The Definition of “Tough”

My friend, Nina Augello, shared with me something she wrote while at Elmhurst General Hospital with her father last month. I’m pleased to be able to share it with you.

What does it mean to be tough? Archetypes like the 6 foot 4 inch cowboy battling the elements in a lawless landscape come quickly to mind, but they’re probably a bit simplistic. I am sitting besides my 90 yr. old father in his hospital bed where he has been wrestled into submission by 4 injections of sleep medication and a powerful tranquilizer. He doesn’t want to be here and he is periodically still yelling orders in his sleep. Yesterday when it finally hit him that he was in a hospital, he looked me in the eye and in the most lucid tone told me that I had no brains for bringing him to a place like this.

In many ways he was right on point because the ER was a noisy beeping madhouse of the screaming unwashed with no Mother Theresa in sight and I was supposed to be the smart one—so there was no greater insult he could hurl that would hit me where I live. He has always been a take no prisoners tough cookie.

To say that my father is strong willed is a laughable understatement. Even as his dementia has progressed he has maintained a strict schedule of grooming and exercising and hasn’t relented in his demand for home-cooked meals prepared to his specifications. I am strong-willed too and as the first born and the “son” he never had my childhood is littered with many a clenched jaw confrontation that I am surprised to say didn’t cause us to pulverize our back molars—apparently our teeth are strong-willed too.

Notwithstanding the breathing problems that sent him to the ER, he is at once whistling in his sleep and then asking for coffee in Italian. Last night (his first day in the ER} he asked me if I had prepared dinner and do we have enough to feed all these people–a perfect coda to my running joke that when I was growing up, my family cooked enough food to feed Nebraska if it dropped by unexpectedly.

The electrical system of my father’s heart is winding down and there is a circling the drain effect on his lungs and kidneys. Being old is not for sissies but being “old” old is a whole other deal that no amount of jaw clenching is going to ameliorate. At some point soon I will be faced with difficult choices and will have to decide in proxy when it’s time for him to stop fighting the good fight.

In the coming days I’ll get to see just how tough I really am.

In Memory of Angelo Augello

1926-2016

Angelo Augello passed away Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2016

 

Book Review: Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

The main character of John Irving’s novel, Avenue of Mysteries, is a writer named Juan Diego Guerrero. Irving says this about his protaganist’s writing:

“In a Juan Diego Guerrero novel everyone is a kind of outsider; Juan Diego’s characters feel they are foreigners, even when they’re home.”

avenue-of-mysteriesThe same can be said about John Irving’s novels in general, but this is especially the case in Avenue of Mysteries. Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, Juan Diego and his sister, Lupe, are los ninos de la basura or dump kids. Their mother was a prostitute and they were raised by el jefe, the dump boss, who had a relationship with her at one time. Whether or not el jefe was Juan’s biological father is one of the book’s many mysteries.

What is extraordinary about Juan Diego is that he has taught himself to read, scavenging books that have been tossed in the garbage. Even more remarkable, he has taught himself to read both Spanish and English. Lupe, on the other hand, speaks her own language that only Juan Diego can understand. He is her translator. Some people think she’s retarded, but  she often surprises them because she can read their minds and sometimes she can even foresee the future.

We learn the story of Juan Diego’s life in Mexico and later in Iowa, mostly through his dreams and memories. After the luggage carrying his medication is delayed on the first leg of his flight to the Phillipines, Juan Diego’s “thoughts, his memories—what he imagined, what he dreamed were jumbled up.” And thus begins a masterfully crafted story that moves seamlessly from the present to the past and back again.

On the back jacket of Avenue of Mysteries is a blurb lifted from a TIME magazine review. It says:

“…unlike so many writers in the contemporary canon, he [John Irving] manages to write books that are both critically acclaimed and beloved for their sheer readability.”

I have to tell you I laughed out loud when I read that. So, was the reviewer acknowledging that critics like books that are unreadable? I have read my share of critically acclaimed, prize winning novels that experiment with time…no boring, formulaic beginning, middle and end for them. Quite frankly, they make my head hurt. Half the time I’m not sure who’s speaking or what century we’re in. I do believe those writers should read and study Avenue of Mysteries. This is how you do it so that your reader is with you every minute, enjoying the journey, spending time reflecting on the ideas you’re writing about, not struggling to figure out who’s who and what time period we’re in..

"The books which help you most are the books that make you think the most." Theodore Parker, American Transcendentalist and reforming minister of the Unitarian church.

“The books which help you most are the books that make you think the most.” Theodore Parker, American Transcendentalist and reforming minister of the Unitarian church.

There is so much more to say about this book. Irving expounds on various topics —writing, life’s mysteries, Shakespeare and the Catholic Church (anyone who went to Catholic school will most certainly recognize Sister Gloria) to name just a few. There’s also one wonderful episode in which Juan Diego views a book store bulletin board in Lithuania and mistakenly thinks he’s stumbled on a dating service that matches people based on the novels they read. He thinks it’s a wonderful idea. My question is why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

I look forward to writing future blogs inspired by Mr. Irving’s reflections. I’d love to  share some of his thoughts on writing and I especially can’t wait to write my answer to the question “Who wrote Shakespeare?”

Just a word of caution. In previous blogs, I have expressed my love of cozy mysteries and happy endings. The word cozy is not one that could be applied to John Irving’s work, and satisfying might more aptly describe his endings than happy. If you’ve never read John Irving before, you might prefer to start with his all-time, best-selling novel , A Prayer for Owen Meany. However, if you are looking for a masterful piece of writing that gives you much to think about, Avenue of Mysteries is the book for you.

Book Review: Dear Killer

I was an English major in college and have a Masters Degree with a concentration in Shakespearean studies, but I must confess there are times I like nothing better than to crawl into a cozy mystery or a romantic suspense story. Especially when the world seems gray and gloomy, whether literally or figuratively, I know no better escape than reading about a plucky heroine who says and does all the things I can’t, a shero who conquers the bad guys and finds true love with some hunky hero. Formulaic and unrealistic? Perhaps. But sometimes that’s just what you need.

dear-kill-cover-finalTo my delight this week I discovered a new, audacious female protagonist, Marley Clark, when I started reading Dear Killer by Linda Lovely (http://www.lindalovely.com/). Marley is a 52-year old widow and a retired military intelligence officer, working as a security guard for the fictitious Dear Island community where she lives on the coast of South Carolina. When she discovers the body of a local real estate appraiser drowned in a Jacuzzi, she becomes involved in a murder investigation that upends her lazy “Mayberry by the sea” and puts her in mortal danger.

Linda Lovely is masterful at writing page-turning suspense scenes. I stayed up past midnight last night because I just couldn’t stop reading…that from a person who rarely makes it up past ten o’clock. Lovely’s writing style is a pleasure to read and Marley’s voice throughout is full of wry wit and raw, honest female emotion. She’s absolutely someone I’d enjoy having a few beers with.

What about the romance, you’re probably wondering. Well, Lovely does not disappoint in that aspect. The deputy sent to investigate the murders is Braden Mann. That’s right, Braden Mann…what a name! What a guy! He’s twelve years younger than Marley, but he doesn’t even seem to notice. Their spicy love scenes will warm you up on a cold night.

And here’s the best of all…Dear Killer is just the first in the Marley Clark Series. I’m often regretful at the end of a book when I must say good-bye to characters I’ve come to enjoy spending time with.  How I love learning these characters live on in a series!

My next book club title is John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries. It’s been awhile since I read a John Irving book and I really am looking forward to it. Then there’s Bruce Springsteen’s young face beckoning me from the cover of Born to Run, which I just haven’t had time to start reading. Marley Clark will have to wait a bit…but winter’s on its way, and I have curling up in front of the fire on a dark and stormy night with No Wake Zone, book 2 of the series, to look forward to.

If you like romantic suspense, you’ll love Dear Killer.

Didn’t See It Coming

November begins in just a few days and I was beginning to despair that I could come up with a blog topic for October. Oh, lots of ideas have come and gone, but I just couldn’t seem to settle on something I really wanted to write about. Actually, I confess, I haven’t been able to write at all this month. My moribund search for an agent along with a rejection from a publisher sort of took the wind out of my sails. I spent much of this month wringing my hands, feeling like a fraud and a failure, wondering what in the world makes me think I can write. Knowing all writers experience moments of dejection and self-doubt was no consolation.

Instead of writing, I spent one day clearing junk off my laptop and discovered an article entitled Ten Steps to Becoming a Writer by Joe Bunting of The Write Practice (thewritepractice.com). That motivated me to at least start typing a journal entry every morning. Here’s how my first entry on Monday started:

From A.Word.A.Day (www.wordsmith.org)

 ORNERY
adjective: Having an unpleasant disposition: irritable, stubborn, combative, etc.
 Yes, today, I feel ornery. I want to indulge in being ornery. I don’t want to be Ms. Nice Guy. I want to rant and rave and rail against everyone from the unwashed masses that simply annoy me to anyone who makes demands on me. I don’t want to be the sane one, the smart one, the responsible one, the one who knows better.”

It went downhill from there.

Then on Tuesday night my sister and I went to Centre Stage to see Luna Gale, a powerful play in the theater’s fringe series. (If you live in the Greenville area, try to get to see it.) Before the performance, we stepped into the theater lounge and on the counter I noticed a stack of paperback books entitled Didn’t See it Coming. I picked one up and saw it was the work of The Writers Block Project.

I first learned about The Writers Block when Scott Lewis, the warden at Perry Correctional Institution spoke at our Sisters in Crime meeting earlier this year. Perry Correctional Institution is a maximum security prison here in South Carolina which has instituted a Character-Based Unit “composed of men who have indicated a desire to make changes in their lives, even if they will spend the rest of their lives there.”

The Writers Block Workshop is one of the classes the men can enroll in as part of the behavior contract they sign when they are accepted into the Character-Based Unit. I bought the book and read the section entitled “I Write Because…” I immediately knew what I had to blog about…what I had to share with you.

Below is a poem written by Arimatia Buggs in response to the writing prompt: “I write because”.

I write because I must

I write to release

To bring inner peace

To make sense of confusion

 To focus life’s kaleidoscopic illusion

To mend the souls of those broken kindred spirits

Who feel what I feel and see what I see

But never penned the words so it was left up to me

I write because I must

I write because of peace, love, joy and pain

Stress, hurt and strain

I write to appreciate

I write to innovate

I write to reveal

What I see, know and feel

To cry and to vent

To forgive and relent

To reminisce of time spent

I write because I must

I write to breathe

I write because I believe

You can achieve everlasting life when you write

Living forever on a page

Then reincarnated–through reading–through windows of

The soul to stand again upon life’s stage

I write because I realize I am who I am because of words.

Words that moved me, taught me, grew me

Made me into the man that I am

I write because I must.

Today I, Sally Handley, write because I have been inspired by Arimatia Buggs. Didn’t see it coming.

****************

To get a copy of Didn’t See it Coming (only $15), or to learn more about The Writers Block, visit www.thewritersblockproject.org.

Equinox

September 22 was the autumnal equinox. Here in South Carolina the weather has felt like summer throughout September, but that day there was just a touch of Fall in the air. I know many people welcome the cool, crisp days of Autumn, but for me, they come with wistful sadness that the carefree days of summer are over.

equinoxThough I’m sure I learned it in school, I realized I wasn’t absolutely certain of the definition of equinox, so I looked it up.  Wikipedia states: “An equinox is an astronomical event in which the plane of Earth’s Equator passes through the center of the sun which occurs twice each year, around 20 March and 23 September. On an equinox, day and night are of approximately equal duration over the earth’s equator.”

I wanted to know more, so I surfed around the internet and found an article entitled: All you need to know: September Equinox by Deborah Byrd in Astronomy Essentials/September 26, 2016. (What did we do before the internet?) One of Byrd’s observations that interested me most was that because early humans spent more time outside than we do, they used the sky as both a clock and a calendar. She writes:

“Our ancestors built the first observatories to track the sun’s progress. One example is at Machu Picchu in Peru, where the Intihuatana stone, … has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The word Intihuatana, by the way, literally means for tying the sun.”

The Intihuatana stone – also called the Hitching Post of the Sun – at Machu Picchu in Peru. It was used to track the sun throughout the year. Photo via Imagesofanthropology.com.

The Intihuatana stone – also called the Hitching Post of the Sun – at Machu Picchu in Peru. It was used to track the sun throughout the year. Photo via Imagesofanthropology.com.

I continued to surf my way through a few more articles that talked about equinox traditions. No surprise that autumnal equinox celebrations, for obvious reasons, are associated with harvest time and involve giving thanks for a successful harvest.

One article that made me pause stated, “It is a time to give thanks for the summer and to pay tribute to the coming darkness.” Hmmm. The idea of paying tribute to darkness stumped me. Then I wondered why, if we experience almost equal day and night, is this phenomenon named equal night and not equal day? (The word equinox drives from Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).

The day before the equinox I  finished reading Anna Quindlan’s Miller’s Valley. This wonderful book, the life story of Mimi Miller, recounts her life’s journey, from her earliest recollections of growing up on her family’s farm to a glance backward in an epilogue where she reveals her age as 65. In her lifetime Mimi experienced her share of both joy and sorrow

One of the most painful chapters for me involved helping her mother pack up their house to move. While I read that chapter I had a memory of a stack of books on the desk in my living room in New Jersey. That recollection was so vivid that I remembered one book in particular, how the curtain hung behind the desk and how the rhododendrons looked through the window. And in that moment of recollection I felt a profound nostalgic ache for the home of 25 years that I left behind and a part of my life that was over.

At the same time, I looked around my condo, grateful for this new home, so happy to be here for this new chapter of my life. How is it possible to feel an aching, longing for the past and complete pleasure in the present simultaneously? Equal day…equal night. Bittersweet. Perhaps I, like our solar system, can hope to achieve balance only once a year. The rest of the time I will give thanks every day for the light and try my best to honor the darkness.  Farewell, Summer. Welcome, Fall.yinyang

Dolce Far Niente

Livingston ManorSummer is coming to a close. Even here in South Carolina the weather has cooled just a tad. School actually started last week in the Palmetto state. This morning I awoke early and saw a school bus picking up students at 6:25 AM. That is so wrong!

I feel total sympathy for these youngsters, deprived of the last two lovely weeks of summer. I know summer technically ends in September, but growing up, Labor Day always signaled summer’s end and the days leading up to it were savored, held on your tongue like that last piece of penny candy fished out of a little brown paper bag.

I’m an adult and I know I should be writing, but even I, of iron self-discipline, had to force myself to start writing this blog. The only thing that made me open my laptop this morning was my horoscope in today’s paper that warned, “You are committing daily acts of self-sabotage.” Ominous words, indeed! I haven’t written anything in weeks.

Still, I can’t stop rolling around in my mind a fabulous Italian phrase I learned from my friend, Nina, this summer. “Dolce Far Niente”… the sweetness of doing nothing. Yes, that to me is what these last, languorous days of August are for. Not for weeding and pruning, but for sitting on the porch or patio, sipping a cool drink, watching the grass grow. Not for swimming laps, but for bobbing on a noodle in the swimming pool. Not for working, or even planning, but for the sheer pleasure of doing nothing.

“Unlike aquatic species, the turtles have the ability to travel upland and estivate for the remainder of the summer.”

“Unlike aquatic species, the turtles have the ability to travel upland and estivate for the remainder of the summer.”

Another new word I learned this summer from my subscription to Wordsmith.org is estivate which means “to pass the summer in a dormant state”. If you read my January blog, New Year’s Confessions of a Retiree without Resolutions, you may remember I lamented the fact that I felt like a tortoise in a world of gnats and humming birds. How apt that Wordsmith’s sample sentence used to illustrate usage of the word estivate was this: “Unlike aquatic species, the turtles have the ability to travel upland and estivate for the remainder of the summer.” It’s official. I’m now adopting the turtle as my personal mascot.

Right now, I invite you to indulge yourselves, my friends. No matter how crazy, busy your life has become or how accustomed you are to constantly being on the go, take at least one day to sit down in the shade and reacquaint yourself with the sheer pleasure of doing nothing. September will be here soon enough. Estivate while you still can!

First Anniversary

One year ago today, July 23, 2015, I moved into my new home in South Carolina. For the first few months I enjoyed the newness of my surroundings, but I did not feel quite at home. Honestly, I felt as if I were on vacation for the longest time (I think the swimming pool in my complex was most responsible for that.) I’m not sure exactly when, but one day, sitting at my kitchen island, I realized I was home and it felt great.

Flower Bed 2015

Flower Bed 2015

Overall it’s been a terrific year. I’m lucky to be near my mother, sister and brother-in-law who’ve wanted me to move here for years. We get to do a lot together that simply was not possible when I was just visiting.

Since I arrived, I’ve also met many wonderful people…my friendly neighbors here in Mauldin, my fellow mystery writers at Sisters in Crime, my writing colleagues at Creative Writers of Greenville, my pinochle pals at the Mauldin Senior Center, and my sister gardeners at the Simpsonville Garden Club. Most recently, I’ve found another group of kindred spirits, The Newcomers Club of Greater Greenville. Isn’t that just the greatest idea…a club for people new to the area?

Same Flower Bed, J2016

Same Flower Bed, 2016

Taking advantage of all the cultural activities Greenville has to offer, my sister and I have attended plays and musicals at almost all of Greenville’s theaters including The Peace Center, The Warehouse Theater, Center Stage and the Little Theater of Greenville. The performances have been top notch and tickets here are sooooo affordable. We even saw wonderful free performances of Julius Caesar and As You Like It put on by the Upstate Shakespeare Festival in Falls Park on the Reedy River in downtown Greenville. Mauldin had a Friday night series of free concerts and dancing that culminated in a special celebration on Saturday, July 2nd ending with a fabulous fireworks display. Two days later we attended the Red, White and Blue Festival in downtown Greenville with another magnificent fireworks display. (We love fireworks.)

As I’ve written about in previous blogs, I’ve been gallivanting with both the Mauldin Senior Center and Lifewise, a Senior Program through St. Francis Hospital. We’ve travelled to Columbia, the state capital, historic Union, nearby Spartanburg, and Athens, GA. We visited historic homes and churches, plantations, and college campuses. We even visited a local farm in Simpsonville where we made bricks out of clay soil and harvested broom weed, making our own brooms.

Best of all this year, I have been blessed to have dear friends and family make the trip to visit me…Jane and Rip Noble, Carl and Phyllis Yaglowski, Patricia Rock and Trish Sutherlan, Joanne and Mike Frehse, Judy Olsen, Joanne Kempton, Nina Augello, Jay Johnson, and Joanne Manse. Every visit was special and I enjoyed showing everybody the sights of Greater Greenville.

Last night I re-read all of my previous blogs working my way backwards. It was a sweet trip down memory lane. One of the best parts of being here and being retired is that I have more time to devote to writing, though I admit I’m not as diligent about it as I’d like to be. Still I have managed to complete the final draft of my cozy mystery, Second Bloom. I’m pleased to report that one of the literary agents I contacted so far asked to see my first three chapters. That’s pretty exciting. The really good news is I’ve started working on a second book which includes the same lead characters as Second Bloom, Holly and Ivy Donnelly, two middle-aged sisters who love to garden and just happen to get involved in solving murder mysteries.

Bet you didn't know okra had such a beautiful flower.

Bet you didn’t know okra had such a beautiful flower.

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know that a love of gardening is something I have in common with my main characters. I have to say the growing season in the South is another one my favorite things (that and the sprinkler system at my condo complex). I had a big job amending the clay soil, but after adding a considerable amount of topsoil, I planted vegetables in April and started harvesting zucchini and cucumbers in June followed by okra, tomatoes and eggplant in early July. Yes, life here is good.

I am pleased that through the wonders of technology and telecommunications I have been able to remain in touch with my dear friends up North. Once a month I Skype into an apartment on East 83rd Street in New York City with my book club of 30 years. Through Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter and this blog I’ve heard from so many people I’ve actually been out of touch with even when I lived in New Jersey. All in all it’s been a fabulous year and I’m looking forward to many more. Thank you so much for reading my ramblings and thanks especially to those of you who take the time to comment. I love hearing from you. So please keep reading and I’ll keep writing.

A selfie with my lettuce crop in April.

A selfie with my lettuce crop in April.

Book Review: Garden Spells and First Frost

Enchanting. That’s how I would describe Sarah Addison Allen’s books about the Waverly family if I had to do it in one word. Both Garden Spells and First Frost charm us from page one. The Waverly women live in our world, but they’re different. They possess remarkable talents that set them apart from their neighbors in the small town of Bascom, North Carolina.

Claire is a successful caterer, but the recipes she’s learned from her grandmother produce edible delights that often have odd and sometimes life-changing effects on the people who eat them. Elderly cousin Evanelle finds herself compelled to give people things, never knowing why. Of course, the recipients always need Evanelle’s unlikely gifts, though they don’t know why at first. And the apple tree in the backyard throws its fruit to impart a message to those who eat it.

Garden SpellsEven the name, Garden Spells, has a dreamy quality to it. The gardeners among us must smile when we think about planting seeds and watching them magically transform into gorgeous flowers or luscious vegetables. This first of the two novels involves the surprising return of Sydney Waverly and her young daughter, Bay, to the family homestead. Ultimately, Garden Spells is a love story…a tale of how Claire and Sydney reconcile and how each finds romantic love, ready or not.

If you finish Garden Spells, sad to say good-bye to these charming characters, no problem. The Waverlys return in First Frost. When a stranger arrives in town, he upsets the peaceful balance Claire and Sydney Waverly have achieved in their lives. The sisters, along with Evanelle and Bay, whose gift, by the way, is knowing where things belong, again use their special gifts to work their way through the challenges to their family brought on by the stranger’s story.

Firt FrostIf you want a break from the harsh and often painful realities that surround us, Garden Spells and First Frost are the ticket. Don’t be surprised if you start wondering whether or not you have something in common with the Waverlys. Is that green thumb of yours just a learned skill, or a magical talent passed onto you from your mother, grandmother, and who knows how many generations before? When you phone a friend and she says, “I was just thinking about you?” is it a coincidence or your “gift”? When you miss the train that derails…just plain luck or evidence of your inherent intuitive powers? You decide.

Happy Father’s Day!

James Francis Handley 1925-2000

James Francis Handley
1925-2000

In August 1945 my father, who was 20 years old, was on board a US Navy minesweeper bound for Japan preparing the way for marines to launch an invasion. The invasion became unnecessary when President Harry S. Truman and his advisors decided to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending the war with Japan. It’s hard for me not to applaud that decision.

After serving in the Navy, my father returned home to Pringle, Pennsylvania, married my mother and joined his father as a loom fixer in a textile mill. Back then fabrics were still being woven and produced in factories in the Northeast. My grand-father lived with us and he and Dad worked both day and night shifts at the mill. I remember because sometimes they slept during the day, and we had to be quiet as we played.

When Dad was not working, we did just about everything as a family…food shopping, church on Sunday, television at night, trips to the lake for swimming and picnicking in the summer and ice skating in the winter. I don’t remember interacting with my father alone much in the early years of my life. My mother was the disciplinarian, making most of the decisions regarding my two sisters and me. She didn’t work outside the house until I needed braces when I was in sixth grade, so my mother was the day-to-day “supervisor” in our world…not my father.

Galway Bay, 1980.

Galway Bay, 1980.

When the textile mill closed in the early sixties, my father got a job with J.P. Stevens at a small research facility they maintained in Garfield, New Jersey even after all the production mills moved to the unionless South. I remember my mother telling the story of how my father got the job with the very real conviction that it was part of God’s divine plan. My mother and father were out at a local bar one Saturday night. A man, I don’t recall whom or his connection with my father, came into the bar and struck up a conversation with them. He worked in New Jersey. When he learned my father was looking for a job, he said he’d seen an advertisement for a loom fixer in the paper and that he had the paper out in his car. He actually went out and brought the paper in for my father…further evidence of God’s hand at work.

Dad could fix anything and was always working when he came to visit.

Dad could fix anything and was always working when he came to visit.

My father applied for and got the job, and for the next four years he commuted to New Jersey. At least, back then, that was our idea of commuting. He lived with my cousin Carol and her husband in Rutherford, NJ during the week and only came home on weekends. Monday mornings he would leave our house in Pringle at 5:30 AM and drive straight to work in Garfield. Monday through Thursday he stayed at my cousin’s. Friday after work he’d drive back home to us. We all knew when he was on his way up the street because our dog, Sparkle, would start wagging her tail in excitement even before any of us heard the car.

Reflecting back on that time compared to now, I wonder how many men would do that for their families today? Four years? Would they do it for six months even? It is remarkable to me now looking backward. Never mind not seeing your family or sleeping in your own bed four nights out of seven. The weekly drive alone was grueling and hazardous. Today’s interstate highways have changed all that, but in the early ‘60’s Route 80 didn’t exist. The drive consisted mostly of windy, two-lane roads through the Pocono Mountains to the Delaware Water Gap, followed by Route 46, a slightly better road because it was a divided highway, but the going was slow because it had lots of traffic lights. In the winter, the Friday night journeys through the Poconos back to Pringle were downright treacherous. In spite of all that, I don’t remember my father ever not coming home for the weekend.

As I mentioned, my mother was our most constant influence, but there were a few occasions when she turned us over to my father. The day of my cousin Marie’s shower that my mother was hosting at our house was rather memorable. My little sister, Mary Ellen, was only about two years old, so she got to stay home, but my mother must have instructed my father to take my older sister, Jane, and me out for the day. We were probably five and nine. My father took us to a local bar with him. It was a great day for us. Coca Cola and candy bars flowed freely and we played pinball sitting on top of bar stools. All the men got a big kick out of us and kept supplying us with coins to play. What a great day!

Jane, Dad and me at the amusement park.

Jane, Dad and me at the amusement park.

I don’t remember how my mother found out where we went that day. I vaguely remember being told something like “Don’t tell your mother.” I didn’t. But we lived in a town one-mile square where we were related to just about half the people in town. Someone told. The next time my father took us for the day, we went to Angela Park, a now-defunct, but then brand new, amusement park. That was fun, too. But to this day, I believe I owe my great fondness for sitting at bars to that first time. In restaurants with a bar, I actually prefer to eat at the bar than at a table, much to the dismay of some of my female friends, who, in my opinion, missed out on going to a bar with their fathers, a rite of passage generally reserved for boys.

I have lots of memories of my father driving us places. Along with the textile mills in the North, Sunday drives with the family have also become a thing of the past. Hard to imagine a time when just getting in a car and driving around country roads for an hour or two was considered a pleasurable way to spend the afternoon, something adults and children alike looked forward to. My favorite memory was a drive on the old Chase Road near Huntsville Dam one Sunday afternoon. A little black dog started to run alongside the car and my father stopped and let her in the backseat with us. That was Sparkle. She was just a puppy without a collar, who picked our car to run after…apparently another divinely ordained occurrence. Our first dog. Another great day!

My father died from Alzheimer’s in 2000. A few months after the funeral, my younger sister, who along with my mother, cared for my father to the very end, asked me about Dad’s Days at Douglass College where I went to school. I hadn’t given much thought to those uniquely, all-girl college experiences in years. I told her how my father drove down to New Brunswick by himself every year, and how we would spend the day at various activities around the campus. I would choose our agenda. I vaguely recall bus tours of campus, but in general whatever we did was largely forgettable. One instance I do recall, however, was a really lame performance by a young woman who forgot the words midway through the Ave Maria. I remember a polite exchange of glances between my father and me, and our laughing about it afterwards. I also remember having lunch with my first year college roommate and her father, a college graduate himself. Later my father remarked to me how good it would be to be a professional like my roommate’s father. That evening long after our fathers left campus, my roommate told me her father said he wished he could be like my father who was so personable and easy to talk to. I remember thinking to myself that I was the luckier of the two of us.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

As one of three sisters and part of a family that always did most everything together, I have only a few memories of experiences that my father and I alone shared, those four Dad’s Days among them. I knew the concerts and lectures we attended on those days were not exactly the kinds of things my father enjoyed doing, yet he came all four years. I asked my sister what made her ask me about Dad’s Days, and she told me that she was going through his things after he died. In a box in my father’s drawer, he had saved the pins he’d gotten each of those Dad’s Days. At that moment I felt sorry for those who inherit only money and property, lesser gifts than the simple, yet certain evidence I received that day that my father loved me and treasured moments that he and I alone shared. What a great day!

Life is Good

Last week I got an email from a colleague asking if I still taught my writing class for marketers. As you may know, I was a marketing consultant in the construction industry for nearly 30 years, so I sometimes still get these inquiries. I must admit, they are a bit of an ego boost.

A few days after that email, I got an email from a friend who wanted to know if I had some time to talk to her about a re-branding project she’s working on for an engineering firm. Jokingly she asked if I had a few minutes to chat…that is, if I wasn’t too busy “gallivanting” in my retirement. [Great word, gallivant. It means to “go around from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure or entertainment.”]

It just so happens that I read that e-mail while on a bus in between a tour of the Walnut Grove Plantation in Spartanburg, SC and a visit to Kornerstone Farms, a sustainable, multi-generational farm in Woodruff, SC, where the family’s eight children took us around introducing us to their chickens, milking goats, pigs, dogs and beehives.

In the evening I wrote back to my friend. “Well, as it turns out I was on a day trip today to the Walnut Grove plantation. Does tomorrow around 10:00 am work for you? Lunch with the garden club president at 11:30. Honest…I’m not making this stuff up.”

As soon as I acknowledged that I had, indeed, been “gallivanting” and wrote what I was up to, I realized it sounded… well…a bit make believe. And get this…after I sent the e-mail I went back to reading The Secret of Red Gate Farm, a first edition Nancy Drew mystery that my friend, Nina, sent me for my birthday. Am I having too much fun? Can you have too much fun?

A few weeks ago, when I was walking the dog, I met up with a man whom I see walking my condo complex regularly. We greeted one another and I asked, “How are you today?” His reply: “Living the dream every day.” I’m fairly certain he meant that ironically, but I have to say, that’s how I feel most days. Don’t get me wrong. Even a cock-eyed optimist like me gets the blues some days. But overall I have been blessed with little patience for self-pity and a remarkable ability to snap out of the doldrums, and for that I’m truly grateful.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’ve stopped watching the news. I used to be a news junkie, but no more. The media is saturated with murders, robberies, terrorist attacks and car crashes and I just can’t bear to watch a daily summary of all the bad things that happen. I do still read the newspaper, and while the paper reports on the same awful occurrences, I can scan the headlines and move on to the human interest stories I prefer. Somehow I always manage to find some newsworthy gem that really tickles me and restores my faith in humanity.

Last week I was drawn to a brief item with this caption: “Father, Son in Custody After Kidnapping Plot”. A 51-year old father and his 22-year old son lured a woman and her four teenage daughters to a house in Centerville, Utah where they tied them up in the basement. Their plans were thwarted when “they were overpowered by the women they abducted.” The men are now in custody and facing felony charges following the botched kidnapping plot. Now if that story doesn’t brighten your day just a bit, I don’t know what will.

The Pollyanna principle is a subconscious bias towards the positive.

The Pollyanna principle is a subconscious bias towards the positive.

Yesterday I shared on Facebook a little known 9/11 story about how the small town of Gander, Newfoundland helped 53 planeloads of travelers who were re-routed and stranded there for two days after the attacks on the World Trade Center. The townspeople rallied to house, feed and take care of everyone during those horrendous two days when the world stood still. In return, the travelers created a trust fund to provide scholarships for the students of Gander to repay them for their generosity of spirit in a time of need.

Now you can call me a Pollyanna and focus on the “bad” news if you choose to, but I’m going to keep on gallivanting, living the dream, looking for examples of our shared humanity and stories that demonstrate the triumph of the human spirit…proof that life is good. Are you with me?