Archive for the ‘Growing Old’ Category

When I visit Rhode Island it’s usually for the summer and a haircut/coloring always ends up being a thing. To be honest the thing is actually coloring more than the cut.

I always call the East Side stylist, M., who I’ve known for more than thirty years. I’ll just call her M. since I view going to a trusted salon and swapping life experiences as sort of a sacred thing. Like bookclub.

Anyway, my husband found her when he was a college student. When we married I hopped on board.

So we go way back. Probably still have the present M. sent when my first daughter was born.

M. always fits me in during my summer holidays.

Rhode Island is a small place. My father knew her parents from the Irish circles. We knew some of the same people.

Every time I visit she’s got a mixed bag of clients.

I could meet an older woman going on a trip to Syria or a woman who says my cousin Francis roomed with her husband. Back in the day.

Love it. Usually fun and light hearted. M. and I discuss books, restaurants, travel destinations, politics and family.

This summer day was also about politics, restaurants and family.

M. was talking about her sister. Probably because the previous week was the seventeenth anniversary of her sister’s death.

Her sister sounded so fabulous. A Rhode Island girl who was one of the leading art dealers in New York. A pioneer of the art scene in the East Village, Chelsea and Soho. Who Andy Warhol immortalized in a silk screen back in 1985.

But that is not why I’m writing this post.

I was sitting there with foil strips in my hair and my eyes filling up with tears.

Because this lady had cancer and died at the young age of forty-five.

M.’s sister decided that she wanted to die on Cape Cod and on a Friday. She did both.

This woman’s husband’s called M. the day before she died and said basically that she wasn’t doing great. Maybe something in her breathing. Maybe nothing but he just wanted to let them know.

M. says, ” Thank you.”

She thinks about it and says to herself, “I’m going to the Cape.”

It was midnight.

M. called all the family members.

They all made the decision to head to the Cape.

And that is when the tears dripped down my face.

I just had a vision of this family hopping into their cars for a trip that no one ever really wants to take. But wouldn’t have it any other way.

Surrounding their loved one as she transitioned out of this world.

The last people she saw were those who loved her most. Her husband and her family.

When we are born the first people we see are the ones who absolutely love us most.

If we are fortunate we pick up a few more as we journey through life. Siblings, partners, children or friends.

It’s only fitting that’s the way it should end.

With those who love us most.

 

 

 

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So hard to believe it is already November. Time is flying.

I am sharing an old posting of mine. Wrote it back in January of 2014.

I had to print things out for Dad because he wasn’t on the “machine.” So he read this posting. I remember when he did. We were sitting on his back porch. Dad laughed and he teared up. When he was finished reading it he told me that I was a very good writer and that I truly captured it.

Dad died in March of 2015. When it was time for me to clear out his things I found the folded up copy of the blog posting in his top drawer.

The odd thing is I recently posted about an old place in East Providence where I grew up. It was called Tiano’s Five Acres. The name changed many, many years ago. But this was where Dad and his friend John last saw each other. My father never went back to that place. Didn’t have it in him.

All Saints’ Day

All Saints’ Day is November 1st. Not sure why I am writing about it today but sometimes I’m prompted and I just need to get things down on paper. And out of my head.

So All Saints’ Day it is.

I fondly remember my young years at a Catholic school where we could dress up on this day. As a saint. Little boys with ropy belts tied around their baggy robes and little girls with scarves on their heads.

Most of us remember the date. You had Halloween and then All Saints’ Day. Two dress up days in a row.

But it’s not the only reason I remember November 1st.

My father had a friend named John McG.

They worked together but were unlikely a pair as you would ever see. Dad grew up in Ireland. John grew up in a hardscrabble section of Providence. At the time, my dad was the father of teenagers. John had three little boys. My dad was twenty-two years older than John. He could have been his father. But he wasn’t. Dad had known John’s own father. Probably before he even knew John. We were closer in age to John than my Dad was to him.

My dad was sort of a no-nonsense kind of guy at the time. Maybe a bit of stoicism in there. John was all emotion. Loud, irreverent, funny and lovable. When John was around my Dad changed. He was lighter and laughed a lot.

Because when John was around everyone changed. Felt lighter. And laughed a lot. He was devilish and quick-witted. Dad said he would tease the women in the office or wherever he went and they loved it. Even my mom laughed like a woman years younger when John was in our house.She got such a kick out of the things that came out of his mouth.

Because everyone was just a little bit in love with John McG. Girls and guys.

He was attractive. Maybe not drop dead gorgeous but something that brought you closer. I think his personality made him really, really good-looking.

Dad started bringing him around on Saturday mornings. They were Teamsters so it was usually after a meeting. Or maybe a blood drive.

It would be early and I would still be in bed. But I knew the moment John entered the kitchen. Our house was tiny but I would have known even if I lived in a mansion. The house almost shook. You could hear the talking and booming laughter. And there was a unique energy in the house. Like Springsteen sang, “I check my look in the mirror” and make my way downstairs toward the light. Not begrudging interrupted Saturday morning sleep but begrudging the fact that I didn’t have advance notice.

Maybe in some way Dad and his kids felt John was a conduit for the generation gap that existed between us. John could say anything to my Dad and get away with it. He would tease him about his teenagers.”What are your kids doing tonight, Pat? Dating? Smoking pot?” Who would say those things to my DAD? And get away with it? John would and could. Absolutely irreverent. You had to know my dad. He didn’t swear or discuss anything untoward. And John had no boundaries with my Dad. Like we did.

You would think that maybe my brothers and I might have been jealous of this guy my father loved so much. And maybe if John were a different person we would have been. But we loved him, too.  So there was no room for jealousy.

He was half Irish American and half Italian American. I think his mom died when he was younger.

When he was scheming my dad would tease him and say,”That’s not the Irish in you.”

And John would tease Dad right back.

I remember when he wanted Dad to come visit him at his home. To see the house he built. It was a real log cabin in the woods of Rhode Island. That sounded pretty neat. So Dad, Mom and I took a drive one weekend. I was also curious to meet John’s family. To see what kind of girl had captured John. To meet his sons.

She was lovely and sweet. Italian-American. Pretty with a nice figure. I still remember the jeans she had on more than thirty years ago. Because they had zippers at the bottoms. Near the ankles.

And then the three little boys. Very young and adorable. And the light of their father’s eyes. You could see it. One of them had gotten into a spot of trouble that day. Something to do with an errant ball and a neighbor’s window. John gave the little fella a stern talking to in front of us. But once the kid was out of sight John was grinning impishly. There was no question of his love, pride and tenderness for the family.

I asked him the names of his two dogs. He said, “Oh, that one is Toothless and the other one is Useless.”He was just so funny.

Seemed John had it all and that he deserved every single bit of it. No one would ever be covetous. Or begrudge him anything.

Time passes. It’s 1986. I will marry on November 15th. It’s going to be a very small party. Thrown together fairly quickly. There really wasn’t room for all the extraneous folks that usually attend bigger weddings. So, it was a list of mostly family and very close family friends. An invitation was mailed to John and his wife.

Then came November 1st, 1986. All Saints’ Day.

And everything changed.

A light went out.

John died in a car accident on his way home early that morning.

My dad had been with him in the evening. They had a drink and then my dad went home. After telling John to do the same. Probably left with a “See you soon!” or “See you Monday!” My dad came home, most likely finished up with the nightly news and then went to bed. He got up early to go golfing. Not knowing that he and John were no longer sharing the same world.

John was thirty-three years old.

It feels odd to write that number since I am now forty-nine years old and Dad will soon be eighty-three. A lot of years have passed.

When we came home that day Dad was sitting in the living room chair. He had returned from the golf course and had gotten the news. My mother went to him as he was reaching out for her arm. And he sobbed. And sobbed.

I had never, ever seen my father cry. I had only ever seen his eyes tear up and that was once. When his mother died and I caught him just staring out the living room window into nothingness. I assumed my father did his deep grieving in private. But this was something entirely different.

My heart hurt so badly when I heard about John and it literally broke when I saw my father that day.

You see, he loved John McG.

I still think of John every now and again. His name still comes up.

When we had a surprise 80th birthday party for my dad a couple of years ago, one of my brothers said, “John McG would have been here today. God rest his soul.”

John was no saint. That’s a tough status. He was human. And he made mistakes. Just like anyone of us.

Just wish it didn’t have to end the way it did. Especially to someone who was so very alive.

We always read about people who walk into a room and absolutely nothing happens. And then there are the others. Not a lot of them out there. But when they walk into a room something happens.

That was John.

I heard that his wife never remarried. Not sure why. She had three young boys and she was a young and beautiful woman. I wondered sometimes if it was because there was just no one out there that could have filled his shoes. Or filled his space. Or loved those boys like he did.

Dad retired, was blessed with grandchildren and softened with the years. I see him cry now. He has a hard time saying good-bye to me and/or my daughters when we leave him. But it’s good. He enjoys his life and his family.

I will always remember John McGinn on All Saints’ Day. It’s not the day the music died. It’s the day a light went out.

May he rest in eternal peace.

John P. McGinn

1953-1986

 

 

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I have a birthday coming up soon.

Don’t mind the birthdays so much. Maybe because I really hardly ever know old I am.

Been known to say to one of my brothers, “How old are you?”

And then I do the laborious math.

I know the difference of years between us.

What do I mind about getting older?

Wrinkles? Forgetfulness? Weight gain?

No, the thing I really do mind is my eyesight not being as keen as it once was.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my Dad. I was a young girl and I was threading a needle.

My Dad said, “I remember when I was a boy in Ireland threading a needle for my Granny.”

Oh my gosh.

I’m now the Granny.

I’ve worn the “cheaters” for years. Pushing them back on my head when I didn’t need them to see fine print. Hair had a permanent imprint from the glasses.

Finally succumbed to multi-focal glasses. Wasn’t easy getting used to them.

I’d be climbing down stairs and escalators making sure I didn’t kill myself due to a misstep while looking out the distance lens when I should have been looking a little closer to home.

I appeared, on more than one occasion, to be really challenged.

Now I am wearing them all the freaking time!

I remember a few years back, while we were taking a family photo, saying to Mom, “Do you want to take your glasses off for the photo?”

She said, “Why would I want to take them off? I wear them all the time.”

Ummm, okay.

See, I’m not there yet.

I have nothing against glasses. Some of my best friends wear glasses. LOL

I just realize it’s not so easy.

How do you put makeup on each day? You need your glasses to see but how can you apply eye makeup with the glasses perched on your nose?

The other day I was in a hotel room. Before I hopped in the shower I lined up the shampoo, conditioner and shower gel in order of use.

Because I don’t wear glasses in the shower.

So, I’m like Mr. Magoo in a steam filled cubicle.

I’m not sure what I should do.

I could be chasing the botox people down, hiring a trainer to tone this fifty something year old body and furiously doing crossword puzzles to help my memory.

But what I am thinking about is laser surgery. If I am a candidate.

Not just because of the makeup or because I might put shower gel in my hair. Or gargle with astringent. Or brush my teeth with facial hair remover.

But because I want to see everything. Without assistance.

Like I did when I was young.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in November. So, of course, I get to thinking about “that day” so many years ago.

It was a very small wedding. Maybe sixty guests. If that.

Many are no longer with us. My next door neighbors, Dot and Eddie and Mr. and Mrs. Thomson. My Auntie Elaine, my Uncle Pat, family friends Danny and Phyllis O’Hara, Frank P., my aunt’s in-laws Jargu and Gram, my beloved Nana, and my best friend’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Amerantes.

All gone.

And my Dad.

I posted this photo on my husband’s Facebook page with the caption, “Papa. Probably thinking, She’s all yours now. Good luck!”

wedding

So after I posted this photo one of my daughters asked me, “Do you still miss Papa?”

I said, “Yes, every day. Today I just wanted to ask him something.”

She asked, “What did you want to ask him?”

I replied, “Something about the family history. He loved that and always had time for me.”

But there are so, so many times when I just want to ask him something.

 

 

 

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Good Health

When I was a young girl I would ask my father, “Dad, what do you want for your birthday?”

“Dad, what do you want for Father’s Day?”

“What would you like for Christmas?”

He would always, always say, “My health.”

I probably did an eye roll. What that even a thing back then?

Was hoping he would make my shopping easier. Because we are conditioned. We need to buy people presents on these special days. Would be nice if we had a clue as to what was wanted or needed.

He always meant it. He was nothing if not sincere.

Now I  am older. And Dad is gone.

If you asked me today, “Mary, what do you want for Mother’s Day? Christmas?”

I would say, “My health. The health of my family and friends.”

That’s all I want. That’s all I need.

Nothing else matters.

We don’t need to buy anything.

Some things just can’t be bought.

 

 

 

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I dropped my daughter off at the Rhode Island airport yesterday.

On the ride, I reminisced a bit.

Said, “Reminds me of all the times Papa (my father) picked us up at this very airport.”

I continued, “Papa knew a lot of people. Whenever we were out with him there would invariably be the hearty hello or head nod to/from some random person.”

Some years ago Dad was milling about the luggage carousel looking for my bags. Think we just arrived from Dallas via Chicago.

Guy walks by, “Hey, Pat, how are ya?”

Dad responds in kind.

Rhode Island is a small state. No surprise that you would run into someone you know. Or their cousin.

Few minutes later a woman strolls by, “Hi Pat! How are you?”

Dad smiles and asks her how she’s been.

Okay, doesn’t stop there. More and more people in our path with same, “Hi Pat, how are you?”

Ummm, Dad, this is getting crazy.

Dad finally clued me in on the situation. These people were all members of an Irish society based in Rhode Island. Can’t remember now whether it was the Irish Ceilidhe Club or Ireland’s 32 Society. Or another group.

Apparently they had been on a trip (and on same flight as me) and were returning back to Rhode Island from Chicago.

Just thought it was a lovely memory. And, according to my kid, I hadn’t shared it before which is amazing in itself. Because I am kind of a broken record with my stories.

Made me remember how I felt when I would first see my father as I was coming down the escalator at the airport after months away.

How he always did the heavy lifting. Not going to let his daughter pick up the heavy bags. 🙂

Brought back the fact that everyone, who knew my Dad, had a smile when they greeted him with nothing but respect.

Made me remember that every time I left him in his later years, he said, with eyes filling, “We love to have you and we sure do hate to see you go.”

How it’s hard to arrive at the airport and no one in that crowd is eagerly and expectantly looking for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There is a ten year anniversary coming up in the next week.

Not a happy one.

It was ten years ago that a school friend of my eldest daughter lost her life in an accident. Veronica was fourteen at the time. She held on for awhile but finally succumbed to her injuries on October 20th.

Her mother asked me in a message the other day, “Does it seem longer than ten years or shorter? Or both?”

So hard to answer. Ten years seems like such a long time ago for me. A lot has happened since that time. I moved from Dallas to California. And then overseas to Malaysia. My eldest, who was Veronica’s friend, graduated from university. I lost a parent.

Life went on and just happened.

And yet I can remember the day of the accident like it was yesterday. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon.

I’ve always been one for denial. When my daughter told me that Veronica had been in an accident I asked, “How do you know?”

She said, “Some of the football kids who were at Sonic came back and said it.”

I said, “Well, we don’t know for sure.”

Then we passed by the site and her yellow backpack was sitting there in the street while the rescue and police were securing the area.

Felt like I could vomit.

I didn’t know Veronica’s mom except for a community service project at the parish, communication about cross country car pooling and a confirmation of a birthday party.

But I did vow that I would not be one to drop off a casserole and just forget about them.

Can good things come out of bad? I guess her mom would have to answer that.

I remember, after we got word of Veronica’s death, thinking that I needed to make that call. Also thinking it would be the worst thing ever. How selfish of me.

Talking to my husband who was away at the time I said, “I can’t call her.”

He said,” You have to….”

I replied, “I know I have to but…”

He told me, “Call her tomorrow.”

I said, “I will.”

And then I paced and paced. Smoked a bunch of cigarettes. Went into my bedroom, locked the door and picked up the phone to dial. Shaking like a leaf on a tree. Knew I wouldn’t sleep if I didn’t call that very night.

Veronica’s mom picked up the phone. When she heard from me she said, “Oh, Mary, I am so glad you called. Your family is one I had hoped I would get to know better.”

We had some things in common. Being on our own in Texas while husbands were working in the Northeast. Cross country girls. Same parish.

A few days later Monsignor called me to say that the family wanted me and another mom to be the speakers at Veronica’s service. I agreed and it was one of the few times I actually felt God’s presence with me. I honestly did not think I could do it but I felt like God was just sitting on my shoulder.

This posting is getting a little long.

Veronica’s mother amazed me in so many ways. When she needed help she knew it and asked for it. And she never wanted to be known just as the mother of the child who died.

When she knew the yard needed raking she said it. And all the cross country kids came out and raked away and bagged up the leaves.

When the thought of taking down Xmas decorations was overwhelming she called me.

When she needed help cleaning the house she let me know. And we got it done. Laughing and crying.

She and her eldest came to my house for dinner and we went to hers. Went to movies and dinner. Had a celebration of life with balloons soaring into the air for Veronica’s birthday.

I guess my posting today is to remember a sweet girl who will forever remain a fourteen year old child to us. Even if ten years have passed.

But it is also a testament to the strength of her mother.

And it is also a reminder to not take even one single day for granted.

A beautiful autumn day or a muggy day.

Seems like a long time ago. Seems like yesterday. Seems like both.

RIP Veronica Grace Sheer

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