Celebrating Forty Years of Friendship

Thanks Lois for describing our week with such vivid detail. However you did omit the decadent chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse filling we had at the Hayes Barton Cafe and Dessertery.

Write Along with Me

Proverbs 18:26 Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.

FullSizeRenderReaders of Caring Lessons know I was desperate to find a friend when I was in my early thirties, someone like me, a nurse and mom who wanted to go back to school.

That friend turned out to be Marianna.

I met her on the first day of a required course to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing. In the interim, we’ve raised our kids, completed advanced degrees, taught and/or practiced nursing, retired, and moved to different cities, but have worked at staying connected, including seeing each other in person at least once a year.

We held our annual meeting last week.

We never need an occasion to celebrate, but it helps. When Marianna asked if I’d like to splurge on a spa day, I pondered a bit and figured out we had an…

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TAKING THE BUS

My husband and I will move into in our new Raleigh town house at the end of the week. Part of the reason for our move, besides being nearer to the grandchildren, is that we want more of a city life. Our last house, in a lovely forested neighborhood, was tranquil and isolated. We needed a car to go anywhere. We were happy to discover that a city bus passes by our new development.

I haven’t taken a bus in years.

I grew up in Jersey City where, as children, my best friend, Carol, and I would hop on the bus—any bus—and ride it to the end of the line and back. I think the fare was nine cents. The bus drivers had coin dispensers

Coin Dispenser
Coin Dispenser

to give us change and then we would drop the correct amount in the fare box.

Fare Box
Fare Box

At least that’s what I remember happened back then. Later, we used tokens.

Carol and I felt independent and adventurous. We never told our mothers.

In other cities where I lived, I took mass transportation, not only buses but more frequently trains:

Chicago El
Chicago El

the El in Chicago and the

Metro in the greater Washington DC area,

DC Metro
DC Metro

and on frequent visits to NYC, the subway.

NYC subway
NYC subway

What a liberating feeling not to depend on a car.

I have a brochure of the Capital Area Transit (cat) bus route. The bus starts from the northern part of Raleigh, passes our home and turns south toward the city. Seniors ride free. I plan to call my friend, Carol, who lives a suburb not far from our new home. (How’s that for serendipity?) I’m sure she will be excited to join me on an adventurous bus ride.

And we won’t tell our mothers.

MOVING

My husband and I are planning to move from our home of 14 years to be closer to the grandkids. I’m looking forward to our new life but I’m dreading the shedding. Our last two moves were compliments of my husband’s employer so we didn’t have an incentive to discard our “treasures.” I still have my record collection of 331/3, Vinyl record45 and 78’s (some of you younger readers haven’t a clue what I am writing about). Now that I know I can find any song by any artist on Spotify, giving them up won’t be difficult, especially since I don’t even own a record player.

After my mother died a decade ago, I had one suitcase and a cardboard box with all her belongings that I collected from the nursing home. In our attic I still had her pots and pans, silverware, dishes, cookbooks from the 1920s, an afghan she crocheted, a framed picture of the Black Madonna,

Black Madonna
Black Madonna

and a prayer book written in Polish.

My son is coming to visit over the weekend. He doesn’t know it yet, but he will leave with a box packed with a blue case holding his Hot Wheels collection; Morgan, a tattered white long-eared dog; a story he wrote in the 5th grade about his hamster, Squeaky, and pictures he drew of the family when he was three. What he does with these treasures I don’t want to know.

Morgan
Morgan

I had given my daughter a similar box last year. I haven’t heard any comment from her but I can imagine with a husband, a job and three boys to take to soccer, baseball and football practice and swimming lessons, she put the box in storage with thoughts to look through it when she had a moment to herself. However, after she placed the valuable objects I had brought by the stairs to her basement, she reached in and grabbed the stuffed animal I safeguarded over 40 years and said “This isn’t Pookey!”

In anticipation of cleaning out the attic, I have fortified myself to donate, recycle, re-gift and responsibly discard some of the stuff we have taken with us in the past two moves.

Except maybe for the old nurses’ cape with the red lining that my son put on when he was a superhero one Halloween.nurse's cape

Patty, me and Sherry
Patty, me and Sherry

PEOPLE WHO NEED PEOPLE

images-4I had one of the best Christmases ever. Maybe it was because the grandsons were older and less frenzied about what Santa left under the tree. Or maybe because Ernie and I said don’t give us “things” or “stuff,” just experiences, as presents. Or maybe because my son brought his significant other for the first time on Christmas and my son-in-law brought along his father, who had lost his wife this past October. Or maybe it was because the feeling of family with the inevitable losses and delightful gains confirmed a sense of belonging.

And, of course, there was Sparky, the dog, that didn’t beg at the table.

Ernie outdid himself with a pork roast and a made-from-scratch French apple tart. A table laid out for ten stretched our images-64.1.2pared-down set of dinnerware and cutlery, so we had mismatched plates and told everyone to hang on to their forks for dessert.

But it was the presence of those sharing our meal and not the trappings of Christmas that made the day special.

When my husband and I married over 40 years ago (yikes) we didn’t bow to the common convention of other couples in selecting “our song.” In reality, we didn’t even think of it. Father Donald Cooney (where is he now?) married us. A handsome guy, not too much older than us and apparently more sentimental than Ernie and I, spoke from the altar of Saint Aloysius Catholic Church in Jersey City. He faced the congregation and weaved the story of Ernie and my meeting, falling in love and deciding to marry with the backdrop of Barbra Streisand’s song People.

When we walked down the aisle, as man and wife, besides each other we had “our song.” The song that we have played every year on our anniversary.

One of our New Year’s resolutions (long-time married couples share common resolutions that the wife usually makes) is to include more people in our lives. In 2014 we will attend a long delayed Crane reunion, visit old friends in Washington, DC and New York City that we haven’t seen in years. Maybe we’ll even find Donald Cooney.

People who need people are the luckiest people in the world…

WHITE AMARYLLIS

In my last post I wrote about the trauma surrounding my cancer diagnosis. In spite of mostly negative consequences of living as a “cancer survivor” there were a few positive occurrences. For example, meeting special people I would have never encountered under normal circumstances.

A month after my mastectomy I joined a cancer support group hosted by a woman with lymphoma in her large Victorian home with a wrap around porch in Chevy Chase, Maryland, not far from where I had worked at the National Institutes of Health. Three of the seven regular members had had breast cancer. The other four had a variety of other cancers.

At the start of each meeting we held hands in a circle while Gregorian chants played in the background, the music soaring up to the ten-foot ceilings and swirling about the large elegant living room. The leader asked we pray for those present and not present that were still struggling with treatment, suffering with pain or hoping for remission. Then in silence we made our own supplication. Invariably, as I stepped on the polished hardwood floors to take a seat, I felt a peace settle over me.

Besides the seven group members, other women sporadically attended our meetings. Once, a young woman sat along side of me on the flowered sofa. In front of us, on the glass and chrome coffee table, a snow-white amaryllis sprouting from a bulb set in a deep blue planter. Young, thin, with long dark hair, the woman spoke about the aggressive breast cancer that would soon end her life. She had a husband, pre-school children and a hunger to live.

She mesmerized me with her research to find a cure. Depleting resources in the area, she found a practitioner in another state and made plans to drive to see him later that week. As she spoke of her hope to halt the cancer’s progression, she stopped mid-sentence. Noticing my rapt attention, or my agonized expression as I listened to her frantic search for a cure, she reached over and clutched my hand. “Don’t worry, your cancer is not as bad as mine.” I squeezed her hand back, unable to speak for I was so touched by her gesture.

Afterwards, I walked down the porch steps and into the winter chill, feeling a bit of survivor’s guilt that my cancer was not fulminating. Eventually, I dropped out of the group.

Each time I see a white amaryllis, I recall the women in that group and their strength, especially the young mother. Her generous comment and concern for me even as she frantically detailed her quest for a cure still overwhelms me.AmaryllisWhiteNymph

I never did find out what happened to her. I want to believe on the out-of-state trip she found a curative regime and is now enjoying her grandchildren, putting all the trauma of her cancer behind her.

SWEEPING AWAY THE PAST

 My friend and mentor, Carol Henderson, wrote this for our local newspaper. It is a fitting supplement to my last post: Family Stories.

Chapel Hill News logoMay 14, 2013

One of my cousins recently sent out a letter about our grandparents on my dad’s side, giving us some details from their lives.

None of us knew much about them. Dad was only 2 when “Frank,” my grandfather, disappeared without explanation. My father never saw him again. Grandmother would never discuss her estranged husband or her early life.

She would say: “Every generation should be swept clean,” in a tone indicating there was nothing more to say.

I find the concept troubling, that every generation should be swept clean. Isn’t knowing about our forebears worthwhile, important for the hoped-for evolution of human consciousness? Aren’t we supposed to learn from our family’s foibles and flaws as well as their triumphs?

A young friend of mine told me, “Being able to break away from the troubling behavior patterns in my family gives meaning and purpose to my life.” But how can we evolve if we don’t know what these patterns are?

Luckily, just before my grandmother died at age 95 (about 40 years ago), she relented and offered some spotty answers to the questions my cousin gently asked her.

I learned from his letter that my grandmother had grown up in the Irish neighborhood of Newark, N.J., and that her father was Irish, perhaps a drunk. My grandmother had kept this side of the family secret. Now she hinted to my cousin that she and her mother were apprehensive about the neighborhood bar on their corner. Had she found her father staggering in the street? We did know our grandmother was vehemently anti-alcohol all her life. But she never said why.

Ashamed of her rough Irish roots? Maybe so, but isn’t it important to share with one’s children the possibility that alcoholism might run in the family?

About our mysterious grandfather, my cousin found out that he was a recluse, deeply introverted. “He had a workroom on the third floor, and was almost always there. He didn’t join in on family activities downstairs.” I learned from the letter that my grandfather had been a draftsman and an inventor. He collected newspapers, magazines, buckets of random keys. Pencils. Was he also a hoarder?

“One day they went up to his workroom,” the letter continued. “He was gone and everything of his with him. Where he went at the time is not known, but it was not possible for the family to locate him.”

So many questions: What triggered his leaving? Did Grandmother ever try to find her him? Not a word about that.

All we know is that the couple never divorced and Grandfather never again saw three of his four sons. For decades, according to our cousin, Dad believed his father was dead, his mother’s silence on the subject was that profound.

When my 85-year-old grandfather lay dying in a Newark hospital, my one uncle who had kept in touch with him encouraged my dad to visit, but Dad wouldn’t go. Like his own mother, my father didn’t want to talk about or face hard things.

Oprah Winfrey and others have said that we’re only as sick as our secrets, and I agree. What my grandmother didn’t seem to appreciate is that we pass on volumes to the next generation, whether we want to or not. Through osmosis, our parents’ prejudices, shame, and fear enter us and take up residence. Feelings that are stuck in our unconscious leach out in our behavior, shape our relationships and worldview.

The burden of secrecy rarely stops with a single generation. I bore it too, from an early age keeping much of my life secret from my dad. My father never knew, for example, that he, my mother and I existed in a tangled and treacherous triangle, that all my life Mother shared with me her darkest worries and sorrows about him, about their marriage, his career, his unfaithfulness, but swore me to secrecy.

There is no sweeping clean. Only through revelation and candor can we begin to illuminate and release what keeps us, and those who come after us, in frozen pain and ignorance.