She had absolute confidence in her beliefs. Despite all the things she experienced, the joys and the sorrows, she never once doubted them.

She made a valiant effort to share her faith. If there is any blame to go around for her failed attempt to instill that in me, the fault is mine.

What is the annual event that triggers such a memory?

St. Joseph’s day.

Every year, I would get a card from my mother. It came in the mail. It was not a text, an email, or a phone call. It would arrive in the days just before the 19th, more evidence of her careful consideration and purpose.

She took the time to select, address, and mail a card. Through a simple gesture, she preserved the dying art of thoughtfulness.

The card celebrated the Saint’s day of my (sort of) namesake. Her thoughtful gesture had a dual purpose, serving as a subtle reminder of her faith. I used to chuckle whenever I opened the card. Amused by my mother’s determination, yet touched by such a simple, caring act.

She never gave up.

Since her passing, I miss the card every year and her every day.

Mom, while you may not have succeeded in making me a Saint there is a good chance you made me less of a sinner.

Happy Saint Joseph’s Day.

Nature: The Ultimate Entertainment

I had the opportunity to walk through the old Rocky Point Amusement Park grounds the other day. The last time I walked this area I was likely 9 or 10 years old. The nostalgia for the lost rides, shore dinner hall, hotdogs, and cotton candy, of course, came flooding back.

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Some of the supports for the gondola ride stood rusting in the sun. Wrapped with the vines that will ultimately bring them crashing down, they will return to the earth over which they once stood.

Humans are great at building temporary things. Our intelligence and skills take the elements of the earth and converts them into towering monuments to our abilities. Yet, given adequate time through the unending process of living organisms, the earth will reclaim each of these.

Humans must work to maintain the things we build. The earth just has to continue on, patiently waiting for us to abandon these things as we so often do to once again reign supreme.

The 10-year-old me would lament the loss of the merry-go-round, the games, the Ferris wheel (named after its designer George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.), tilt-a-whirl, and myriad other rides. The memories of outings to places like Rocky Point, Lincoln Park, and Crescent Park invoke such powerful memories.

Although they pale when compared to the magic of the Magic Kingdom, my memories of these places keep a warm place in my heart. I think I prefer them to what Disney has become, although I suppose each generation feels the same of the origins of their childhood memories.

I wonder if Walt Disney himself would regret the destruction of the natural vistas to create artificial worlds filled with people losing their appreciation of this planet?

The half-a-century older me is glad the area is slowly returning to its natural state. It is a sign that we do have the potential to make sound decisions in our care of this planet when we chose to leave nature to itself.

Building ticky-tacky little houses all looking the same as we paved paradise would have made someone wealthy in the short run. (Aren’t you glad I put those songs playing in your head so you will hear them all day?) This Earth would still wait patiently for the moment to send out that first shoot of a vine or tree.

parking-lot

A shoot that would begin the inexorable process of taking back to the earth what man foolishly believes he has stolen for himself.

I for one am glad the vines and trees are tearing down the metal poles, reopening the vista of Narragansett Bay and the endless variations of nature’s bounty. While the view from a Ferris wheel can awaken the imagination of a young boy and create a lifelong memory, to embrace and appreciate nature creates joy for a lifetime.

Thanks for the (New) Memories

Nothing quite prepares you for your daughter’s marriage. No matter her age, how long she’s been together with her boyfriend/ soon-to-be husband, no matter how much you try to convince yourself you’re ready.

You aren’t.

The first time you see her dressed in her wedding gown before the ceremony your heart rate begins to climb. The memories of her years growing up come flooding in, images of an infant, a toddler, her first day at school, all compete for attention.

But this is just a warm up.

As I stood outside the room, greeting the many guests as they arrived for the ceremony, the adrenaline added to the experience. Seeing friends, some of whom I’ve known for more than fifty years, brought back my own memories of those long ago days, our own progression through life’s many stages, and the paths that brought us together.

Our many conversations of what we believed lay in store for us replayed in my mind. How innocent and hopeful we were and how fortunate we are to have remained friends all these years.

As all the guests gathered for the ceremony, we lined up outside. The bridesmaids and groomsmen precede us as the crowd grows in anticipation.

And then, that moment when it all becomes real. The music begins, the doors open, and the crowd stands. Nothing can prepare you for this moment.

My daughter, no longer that little girl reaching up to hold my hand, stands between her mother and I. The three of us, once alone together, now to be forever altered.

Kelsey is beyond radiant, beyond pretty, beyond stunning.

She is not just beautiful; she is beauty itself holding onto our arms as she walks in.

The ceremony, a creative masterpiece by our friend Glen Peck, incorporating words from the Velveteen Rabbit and vows from the 12th century adds to the magic.

But no words can truly capture the feeling in my heart as this all takes place. This picture comes close.

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But even that is just lines and shadows of how I felt at that moment.

To all of you who were there, to all of you who wanted to be there, and to all of you who have been part of Kelsey’s life, thank for the memories, both old and new, and here’s to many more.

 

 

Picking through the Flotsam and Jetsam of a Life

I went to an estate sale the other day. It was not in some huge mansion full of antiques or precious jewels. It was a small, 1950’s style ranch in a non-descript neighborhood in Providence. One of those post-war neighborhoods that dot this country.

My sister-in-law is a fan of these things. When she told us about the latest one, we decided to tag along.

We arrived about an hour or so after it opened. Many of the larger, furniture type items were already marked as sold.  The remaining few looked like they had been ordered from the Sears & Roebuck Catalog. They appeared well-cared for and, other than being from the last century, quite serviceable.

I wondered how many memorable moments took place while people sat there.

In the basement was a pool table covered with pictures. Most were 8X10 black and white images. It struck me how these images captured a moment in the life of people. People unfamiliar to those of us wandering around. The treasure hunters would pick up a picture and turn it over. Looking for something that would make it valuable. Finding none, they would toss it aside.

These images were the product of a much different technology. One a world apart from the immediacy of today’s digital images. Someone had to compose the image, take the picture, develop the film, then enlarge the print. They were then cherished by those shown in the picture.

At the time, these images brought some joy to those who saw them. They captured a moment in the life of those depicted in them. They held these memories until the bearers of those images, or those who knew them, passed from this life.

Now, they were mere distractions to those seeking something to buy and perhaps sell. Images of someone known only to their families carry no such value.

In another area was a tool bench. Hammers, nails, pliers, nuts & bolts lay scattered around in no particular order. I wondered when the last person to use that work bench walked away if they realized it would be for the last time.

I felt almost as if I were interrupting a funeral. Wandering around, looking at things that meant nothing to my life. Yet they meant everything to the life of someone else.

It reminded me of the scene in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge his death. The scavengers are selling the items they took while Scrooge lay dead in his bed. Laughing at their good fortune in his demise.

Wandering around this house made me feel the scavenger. I decided not to disturb the remnants of these lives and leave them to their past.

There was nothing I could buy that offered any true value.