Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Danny DeLuca

My Dad and I bickered over everything. The price of gas, which way to drive somewhere, the best way to cook something, clean something and big important things too. Politics, abortion, racism, women’s rights, religion. We spent a full two weeks arguing over where you go when you die. He said “in the hole” and I disagreed. 

He was a contrarian. Whatever opinion he had today, he might argue as heartily two days later for the OTHER SIDE. His education was limited, his intelligence was vast. He consumed knowledge (read two newspapers every day from front to back) like it was wine, which he consumed an awful lot of too.  He protected the underdog, animals, little kids and old people. Not in a nice fatherly way, but in a way that empowered people to try to do better themselves.

 He was difficult but open minded. You could change his mind if you had the strength and will to prove him wrong. And I did. It was exhausting but it also prepared me for the challenges in life that I never expected. You didn’t tangle with Danny DeLuca if you were weak. I grew strong and capable through our constant battles. 

Even as a really old man, when he lived with me, something I pronounced sometime earlier in life “would only happen if I was half dead”, he kept up the constant activity. Physical activity-working in the garden, doing carpentry jobs, shopping and cooking. He was a constant whirl of physical and mental activity. He ended every day asking what “progress” we had made. So, we sat around the dinner table talking about that and if you didn’t do anything that showed progress, you kind of felt like a loser.

 He also was always hopeful that the future would be better than today. That all of this industrious effort was the road to future success. What I didn’t know about my Dad was a lot. He battled inner demons that made him constantly vigilant. He was authentic and emotional and confusing and hard to understand. He was very human and as much as he would have liked to hide that, he could not. He was too real to be fake. So, another Father’s Day, I get to consider the craziness that was my Dad and realize that we have an awful lot in common. Even the stupidity to get too much sun every time we visited Florida.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Good Student

I did my radiography training at Crozer-Chester Medical Center 1980-82. As a first year student, every few weeks we were assigned to the burn unit where, every morning, we'd accompany one of the senior techs to do portable chest x-rays.
The machine was a monster to push through the halls, the cassettes were heavy, we had to prep by scrubbing in and donning gowns and gloves. It was a laborious process and I worried about getting everything right because it was much worse for our patient. During a really tough week, working with a no nonsense, very experienced tech who expected nothing but perfection, we came upon a badly burned younger patient who was in great pain. It was Friday, my last day on this rotation and the tech had barely spoken to me all week. We worked as quickly and carefully as possible but the ordeal was very difficult. We finished up and I pushed the cumbersome machine alone onto the elevator while she waited giving me a look of exasperation. Instead of pushing ground, where the department was located and where we needed to go and develop the films, she pushed another floor with which I wasn't familiar. As the door opened, she instructed me to leave the machine by the elevator and follow her. We walked through wide doors and ahead were long, glass windows.There I saw the newborn babies, clean and sparkling, swaddled in pink and blue, lined up behind the glass. She said nothing. I said nothing. We stood there a while, watching these perfect beings, still and quiet, dreaming of angels. Then she turned and we left. Back to our machine, the elevator, the darkroom. There was a lot she could have said to me that week but she only talked of kilovoltage and milliamperage. It is what she showed me that stuck with me all these years later.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


It is my birthday. It is nearly Thanksgiving. The two celebrations dance around one another each year, occasionally landing on the same day. That is appropriate. Being born. Being present another year. Even the tough years, I am grateful for the experience of being alive. Born and reborn again as time changes some things, but not everything. At least not at once.  So, on the anniversary of my birth, I wish to thank the people who make this fragile but resilient thing, we call life, a happy one for me. For the gifts they give me each day of the year.

Thank you to my children, Ali & Mark, who have grown into adults who rescue kittens, help old people, say hello to everyone and are optimistic about the future. You give me hope.

Thank you to my partner, Caesar, who walks alongside me even when I am literally and figuratively tripping over myself. I can’t think of a more patient person willing to consider my “brilliant ideas” nor a more adventurous companion to my random road trips. You give me joy.  

Thank you to my step-children, Sarah and Melissa, who make me laugh and help me to look at things in new ways. You give me courage. 

Thank you to my extended family who gather around my table, especially Danielle, Roseann and Carmen, my nieces, nephews and children in -laws, who lend tradition, continuity and allegiance to my life. You give me love. 

Thank you to my friends, old friends and forever friends like Cathy Lynne and Barbara who “knew me when” and remarkably still like me. You give me happiness

Thank you to new friends and work friends who make my life more meaningful through shared challenges and experiences. Those people who are there day to day to share a laugh and to share lunch. You give me solidarity. 

Life is for the living and I am glad to be experiencing it with all of you! 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, June 30, 2016


I was in the basement storeroom tonight, looking for something that I never found. Instead, I came across this, the eulogy I wrote and presented at Mark's funeral in May 2000. Maybe he wanted to remind me and you and all of us one more time. 

Mark was an optimist. When we were just married and our basement flooded with two feet of water, he joked that we had the first row house with an indoor pool. Then he rolled up his sleeves and cleaned the place up. Mark was a man you could count on to get the job done and who found pleasure in the doing. In turn, those around him found themselves laughing too. His good humor was infectious.

Mark was gentle. I think Mark plucked his gentleness form nature itself. I would watch him in the last light of a long, summer day standing by the lake at our campsite. Fishing pole in hand. He'd throw his head back, scan the cloudless sky and sigh. His peaceful moment broken by the shouts of Ali and Mark who caught yet another sunny and Big Mark's excited praise as though they had caught a trophy bass.  Mark would call times like that "his greatest moments". 

Mark was a big man who made a difference in small ways. He was the ear you needed when things were all wrong, he was the strong hand when you needed a helper, he fed our souls as often as he fed our bellies. Mark could diffuse a tense situation with a well placed joke. He was the kind of guy you actually wanted to run into at Wawa. That small encounter was a guaranteed bright spot in your day. 

Mark would say that one should not take from the earth more than he could give back, and to this end, he succeeded. He planted seeds of hope, happiness and optimism wherever he went. It is up to all of us who knew him, who loved him, to allow these seeds to flourish. It is hard to set aside one's grief and even harder to be hopeful. But without that, Mark's life becomes meaningless. We are here today to bid him farewell, the hole he leaves is gaping, but if each one of us donates a little humor, a little gentleness, a little optimism, the void can be filled. And the balance in nature, made right. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

There's a Lesson In This Somewhere

The story of Smokey begins with Fellini, half a year even before Smokey was born. After school on a spring day a couple of middle school kids came down our street with a box of kittens. “Free kittens!” Ali said breathlessly as she came inside, with the emphasis on “free”. Her Dad looked at her and replied “you’d have to PAY ME to have another cat in the house”. Even before she could argue, Little Mark was behind her, kitten in hand. “Look, Daddy,” Ali was taking the sweet path, “look how cute. You can’t not want to have him”.  Ali is batting her eyes at her father, smiling warmly as she presents the striped tabby kitten to him. I am watching, hoping even, that she can talk him into it when the tiny cat hisses at Big Mark and tries to bat at his face. Mark jumps in, “Dad, he is really little. You scared him. He is a nice kitten.” Big Mark is not convinced, not interested and not even willing to consider adopting the kitten into our home. “Out” He points to the door. The kitten and kids leave the house. We have a dog and a cat and in truth, we don’t need another pet.  I follow the kids out front.

By fall the kitten has grown into a young cat and he has fully inserted himself into our family. He still hisses when Big Mark talks to him but he sleeps with the kids and lives peacefully with the other pets. He is called Fellini. One Sunday afternoon a neighborhood kid lifts him by the tail and Ali intervenes to stop the abuse but Fellini is petrified and attacks her. I am there but it happens so fast that there is blood soaked through her shirt and her face has a deep gash above her lip that nearly goes through to the inside of her mouth.  There is screaming from the neighborhood kid who gets a punch from Little Mark, screaming from Ali, me and finally Big Mark whose gentle nature has been turned upside down at the sight of his injured daughter. I think Fellini is going to be murdered. I sort of want him to be murdered, I am that angry. Ali, despite her wounds, goes to Fellini’s defense while Little Mark locks the cat in his bedroom so that Big Mark can’t get to him. Later. We’ll kill him later, after we get back from the hospital.

By the New Year all that is left is a little scar above Ali’s lip that sort of looks like kitten whiskers. Ali points that out to the extended family after dinner as she sits with Fellini on her lap, petting his soft belly. Mid-January Fellini is outside long after the other cat and dog come in for dinner. I call him from the back door and Little Mark is calling out front. He doesn’t come back by bedtime. The next morning, sunny but cold, Ali is looking for him before school. I look during the day. Big Mark is traveling but the kids tell him about the missing Fellini every time he calls. They have signs around the neighborhood but the cat has not come back.  Every night before bed, Ali stands outside in the cold and shakes the box of cat food, hopeful that Fellini will come home. When Big Mark sees this he is moved by Ali’s heartbreak and doubles our efforts to find the cat. For weeks, Ali stands in the cold, shaking the box of cat food. Every night she goes to bed without Fellini.

“I never wanted that damn cat and then I wanted to kill it when it scratched my baby but now I just wish I could find it”. Mark is sitting at the table after the kids are in bed, talking to me. “I feel terrible about this. They are heartbroken”. It is February and the days are getting a little longer and I am starting to have thoughts of spring. Sunday morning Big Mark announces that he is getting the kids a new kitten for Valentine’s Day. “Even if Fellini comes home?” they ask. Even if.  Monday, Mark is traveling again and he calls me to say that there are no kittens anywhere. He has called the SPCA, pet stores, stopped at an Amish Farm. Nothing. It isn’t the season yet. By April there will be hundreds of kittens. “But Daddy, you said that it is a Valentine’s gift!”

I run into a woman at the SPCA who tells me that she has kittens at her house. Mark is still away but he made an agreement with Ali and Mark that if we found a kitten, we could get it without him so long as he got credit for it. The three of us go to Marcus Hook where a lady has two ferrets, a wolf and a tiny gray kitten in her row home. It takes her nearly half an hour to get the scared kitten from under the china cabinet, the whole while Little Mark asking her why she has a wolf in the house. We bring the kitten home and when Big Mark gets back from traveling the next day, they have it named Smokey. This kitten is quiet, sweet and not nearly as handsome as Fellini. As he grows, he develops a snaggle tooth and a tendency to be dusty with sticks stuck to his fur. He never hisses, misbehaves and isn’t the kind of cat that needs much attention. He fits in easily with the dog and cat and knows enough to hide from the neighbor kids.

By the end of spring that year my life had changed so much that I often think of it in two parts. Before and After.  Before Big Mark died and After Big Mark died. Smokey was one of the few things from Before that we took with us to the After. He made the transition with as much difficulty as me, Ali and Marky but instead of tears and misgivings, he hid in the attic and then shit in the carrier on the way to Downingtown.

We perfected our veterinary skills on Smokey. When he was around 3 years old he came home with a portion of his ear missing and Ali became adept at wound healing and infection control. When Mark was in middle school he removed a 12 inch piece of grass from Smokey’s nose that was caught in the cat’s throat. I’ll spare the details but it was truly a feat of surgical genius executed on our hall sofa. There was Ivermectin treatment for mange and because our math skills are so bad, we calculated the dose for nearly two days before we would give it to him. Smokey was not a fastidious cat so he was often covered in spider webs, lint, dust and dirt. His tooth hung over his lip in a way that made him creepy looking and his gaze was intense and unknowable. But we knew him. Smokey was always the first pet in the house to come to our sick bed. It was as though he knew when we needed comfort. He liked to sit on my lap when I’d type away at the computer. He was tolerate of Mark’s young, obnoxious cat but also mentored him in cat manners. Smokey was polite with guests. In his younger days, we would joke and say that he had a second family because he would go out early and come back late. In the last few years, his expeditions didn’t take him too far from the porch but if he was out when I walked the dog, he’d follow along.

Smokey lived a good life and earned a peaceful rest. The problem is… The thing about it is…Smokey is our last link to our old life. He is the last living thing I shared with my husband, that Ali and Mark shared with their father. The story of Smokey is symbolic of the best part of Mark. The gentle man who would not kill a cat that injured his daughter, the confident man who would be proud that his son hid the cat from him, the generous man who would search for another cat when it was the last thing he really wanted in his own life. And so it goes. I move forward. Plough ahead. Press on. With bits and twigs of memories that fade into nothingness the further away we get.    

Friday, June 07, 2013

Concrete, Cats and Combat

I am not sure where to begin with this story because what I want to share is a feeling that can be expressed through a particular memory but I am afraid that even that won't sufficiently convey the emotion. It is 1984 and my husband and I have just celebrated our one year wedding anniversary. We are proud homeowners of a rowhouse in Colwyn, Pennsylvania. An end of the row, with a small side yard where we hold big parties. We meticulously remodel, redecorate and clean and shine our little castle. It is Wednesday and it is sunny and warm and a perfect Spring day. It is June 6th and the concrete is being delivered at Noon. I just started a new job but when I heard who my Dad lined up to help him with the concrete I decided to take the day off to be there to help. In case. My father arrived at dawn and while waiting for the sun to fully rise he stood in the garage cutting wood for the concrete form. My husband hurries off to work, worried now that Dad's help may not arrive at all. I throw on a pair of overalls and bring the coffee outside and ask my Dad if he needs help. He looks at me and shakes his head. He does this when I am on his nerves or just plain ridiculous and tells me that I should just stay away from the power tools so that I don't lose a finger.

He builds the form. It takes a lot longer to do than to tell about it, but there isn't much to say about forms. They are like little wooden boxes, shaped like the thing you want to make with the concrete. We are building steps. Steps that will run from the side yard to the back door. There is a big wall there now and to get down, you have to jump. My Dad already measured the space a few days ago and calculated the risers and treads and truthfully, I am not good at this part because there is a lot of math. As the morning wears on, he cuts and measures and builds. At 10AM he hands me his little black book and asks me to go inside and call his helper. I call and there is no answer. I go back outside and I can see my Dad is getting stressed. I wouldn't want to do math and work with a power saw at the same time, so I try to be extra nice about the bad news but he isn't having it. He is pissed and tells me to call a few of the local bars to track down his helper. Back inside I make the calls but no one has seen him since yesterday so I leave lots of messages to tell him to come to the Colwyn job. I doubt that he will get the message or follow the instructions if he does. I grab a pitcher of cold water and paper cups and head back out.

I always wanted a dog of my own and thought that the minute I had my own house, I would have my own dog. I wasn't thinking that maybe I'd be sharing that house with someone who didn't feel the same way. Just after our wedding when I realized that my husband wasn't kidding about not wanting a dog, I surprised him with a cat. I surprised myself with the cat also, since I really wasn't too crazy about cats. Pete was a tiny runt of a thing that I carried around in the pocket of my scrubs while I cooked dinner and ran the vacuum. I wasn't even sure how to talk to a cat and the first time I had to say "pssst, pssst, psst", I laughed out loud. I felt so stupid. In the year since I brought Pete home our relationship grew into an obsession on my part and I worried about him constantly. I didn't let him near the door for fear of him getting loose and run over by a car. My Dad laughs at my behavior. He doesn't like cats at all and this one in particular attacks his feet when he walks up the stairs ruining any chance for a mutually respectful acquaintance. That morning I carefully pulled the door close as I went back outside with the bad news.

My Dad took the news with a pragmatic head shake and moved the radio to the side of the yard where we sat waiting for the concrete, He listened to WPEN 950 Club, a station that featured Big Band music and rockabilly classics. He is singing along with "It's Only a Shanty in Old Shanty Town" and I lean back and enjoy his smooth crooner voice. The station breaks and the DJ is talking about D-Day. It is the 40th Anniversary of the Invasion. In my mind, it is ages ago, another world away. My Dad tells me what he was doing on that exact day and time 40 years earlier. He marvels that forty years have passed. He tells me that his experience in England during the war is possibly the best and worst days of his life. He tries to explain the thrill of coming back alive when you accept that you are likely to die. He tells of his disappointment at the Japanese cars and German stereos so proudly displayed in American homes. He knows it is the right way to end a war, to be friends again, but it feels too  forgiving about something we should never forget. I am at an age where I begin to appreciate what my father has to say, I am experiencing the 40th Anniversary of the Invasion with a person who experienced the invasion. It is surreal and I am trying to figure out what I am feeling when my Dad gets up to use the bathroom.

I am not sure what is going on at first but I see my father run down the street. I move to the front of the yard and see Pete running back and forth across the street at the same moment the giant concrete truck is barreling around the curve. I watch as my Dad makes a swoop in front of the truck, lifting the cat off his feet and spinning back to the safety of the curb. He is holding the cat by the scruff of his neck and I can tell that the thought of tossing him in front of the truck might just cross his mind. "Put this goddamn cat in the house. The concrete is here". 

An argument ensues because my father feels the concrete is too wet and the guy delivering the concrete is intent on pouring it faster than Dad and I can work it. This is the first time I ever worked with concrete not made in small portions by hand. This is a huge pour and we have to work quickly to get the steps done correctly. I am following his direction carefully as I sense we don't get a do over on this. After the truck leaves, we do the finish work, smoothing out the concrete.

Later that evening when my husband is home and my Mom stops by to see the job, my father tells them about the helper he had and what a great job they did and the thing is, he isn't just laying it on. He is really proud of me. I tell everyone how my father rescued the cat from certain death.

It is 29 years since that 40th Anniversary. Time has gotten so far away from me that I don't try to hold it still anymore. It is as fluid and fleeting as a summer storm. The war stories are nearly all gone too with the men and women who told them. The world spins and times change and nothing lasts forever. Except love and concrete.


Friday, April 19, 2013

No Answers

As usual, I feel bad for the “bad guys”. You know you are getting old when you have trouble hating people. Now, don't beat me up for this, I mean, I saw what they did. The images are permanently embedded in my memory. Embedded in the soul of our country.

I also remember what it was like to be young, to be passionate for an idea, even a bad one. Fortunately for most of us that passion centers around benign activities. But what if it did not? What if circumstances unfolded in a away that instead of an older sister with a fervor for antiques, she had a zeal for politics? Would I have spent countless Saturdays traveling around the countryside looking for other "freedom fighters" or spent evenings reading about the chemicals needed to make bombs instead of those used to properly clean old furniture? What if the ties that bind us had been born of violence and hatred?

And the images return. Eight year old Martin Richard, just moments before his death, his sister standing next to him. The family intact. The years of sibling love cut short in a second. Strong, vibrant young people missing limbs. Those same limbs strewn around the sidewalk like discarded trash. Others with head injuries that may never heal. Lives disrupted permanently.

We seek justice, but there is no way to make it right. The lives of the bombers, created in the same image of God as the rest of us (if you believe such things) are destroyed as completely as their victims, although, you might argue (and rightly so) they chose that ending. There is nothing the courts can do to make them pay the debt they owe. A judge can't raise from the dead the young women with the freckled face and pretty blue eyes. A jury can't award legs where none exist. Human beings cannot make this right.

So, as his brother went before him, I can't help wishing that the fate of the younger bomber be left to God also.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

You Know You are Catholic and from Darby ...

I found an old e-mail that I shared with family and friends, dated April 25, 2003. That was long before I kept a blog and when people still got excited to get jokes by email. I remember writing this in response to those "How to Tell You are Italian, Irish, a Philadelphian etc." emails that were going sround.

Until 1970 (when tuition was instituted) all Catholics from Darby went to BVM. Everyone that didn't go to BVM was "a public". So, if your neighbor went to Ridge Avenue or Walnut Street Elementary she wasn't Jewish, Presbyterian or Baptist. She was a "public", that other religion.

You were either an "uphill" or "downhill". Downhill kids had better after school munchies. We supported at least four different stores in penny candy sales. Bauer's, Bushmeier's, Pop's and Ray's Stand did a brisk business. At Ray's you got to feed the ducks in Darby Creek. (Pronounced Crick by a true Darbarian)

Your Easter Eggs came from Steven's Candies, the coconut cream ones had a yellow "egg" center. Those little clear candies that Father Gallagher gave out just before Christmas break came from Steven's too.

There was nothing extraordinary about 1,000 kids, in the middle of May, walking down MacDade Blvd., down Main Street and around the school parking lot singing, "Salve Regina" and laying flowers at the feet of a pretty eighth grade girl dressed like the Virgin Mary.

Ambitious boys delivered "The Bulletin" after school. They picked up the papers at "The Branch" near Martin's Market. They collected every Friday around dinner time. Nearly everybody read the Bulletin.

You bought 45's at Guy & Ed's and broke a balloon for a free banana split at the lunch counter at the 5&10. You bought at least one gift for your Mom at Wellworth's and your girlfriend at Tucker's.

Your Mom had lots of bags from "John's Bargain Store" and your first Converse "Chuck Taylor" high tops came from Bennett's. Your gym shorts were from the Big Store and had Darby misspelled "DRABY" across the gonads.

Christmas came from BabyTown. Santa came from a helicopter that dumped ping pong balls all over Main Street-get a ball, claim a prize. Your Easter shoes came from The Darby Shoe Store where, when you were real little, you'd ride the hobby horse. I'll bet you can still describe the salesmen there.

Nuns kept arsenals under their habits. Noisy clickers, dangerous pointers and yardsticks that were broken at least weekly over someone's back.

Everyone was born at Fitzgerald Mercy, laid out at Marvel's and buried at Holy Cross. You wouldn't consider missing 9 o'clock Sunday Mass even if your parents were sleeping off a rough Saturaday night. No one wanted to get hit by a bus on Lansdowne Avenue and die with mortal sin on their soul.

We all know that the Palmer Method had nothing to do with masturbation.

We all swore that the Saint Teresa statue cried real tears.

We sold candy at recess and lunch. Everyone wanted to sell Mallo-Cups so that they could take the "money" out before selling the candy.

Milk and soft pretzels were nutritionally sound.

BVM Carnival had swings, pizza and lots of gambling. Tickets were 5 cents each or 25 for a dollar when purchased in advance.

Moving to the "old school" was a rite of passage. Graduating eighth grade was a huge relief.

If we only knew how simple life was...

Pass this on to other Darbarians who may share the memories. It is nice to consider that no matter where we are or how we got there, we all started in the same place.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Main Street USA

I guess everyone loves a parade and yesterday I watched Downingtown Borough's Christmas Parade. A lot of people say they live in Downingtown but like me they have a D'town post office but live in Uwchlan Twp. Lionville, Upper Uwchlan Twp., etc.. The Borough of Downingtown is not very big actually and like my hometown, Darby Borough, it is an old mill town. Whenever I am in Downingtown Borough I see the similiarities to the Darby Borough of my youth. Many of the residents are members of the Firehouse, the Moose Club holds "Family Night Dinner" on Wednesdays and the VFW always has some activity or event going on. There is a diner, a jeweler, a bunch of hairdressers where the older women still get a wash and set. So, naturally, I thought of Darby while watching the Christmas Parade and for a few minutes I was in Darby, the band in Blue could have been DC Marching Band and the Clowns teasing the kids could have been anyone's Dad. Problem was, like in a weird dream of home, where nothing makes sense, I didn't recognize anyone. The "Good Neighbor Community" is not mine and it has been decades of years since a parade marched down Main Street in Darby. So what made two boroughs with a similar history and demographic diverge so sharply?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Deck the Halls...

I don't have a Christmas decorating plan but it invariably ends up happening the weekend after Thanksgiving since I've had a few days off and the usual laundry, vacuum, clean the toilets, that occurs every Saturday was already done on Wednesday. So, the boxes come up from the basement, their peculiar but familiar scent heralding the season as effectively as the angel Gabriel. There are delicate angels and vintage snowmen and garland and mistletoe and odd pieces of things that need to be glued or discarded but end up back in the box unused and unrepaired. There is a box of Christmas books from when the kids were little, our bedtime reading for many years of Decembers. I know it is time for them to go but the feelings they evoke are stronger even than the ones I feel when unwrapping the old tin cans that my grandmother used to store her pizzelles. I am not sure what to do with the books since I don't intend to give them away and it seems silly to leave them out. We are a family with grown children but not so grown to have babies of their own. There is no one excited to read Santa's Workshop in our home.

I rummage through the pile and find Ali's favorite, The Christmas Kitten and remember the first Christmas after my parents came to live with us. Mom helped us to decorate but midway through she forgot what we were doing and nervously asked to go home. When she asked for her mother, who had been dead for more than ten years, I wasn't sure what to say. She cried. I coaxed her into sitting down on the couch and sat real close next to her so she wouldn't be so scared. Ali was just 14 then but she read the situation and joined me on the other side of Mom. We held her hand, tried to comfort her. Just like today, I had discarded the pile of children's books while decorating and was half sitting on them. I picked up The Christmas Kitten and started reading.
On the night of the first big snow, in an old plaid shirt, in the corncrib of the big red barn, old Ginger gave birth to a small litter
Mom stops crying and points to the illustration of the kittens nursing and smiles at Ali. I keep reading. I read slowly and make a point to show Mom the pictures. She holds Ali's hand tightly. We finish reading just as the last light of the short day leaves the room.

There are decorations with more glitter and ones with more value but there are none so meaningful as this tattered, old book. I sit it on the piano and greet another season of wonder.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Last Times

I make promises that I cannot keep. You wouldn't suspect. I am so reliable to my family and friends. But I do it nonetheless. I promise that I will quit smoking when I know it is a promise that I am not willing to keep. Maybe I should just promise to think about quitting. I do that all the time anyway.

I promise to listen better but I am incapable and often have to ask either Ali or Mark Anthony to repeat the story. This is not fair. A story is not half as good the second time around. They tell me many stories. Maybe I should ask them to tell me only one story a day. Maybe then I could listen better. I wonder what story they would choose. I promise Danielle and Caesar and I used to promise Mark, when he was still alive, that I would write a book. Danielle and Caesar still ask every few months about "my book". I tell them it is fine. I write a little here and there. Sometimes I am impatient and ask them how I am supposed to write a book when no one has clean underwear and my commute to work takes several hours? Where is there room to write? They just nod their heads. Tell me they will wait. They look forward to reading "my book". I looked forward to writing it for a long time but then it seems like such an egotistical thing. Self centered and self absorbed. As though my story is any better than your story. The poor listener asking others to pay attention.

Until today, in the bathroom. I will skip the bathroom details. I hate when people include bathroom details in their stories. I know and you know what goes on there. It is mundane and basically just physical housekeeping. I do like bathrooms though, especially clean bathrooms with whimsical decorations. That I will talk about. I will remember a really nice bathroom. Today in the bathroom I thought about the Tarzan swing down by Darby Creek. I thought about how I'd play there in spring because by summer the weeds and poison ivy outgrew the banks of the creek. It was several years that we played on the swing. Somewhere before age thirteen. How I'd climb onto the swing and poise myself on the ledge of the hill. Then I'd jump onto the rope and fly over the creek, many feet above it. I am bothered because I can't remember the exact last time I did that. I played on the Tarzan swing every spring for many years and one of those times was the last time. But which time? If I had known it would be the last time would I have swung higher? Would I have let go and fall into the cold water? Would I have felt sad that this part of my life was ending? After this I start to think about other things. I am thinking about the exact last time I built a fort in the woods. Or played capture late into a summer evening. I didn't know it would be my exact last time. I assumed I would do it again. These thoughts are enough to make me consider writing the book again. This is something I can share with a reader that doesn't seem egotistical. Maybe, I think, others think of their exact last times too and maybe we are all the same in some way. A way that makes "my book" less about me and more about what is universal. Me and my characters are just examples really of all the other people in the world who are wondering at this exact minute of their exact last times.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dottie, Dottie, Dottie

“I’m strict,” Dottie Sandusky told the court with a proud tilt of her chin. “I like for things to go in a certain way."

Don't we all? Life has a way of teaching us, usually sooner rather than later, that we have very little control over the biggest things in our lives. For me that lesson was learned after the birth of my first child. I imagined how our days would unfold, my husband, baby and me. I mentally created the idyllic holidays around the fire, the prize winning Halloween costumes and I looked forward to an idealized version of the modern family. Until day two. Two days home from the hospital, late into a Saturday evening, well, Sunday morning, after rocking and nursing and singing to a screaming baby for over an hour or so there was silence. Finally asleep. I glanced down in the darkened room at the little stranger and was astounded to find her not asleep, but wide eyed, staring deeply into my own eyes. This was not the baby of my imagination but a living, breathing, beautiful human being with desires and ideas of her own. That desire was to stay awake, that lesson was enormous.

The life I lived was never quite the same as the one I envisioned. Holidays were not idyllic, but loud and boisterous (there was a fire in the hearth) and Halloween each year started with great intentions, subjected to the revisions of a 9 year old that turned the jolly clown costume into the clown from Poltergeist. I grew and changed as I learned that those things I wanted were not always the same as the things my kids needed.

Our home was not haphazard, there were family meals every day and bedtime stories every night but there wasn't always clean underwear or matching socks. I allowed my kids to take a couple not really sick, sick days every school year because sometimes on a cold winter day it is a lot nicer to make pizzelles with your Mom, or watch a movie with Grandmom. I don't think it affected their educational or intellectual ability too much.

Despite my not so strict standards, I paid attention. I noticed when one of my kids was unusually quiet, I banged on bedroom doors when something seemed weird (it was weird, someone had snuck a frog into bed with them). I knew when a beer was missing or someone came in smelling like cigarette smoke. I watched guests and relatives with the ferocity of a Mama Bear. I trusted my children's well being to no one. I questioned my sanity when I made a blanket rule that we don't do sleepovers (best rule ever btw). I did this because I knew that although I might "like for things to go in a certain way" that doesn't always happen. My job was to be sure that the wrong things were things that didn't matter too much.

As a mother, I am disappointed and angry with Dottie Sandusky, a woman who prided herself on running a tight ship while ignoring the fact that the boat was sinking beneath her feet. Did she know? It will be the next big question and one that only Dottie can (and did) answer. If she really did not have an inkling to her husband's behavior, as she testified in court, where was Dottie looking? What filled Dottie's life so fully that she didn't even once think that something was awry in her home?

Dottie Sandusky has something to teach all of us, maybe someday we'll know what that lesson is.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Oh, Girls of Prendergast High

By mid-afternoon on this, unusually warm for January Friday, workers from Radnor to Mayfair, in cubicles and behind Wawa counters were discussing the news from the Diocese of Philadelphia. The announcement culminated a week of speculation about the fate of our Catholic schools. Nowhere was the news more painful than on the “hill of Drexel” for there sits what was once described as “one of the finest buildings in the diocese”, Archbishop Prendergast High School for Girls and the more modern structure, Monsignor Bonner High School for Boys. After nearly 60 years of educating the young men and women of Delaware County, the schools will close in June. These bare facts, reported throughout the region this evening, seem flimsy and irrelevant to what the schools mean to the students there now as well as those of us long ago graduated. Talk of budgets, restructuring and dwindling enrollment belie the true impact the schools closing will have on its current students as well as the communities and parishes that support the high schools.

My first memory of “Prendie” is hazy but in it the school is a magical place. It is around Christmastime in 1964 and my sisters and I are on the bus coming from 69th Street to Darby. It is dusk and dark comes fast that time of year. As the bus lumbers down Marshall Road, my sister tells me to look across the field to the light at the top of the hill. I see the shadow of a magnificent building and the light of the bell tower. “That is my school”, she tells me, and “someday you will go there too”. I am 4 years old and for the next ten years, every time the bus turns the curve onto Marshall Road, I look across the field to the top of the hill and think “someday that will be my school”.

By the time I was in 5th grade, my second sister was a Prendie Senior and I had a close-up view of life at Prendie. Roseann was in the Glee Club and I attended her concerts and plays, always waiting in the wings with flowers of congratulations. Her love for Prendie was unwavering, giving her the family nickname of “rah rah”. As much as we teased her, those brief moments at Prendie made me consider that there was something special happening there.

In 1974, finally part of the Prendie family, I slowly came to realize that this beautiful building held within its walls an energy and vibrancy that created strong and resourceful women from little girls. Archbishop Prendergast held the highest standards of academics and even I learned to conjugate a Latin verb and still know the difference between a first and second declension noun. More importantly, Prendie was a place to explore and understand the meaning and significance of female friendships. We were encouraged to know and understand one another, to find the things we had in common rather than focus on our differences.

For Freshman, that common thread was Prendie itself. We were the “Girls of Prendergast High” and learning the fight song and alma mater were rites of passage as were “Big Sisters” and “Freshman Day”. We came from many parishes but by the end of that year, we were the “Class of ‘78”. The joys and tragedies of our high school years were shared with the friends we made and there always seemed to be more friends to meet. During gym you’d learn that your square dancing partner had the same affection for poodles that you held or at lunch the stranger next to you blossomed into your best confidant. By Senior year, the milestones you looked forward to such as Ring Day and Music on the Stairs were bittersweet with the knowledge that they would be your last.

Today’s announcement was the death knell to the Prendergast community and with it go the long traditions passed to my sisters and then to me and then to others behind me and upheld today by its current student body. Along with all of us who attended or are currently attending Prendergast, there is the loss to all those who may have attended Prendie in the future. All those little girls looking at the bell tower and thinking “some day that will be my school”.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Enduring Relationships or Relationships that are Endured

Navigating through internet waters for some background on the influences and factors in the establishment of long term, successful relationships and challenged by the volume of pop psychology articles found, I turned to Google Scholar.

Remarkably, it was as though I had entered an entirely different search. Articles questioned the value of relationships on brand success and recommended best practices for managing customer relationships. Long term relationship success appears to be easier to maintain for corporations than for individuals. Dig a little deeper and it is apparent that the same key opens many doors when building successful long term relationships, either personal or professional.

Those individuals who share common life experiences, common political and religious beliefs and who work toward a shared goal tend to be most successful over the long term. When expressed in a marital union, shared goals and interests that respect the individual’s talents and differences seem to provide an important basic framework for success. These factors though do not guarantee enduring intimate relationships. That guarantee is found instead by couples whose individual character is enhanced as a result of their being in the relationship.

The old saying “behind every great man is a great woman” should be reworded and embraced for modern society. Perhaps, “behind every great person is a great partner” would be more succinct. To achieve an enduring relationship, rather than a relationship one endures, requires that couples willingly share their talents and energies with one another. In American society this is often considered in a negative light since we value individualism and expect to be free to pursue our personal goals. It is a conundrum, of sorts, to yearn for the satisfying intimacy of a relationship while embracing the ideals of individualism.

The desirability of marriage is reflected in surveys suggesting that 90% of Americans will choose to marry at some point in their lives (Brubaker & Kimberly, 1993). A good marriage provides individuals with a sense of meaning and identity in their lives. A variety of studies have demonstrated that people are generally happier and healthier when they are married (Gottman, 1994; Kelly & Conley, 1987; Orbuch & Custer, 1995; White, 1994. Research and experience indicate that it is far easier to achieve when both persons begin in a common place. Having similar backgrounds and beliefs relieves the couple from having to build consensus in those areas, allowing them to focus their energy on improving and sustaining one another’s life goals.

Common background does not negate the importance of an individual’s disposition on a relationship. Some people are simply better at maintaining relationships because of positive personality characteristics. It is in this arena where it may improve a relationship when partners are somewhat different. If a person is fearful or antagonistic, those qualities could be exacerbated if the other person answered in kind. A partner who is optimistic and cooperative may have a positive influence by dampening his/her partner’s negative outlook. This is what I consider “good fit” in a relationship; the ability for partners to nurture and grow one another’s best assets. Individual growth and maturation is encouraged and supported by the union.

Romantic relationships are born and die frequently and romantic love can be a wonderful experience. Love alone, without real trust, loyalty and compatibility cannot sustain a relationship beyond a few years. The potential of any relationship to become an enduring one depends on the fundamental beliefs, personality and commitment of the partners. When individual life experiences, cultural backgrounds and dispositions are in sync, they are more likely to be able to sustain a healthy relationship across the lifetime. Life is full of changes and can be significantly more satisfying when experienced by partners who are supportive of one another, as individuals and also as a couple. People in enduring relationships recognize the importance of their relationship to both partner’s development and well being.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunny Saturday

That year Easter was late but spring was cold and rainy. Finally, a sunny Saturday and the season burst forth with all its color. The dogwood out front and the azaleas on the side of the house celebrated as we set forth on our mundane household tasks. Working hard you hung shelves in the new shed. Measure cut. No, measure, measure again, cut. I climbed up and down the pull down stairs carrying things to the attic. Storing away the winter cold. By afternoon the temperature soared and the first sunny Saturday held the promise of spring that the others had denied.
After a long bike ride, Ali and Cate sat at the kitchen table coloring bold pink flowers with kool aid green leaves. Walking through the kitchen, you smiled at their brilliance and critically considered them for the walls of your new shed. “I want to catch the Flyers score”, you said. Always the optimist. Seconds later they followed you, willing fans of orange and black, a color combo that even after a lifetime in Philadelphia, I could not embrace.
When they ran back into the kitchen, Cate nervously giggling and Ali, wide-eyed and serious, I expected an overturned iced tea. When they called me to the den, I expected a broken lamp. I expected a bumble bee or a scary beetle. I did not expect you, on your favorite chair, head back like you might be asleep but not really. Even then, I expected you to jump up, shout “boo” and scare the girls’ silly. But I moved without expectation, trained, professional, a trained professional. Place the patient on a flat surface. I moved you off the chair onto the floor. Open the patient’s airway, instruct the bystanders to call a cardiac emergency (the bystanders are your daughter and her best friend. They are 10 years old). Begin chest compressions. Continue until help arrives.
Help arrives. But not right away. I am working hard. I am talking to you between counting and praying. I need your help here. Hang in. When help arrives, the first responder (an old school police officer) does not have an AED and he doesn’t know CPR. I work harder. I hear someone say “step back” and I realize that help did arrive and the kinetic energy I held is now pure fear. They work really hard. The guy who takes my place is as big as you and I know his compressions will be more effective than my own. I am hopeful. Until I walk outside next to the stretcher where you lay and where they continue to work on you. Outside, half the neighborhood and twenty or so volunteer EMTs line our yard in a single row. I notice a woman; she is about my age, dressed in heavy emergency gear, with her head down, holding her helmet. She is crying. Sobbing really. And I am not so hopeful now. They stop traffic from Franklin Avenue to Route 320 so that the ambulance can zip through and I can’t help thinking how irritated all the Saturday shoppers must be, waiting in traffic on Baltimore Pike.
In the emergency room, I wait outside the door but I listen carefully. I am alone. I listen and I know the routine exactly. I have been there for others, not my own, ready to drop a heavy cassette behind the patient’s back, get an underexposed view of the chest. Give the doctors something to look at. I am pleased that they continue and wonder if they know you. Know that you are not a quitter. But it is not going well. I can’t deny this. If you weren’t my own, I’d have slipped out of the room around now. My services not needed. Today on the other side of the door, I hear someone say “Are we ready to call this”. And I know. I hear him again, “Time is 5:21PM”.
So what did you do then? My sister asks me later. I smoked a cigarette, I answer. There is nothing else to say. Someday maybe. But that day still has not come.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Growing Conditions

Your plants made the small house smaller. And they dropped leaves and needed water or had too much water and sometimes they’d drip water all over the console stereo that Dee bought at Gimbel's with her first paycheck. Dad took the stereo part out years ago and turned it into a cabinet where you kept Golden Books and extra napkins and plants on top. And others hanging above. The ones that dripped.
When I’d visit you’d want to show me something new. A bud. A brown leaf that confounded you. A macramé hanger that Roseann made. I lived in the small house with the plants long enough to know their vagaries, I even knew individuals and remember their arrival. Mother-in-Law’s tongue from your father’s funeral and Boston Fern from the Philadelphia Flower Show. Wandering Jews that escaped and set roots in the Weeping Fig and an amaryllis that Grandmom found in an alley in the 1930’s. Mistaken for an onion set she was deeply disappointed by flowers at Christmas instead of food.
The disappearance of philodendron was a good sign. Big Mark could finally fit on the end chair at the dining room table. Then silence and the missing bromeliad. The stereo console turned into cabinet top was clear and the few hanging plants struggled with something. You weren’t sure what it was. No ideas. No talk of spider mites or mealy bugs or root bound problems. The dining room surprises me in March, awash in a new light after all the hanging plants are gone. Indifferently, I ask why because I kind of like the emptiness. Your answer doesn’t bring me any closer to knowing but I am trying to find a missing Golden Book and little Mark is rummaging through a cereal box to find the surprise inside. Distracted, we are satisfied.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Now, I count, add, the years. At least eight. But more like ten. Unless you count when you recommended I visit the Empire State Building during the Washington trip.
Should I count that? Will they count when I said Labor Day instead of Memorial Day?
A lot of people do that. I think. No. Definitely at least eleven. I remember Aricept at the millennium. At least eleven but if we count the nun who talked to you through the television. That would be more. Or less. I can’t remember. Really. It is a long time, either way. To be caught between the here and there. So, they tell me I should be relieved. Definitely eight. We went to a party and you had to relieve yourself and you couldn’t tell me. I figured it out then in the car on the way home. And made them stop at the mini-mart where the key was attached to a giant wooden paddle and you wore pantyhose and underpants and it took too long to take them off. You cried in the backseat afterward and I brought home the giant key holder. Accidentally.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Life Lessons

As a little girl I would play with the kids in the neighborhood and I recall having a fight with one of the girls. I went home angry and crying, my mother washed my face and soothed my ego. I asked her to talk to the other girl. Gently my mother lifted me from the couch onto the floor and said “Lorraine, if you want to play outside you will need to learn to fight your own battles” . My mother taught me how to be brave.

When I was a young teen, I was not so industrious. I was in fact, spoiled and a little lazy. After working all week my Mom would clean the house on Saturday and feeling a little guilty, I would offer to help. I wasn’t a great worker and I recall asking my mother how she could stand doing all this housework. She advised me to “offer it up to God”. I didn’t fully understand this but instead of complaining I would begin each task with a loud reminder that I was “washing the dishes for God” or “cleaning my room for the souls in purgatory”. But the work did become easier. I finished projects, I started new ones without being asked. My mother’s entreaty helped me to learn that there is joy in doing things for others. My mother taught me generosity.

As a young adult I was quick to judge the behavior of others. I could be harsh and unforgiving at what I perceived as foolishness and disrespectful toward beliefs that I did not share. During lunch one day, as I complained about a friends behavior my mother said, in a quiet and peaceful voice “Lorraine, don’t judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes”. For weeks afterward, I would hold my tongue instead of voicing my opinion. I would try to walk in the others shoes. Soon, I realized that I wasn’t qualified to judge anyone except myself. My mother taught me tolerance.

These last few years, I’d sit with my mother at the nursing home. She greeted me, until the very end, with a smile. She’d stroke my hands, touch my face. Whisper words that often I could not understand. Invariably, my thoughts would lead me to wonder about the lesson I needed to learn from her illness. I always left empty-handed. There was nothing to learn. One rainy Saturday morning I visited early and helped her to have breakfast. There was music playing, so I started being silly, dancing around the room singing. She was smiling at me and shaking her head, much as she would have done when she was well. In an instant I realized that my mother was able to attain what most of us will never be able to do. Without a memory of what was past, or a worry of what would be, Mom’s awareness was wholly in the present. My mother taught me how to live in the moment.

Monday, March 07, 2011


A compass rose, is a figure on a map, or a nautical chart used to display orientation -north, south, east, and west. The compass rose is an element that provides direction. Mommy was our compass rose. Her direction helped us navigate through the rough seas of adolescence and traverse the rocky paths of adulthood. Her gentle demeanor and strength of character inspired us to action. Her generosity helped us to prosper. Her humility led us to wisdom. Like the compass rose, she pointed us in the right direction but allowed us to get there on our own. Mom’s passing, however sad and painful for us, is for her, a blessed rest after a long and beautiful life.. And when our time on earth is through our compass rose will be there to lead the way to the Lord.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

My Heart...Now Grown

Watching from a second floor window as you walk to the school bus, I am ashamed at my impatience with you. If you were not so easily distracted you would not have noticed the bluebirds flying in the trees between the houses, whose yards you shortcut through. I pray that Mrs. Kennedy is still sleeping on this Tuesday after a holiday weekend. Hope that she won't notice you again walking on her finely manicured lawn. Especially now, since you have slowed down to watch the Bluebirds dance in her Bradford Pear tree. The dew clings to the grass beneath your feet and I am sure your ankles must be wet and I consider how uncomfortable I'd feel walking in damp shoes all day. I remind myself that none of this, Mrs. Kennedy, wet shoes or imminent bus, weigh even slightly upon your head. The way the sun is coming up behind the houses makes you look almost golden. Your red baseball cap climbing the hill now as you turn to watch the birds fly into the woods behind our house. Big, yellow school bus appears as you reach the top. Like you knew all along that there was plenty of time for watching bluebirds.

Later that same morning when Aunt Dee Dee calls and we run a two hour long conversation on life, death and the dubious significance of it all, I try to explain why it isn't the sad and horrible things that depress me. How sometimes, it is the simplest, most beautiful things that make me sad. She tells me how our mother, the new one we have now since Dementia abducted our original Mom, how she tried to pay our Dad when he hollered at her for using too many hearing aide batteries. How she unfolded, in her bony, translucent hands, several twenty dollar bills from her wallet. Danielle tells me how she remembers those same hands stroking my black, curly hair on the day she brought me home from the hospital. How she reached out to show me off to my siblings who were already half grown.

I tell her about the baseball cap in the sun.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Proud to be an (Italian) American

I don't like to fly. Tossed in that giant bag with water, extra reading material and a clean pair of socks is my old rosary beads. I'll be frank. I don't like to fly and I am superstitious about flying as well. So, I bring the beads and I hold them during take off and landing. I am willing to wing it during the flight simply because I've fallen asleep on my rosary beads in the past and woke up with the imprint of the miraculous mother across my cheek. How much do you want to bet that someone on the US Airways flight that went down on the Hudson was holding rosary beads? Following six months of bad news, the survival of 155 passengers after an emergency landing on the Hudson River has a way of making Americans feel like maybe our luck is changing. We feel proud that the "system worked", feel secure in knowing that trained professionals were, well, professional. No Katrina-like "It wasn't really our responsibility" or Federal-Reserve like "the stimulus plan should have improved the economy". Yes, I am proud to be an American. After crashing into the Hudson, the passengers emptied onto the wings of the plane and in minutes, ferry boats arrived to assist in the rescue.

Ferryboats on the Hudson River haul people back and forth from Staten Island, New Jersey and between boroughs. It is the busiest ferry route in the world. Fortunately, New York ferry boat captains are willing to pick up passengers from the wing of a plane in the middle of a river, in arctic cold and during rush hour without feeling the need to consult with anyone in the chain of command. Vincent Lombardi was captain of the first ferry boat to arrive, Brittany Catanzaro, age 20, was captain of the second boat to the rescue and the third boat was led by Captain Vince Lucante. The alarm was sounded by New York Waterways Safety Director, Robert Matticola and additional boats as well as the Coast Guard joined the ferry boats. All 155 passengers were rescued within minutes by the kind of folks we don't take much notice of on a regular day. Regular Americans. Italian Americans.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'll Always be Younger Than My Friends & Sisters

Of all the intelligent and thought provoking things I've written on this humble blog of mine, I am surprised at the reaction to my "Birthday" post. Delighted and surprised. Always I want to be that thing that irritates you enough to stop and try to figure out what the hell it is that is making you so uncomfortable. If that thing is me, well then, I have done my job.

Like the tag that scratches your neck all day long, the sock that slips off your heel and into your shoe, the tiny fleck of popcorn stuck in your left molar. That is me. I am more than delighted. I am ecstatic. If I knew that it would be this easy, I would have quit dying my hair long ago. Or never have started.

To clarify a few fine points. We are born. We live one year and than we say we are one. But we are starting our second year. So, I am 48 this month, but really I am starting my 49th year. Math always fails me, but the truth never does. That, my dear friends is the truth. We are in our 49th year. Well, you are anyway. I have a few days to go.