A sense of place…my Grandmother’s house on Lake Street

A day at Grandmas
My family in my Grandmother’s back yard, the wall with plants is the viaduct, the train, including the Phoebe Snow, ran above it.

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From the time I was born until I turned 14, the center of my universe was Lake Street in Elmira, New York.

My Grandmother’s house sat alone on the other side of a train viaduct.  This house  had once been part of a much larger, bustling, nice neighborhood. My great Uncle Joe had lived across the street in a beautiful house. A painting of it endures and from it I sense the warmth of the neighborhood.

My Grandmother’s house was actually a row house with two large units she inherited from her father. My Grandfather had a Mom and Pop shop in front and after our weekly Sunday dinners, we, my younger siblings and I, would go with one of my Aunts to run the store.

I can remember the smell of tobacco mingled with candy bars when you walked in and the bell clanged against the door frame. For fun there, we climbed up on Grandpa’s office chair, a beautiful wooden piece with a slated back, and swiveled each other around as fast as we could go.  Grandpa sauntered in after his meal and asked us what kind of candy we wanted to take with us. I remember being a big fan of mallow cups.  They were lined up in boxes behind a glass case as I recall.

Often,  I would stay at my Grandparent’s house for the whole weekend day. Those days were slow, as only childhood days can be…there were no computers to entertain us, only 3 major TV stations and so my Aunts took us outside.

At times we hung out in the front yard where we watched the people and cars go by. There was an antique doll and carriage I played with, rolling it up and down the brick driveway.

Many times on hot Sunday afternoons, my Aunt Melia or Aunt Claire, would walk us down the street, under the viaduct, through the dust kicked up by the traffic, to the Dairy Queen for an ice cream. That was a real treat on a hot day in the 60s, along with the sprinkler. The Aunts often pulled the sprinkler out for a mid-afternoon dip when the heat was oppressive and we needed entertaining.

Two years ago, I saw one of my Aunt’s younger contemporaries from the neighborhood. “Oh,” he said, “I just loved your Grandparent’s place, there it was, this beautiful oasis of gardens and green in the city. It looked so out-of-place but it was so lovely, if you find a picture please send it to me. I’d love to see it again.”

He felt that sense of place and for one minute, I actually went back there, back in time to this house along the tracks. There wasn’t much to it, I see now in old pictures. But to me, it was a castle, a beautiful spot.  A place of meat with egg, mashed potatoes, after-dinner drinks of crème de menthe, picnics with thick plastic plates and matching plastic glasses; a grape arbor, oodles of plants, and the smell of freshly mowed grass, Chianti wine, and an old stereo stocked with my Aunt’s 45s:  how much is that doggy in the window, one of her favorites.

Gone now, of course. In 1975 Tops Supermarket bought my Grandparents out. Change is a coming wrote Bob Dylan and it always comes. They tore the whole thing down. It later morphed into a Big Lots, which is what I think it still is today.

I went there once with my husband. We parked in the parking lot, I made my way to the stone wall of the train trellis, and as I got closer, I could feel the place. Actually feel it, I wanted to grab a plant, maybe it was one from my Grandmother’s lovely garden, probably not, I told myself.

I had a burst of tears…a bitter sweet burst. The joy of feeling just a touch of the place, the pain knowing it and all that it gave me,  gone.

Related family history blogs:






My Child, You are the devil’s stool!!

You get old and you realize there are no answers, only stories.  Garrison Keillor

St Patrick's 21st Century, adobe water color, source below
St Patrick’s 21st Century, adobe water color, source below

 Link to St. Patrick’s picture, source Wikipedia commons.

This is St. Patrick’s Grammar School, the one my grandfather, Harry J. Lagonegro, an Elmira businessman and co-founder in 1912 of the Arctic League*, attended with Hal Roach, the famous Elmiran who produced the The Little Rascals comedy series.  According to my Mother, they became life-long friends because they were  outsiders, my grandfather was Italian and persona non grata in an Irish Catholic milue and Hal Roach was protestant.

At this same grammar school, my Mother, years later, with some real Irish blood in her, attended grammar school during World War II.  I later attended religious education here. It is now, residential apartments.

This is the story…

sitting at my Mother’s kitchen table Saturday, I mentioned I might like to write a book about my public school teaching experience: the high school I taught at recently closed.

“Well,” boomed my Mother, “you will have to start with my getting hit with a yardstick in grammar school!”

“What?” I replied.

“Yes, one day Sister took me out into the hall, whacked me on the arm with a yardstick and screamed, ‘You are the Devil’s stool, You are the Devil’s stool.’

My mother started to laugh…”That is what I heard, but, of course, what she really said was  ‘You are the Devil’s tool, you are the Devil’s tool.’ “

My mother was born in 1931  and three of her five brothers were soldiers in World War II.  She went on to tell my husband and I that when she was having a bad day, she’d start sniveling a bit, and say, “We got a letter from my brother yesterday.”  I surmise this kept some of the yardsticks away.

Recalling a different incident and not specifying whether it was before, or after, her whacking, my Mother said,

“I was so naïve, one day Sister asked the class if anyone had any old yardsticks they could bring in for her.”

 My Mother continued, “I enthusiastically raised my hand and brought one in for her.”

My Mother raised her eyes to heaven as it to say, can you imagine.  Yes, I can, women always at the ready to be helpful, and teachers that abused authority so badly the logical counterbalance was to take their authority away.

*Arctic League-The Arctic League began in 1912 as a group of baseball fans who met regularly at Harry J. Lagonegro’s cigar store at 157 Lake Street. 


Aunt Claire was born November 13, 1923

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Imagine the world she came into… barely any plastic, no televisions or computers.   My Aunt was born in Elmira NY, to an Italian immigrant family, ninety years ago today!

My grandfather, Joseph, was eleven when he came to this country.  He  worked in the coal mines of Northeastern Pennsylvania as a young person.  My Grandmother, Rose Tress, changed from the Italian  Teresi, lived in Elmira, NY.

Aunt Claire was the second child and second daughter.  Madeline was one year older.  The picture of my aunts was in an old newspaper. I unearthed it from  clippings my aunt accumulated over the years.

I hope to write  about each photograph, but for now I will focus on two:  the one of Aunt Claire and Aunt Melia in Atlantic City and the one of Aunt Claire and I in matching Easter Coats.  My Great Aunt Carmella (Melia) Tress (see blog Not Just An Old Lady in an Apron) and Aunt Claire went to many outings like the one pictured. They were well-dressed women, always making sure the purse, shoes, and jewelry matched. I recall they both checked their lipstick  before they left the house and that they dabbed a little Avon Cotillion behind their ear lobes.

Aunt Claire and I were photographed in matching coats in the 1960s. I was thrilled to be her twin in that coat. As a child, she took me downtown every Saturday to shop. She bought me many outfits and I looked quite chic in many childhood pictures. Our Saturdays, sometimes with Aunt Melia and Aunt Madeline, usually ended with a piece of pie or a  turkey club at the Newberry’s counter or the Iszards Tea Room.

While shopping, we often saw people Aunt Claire knew. They stopped and chatted, there was no buzz from the cellphone to interrupt, just a calm conversation that always ended with Aunt Claire saying: “If you are out and about, stop over to 801 and have a cup of coffee with us.”

I found it sweet when talking to the head nurse about Aunt Claire last week, she relayed a recent conversation:

“So what would you like for your 90th birthday Claire?” asked Kelly.

“A sausage sandwich with onions and peppers.”

We celebrated Aunt Claire’s 90 years last Saturday with a pretty cake.  When my siblings, their partners, my Mom, and my nephew walked into the lovely day room at the nursing facility, Aunt Claire’s eyes welled up with tears.  She told me today she never expected that but it was so nice to see everyone.  Aunt Claire also said she really enjoyed the sausage sandwich, it had been a while since she had one.


Matching Easter Coats photograph 1965
Matching Easter Coats
Aunt Claire and Aunt Melia 1948
Aunt Claire and Aunt Melia 1948

her father was Branch Rickey, he recruited Jackie Robinson and broke … thoughts on 42 this Memorial Day

from 42...Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson
this is a photoshopped picture of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson
as depicted in 42

On a May day, hotter than this one, with lilacs in full bloom, like this one, I went to a party at Jane Jones’ home.  Jane Jones, as my father told me that day in the 1980s, was Branch Rickey’s daughter.

 And who is that?  I asked.

 Branch Rickey: he is the guy who broke the color barrier by bringing Jackie Robinson into the major leagues.

 That aside, 42 was going to be just a baseball movie to watch.

What I did not expect was that the movie was largely about the strong relationship between Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson.

I did not expect that Rickey not only brought Robinson into the major leagues, but that he carefully picked him and emotionally supported him. Rickey wanted a good player and one that could withstand bigotry.  In the recruitment phase, Branch and Jackie have a conversation in which Branch tells Jackie:

Branch Rickey: Your enemy will be out in force. But you cannot meet him on his own low ground.

Jackie Robinson: You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?

Branch Rickey: No. I want a player who’s got the guts *not* to fight back.

Jackie Robinson: You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, I’ll give you the guts.

Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0453562/quotes?ref_=tt_ql_3 on May 26, 2013.

I thought Jackie Robinson was a baseball hero.  I did not know he was a human hero.  The movie depicts the discrimination and prejudice Robinson stoically tolerated to play baseball. A man of fortitude, Jackie Robinson was not a victim of his color and this is alluded to in his interchange with a reporter:

reporter: Whatcha gonna do if one of these pitchers throws for your head?

Jackie Robinson: I’ll duck.

Retrieved from:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0453562/quotes?ref_=tt_ql_3 on May 26, 2013.

Finally, I did not know that Branch Rickey really cared about Jackie Robinson, Rickey believed in baseball and his actions showed he believed in practicing what you preach.  He tells Robinson in the beginning, his hiring is just about the money, but through the story you learn that it is not.

Watching the film, seeing Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, I could see Jane Jones  for a moment (they looked and talked so much a like), at that party where I drank a cocktail with her. I’m glad I found out the story my Dad alluded to that May and what he meant when he said Branch Rickey broke the color barrier in the major leagues.

Jane Jones and my Dad are long gone this Memorial Weekend and racism still exists. For a few moments, watching that movie, I felt connected to a long ago world and to a hope that in America,  things do get better, one person and story at a time.  It’s always about the story and I  42 is one film I would show my students if I still taught history.


lilacs May 26_edited-2

Aunt Carmella Tress…not just an old lady in an apron

Aunt Carmella Tress, not just an old lady in an apron

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The toast is warm and my Aunt Melia invites me to sit down in the little breakfast nook she set up for us. It overlooks my  grandmother’s garden: roses, poppies, and plants along the viaduct.  We wait for the water that will fill the orange ceramic kettle.   Aunt Melia fusses over girly things like the fragrant orchid corsages she buys for Easter Sunday.  One day I went with my grandmother and Aunt Melia to the podiatrist.  Before the cab arrived, she nestled her hat into her hair with bobby pins and splashed sweet perfume on her wrists as she yelled down the apartment steps to my grandmother, “Coming Rose.”
A frail woman, sick from heart disease in her last years, placing the parsley strategically on the serving plate, she began to fade as my childhood waned. In 1971, when I was ten, Aunt Melia collapsed on her living room floor. Grandma surmised she came to a quick end as she reached to turn off the Late Night Show with Johnny Carson.

40 years later, I look at my Aunt Claire’s old newspaper clippings and photographs, and I see evidence of the artistic life Melia lived.

Aunt Melia or Carmella Tress (Teresi) was my paternal grandmother’s younger sister and our lives crossed paths for ten years. My aunt was born in 1895. Aunt Claire, her niece, filled me in on most of Carmella’s life and the ephemera makes it real. According to Aunt Claire, my grandmother, Rose, insisted Carmella get voice training. They were cousins of the famous soprano, Nina Morgana, Enrico Caruso’s student. Nina Morgana sang roles at the Metropolitan Opera where Carmella was invited to sing; her father, Anthony Teresi would not let her go.

Aunt Claire told me that Carmella went to Elmira College. There is a note on a newspaper photograph in the accompanying slide show that states Carmella Teresi studied with Mrs. Ray Herrick. The librarian at Elmira College, Mark Woodhouse, answered an inquiry about Carmella and said they had no records of her enrollment.  However,  Clara Herrick taught at Elmira College then.

The newspaper clipping entitled Local Singer in Florida includes  a note that says my Aunt possessed a coloratura soprano voice. There are other clippings about this, citing that 10,000 people attended this Easter Sunrise service in Miami.

In addition to being a songstress, I know Aunt Melia worked at Artistic Greetings in Elmira NY. At Artistic Greetings she hand painted cards. She lived above my Grandfather Castellino’s store and visited her brother, Joseph Tress, in Florida. I do not know if she worked at Artistic when the 1940 US Census (available on the Internet) listed her as a worker.

One of my last memories of Aunt Melia was driving along NY Route 54 between Hammondsport and Penn Yan, my mother was at the wheel and it was a warm, rain drenched day. The greenery was popping out against the backdrop  of monochromatic grey.

“Katherine,” said Aunt Melia to my mom, “this is one of the most beautiful places in the country, and it is right here.”

I thought Aunt Melia never made it beyond New York and Florida, however, there are pictures and postcards that show   Carmella took many trips including one  to California. Many were with my adopted Aunt, Margaret Riebel. In addition  I do know that Aunt Melia and Aunt Margaret were members of the Catholic Daughters of America, often gathering things to send abroad to missions.

Back in 1970s, children went to calling hours and funerals, even though we were ten and younger. My first meeting with death and the Catholic rituals around it, the solemn waking hours, the prayer before the corpse, and the last car ride to the cemetery.  One night soon after,  my four siblings and I gathered in my grandmother’s kitchen, and I thought, in my ten-year old brain, “Aunt Melia really didn’t die, she is just in the other room, and that is why Grandma called us in here.” My denial met with a small sum of money, “a little remembrance” said Grandma.

Continue reading “Aunt Carmella Tress…not just an old lady in an apron”

Memorial Day: Remembering my Aunt, a WAC & American Legion Post 746 Commander, Corning, NY

my Aunt Madeline in the army…a WAC during World War II, Women’s Army Corp

this is a lighter with the etching Past Commander on it; I photoshopped it to make the writing stand out

Memorial Day

Today is a day my Aunt Madeline was always busy. She was at the cemetery, a parade, or veteran’s event and arrived late to our holiday barbecues. I never went with her to these events and that is sad for me now, she is gone almost 20 years.

My aunt served in WW2, she was a WAC in Rome, mNY. A WAC was a member of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II.

My aunt, Madeline Austin Castellino, was very involved in the Corning American Legion and I did go there with her. Once a year, at hunting season, she made a large venison dinner for the men at the legion. My sister and I went and helped her a few times. It was, from what I can see now, through a kaleidoscope of pots, pans, lettuce heads and napkins, a huge undertaking for one woman to orchestrate, but she seemed to enjoy doing it.

The most significant thing to me is that my aunt became the first woman Commander of the American Legion in Corning NY. Go Aunt Madeline, wherever you are. My Aunt was a doer and she honored the people who served, suffered, and died to live here and keep it, the US.

There is a line that Tom Hanks, playing Captain Miller, says at the end of saving private ryan that I find haunts me occasionally because of the things I take for granted. Hank’s character is dying, he is one of many that went into Europe to find and send home the only son left of an American mother named Mrs. Ryan. Hanks last words to Private Ryan: EARN THIS RYAN, EARN THIS!

It’s late Aunt Madeline, but I’m beginning to get it.


I think that I would rath…

Arthur Baker Miami horseshoes 1942

Poem by Arthur W. Baker, circa 1942, Miami Florida

I think that I would rather die

Than lose the sight of my other eye
Oh, terrible thought Oh! what would I do
If I well not be able to pitch the horse shoe

One eye is gone, but still I can see
for the good Lord, had once given two eyes to me
and as long as it’s only one that’s bereft
I’m thankful indeed, for the one that is left

So cheer up, and don’t let yourself down
For I still can find  my way around town
And as long as I have a good arm and leg
I think I’ll be able, to still find the peg

And as long as I still am awake
The game of horseshoes and stake
with busted bubble and all my troubles
I still hope to pitch a lots lot of doubles

So this is the story of Bake
Half blind but still sees the stake
with five gritty fingers
he still throws the ringers
all comer’s he’s willing to take.

my notes;  Today, I set up at a local flea market.  I basically took things I had tried to sell two years ago at a rummage sale.  I had so much success with my first rummage sale 30 years ago that I haven’t given up hope that it could all happen again.  I could sell everything and make a $100.  Today I sold next to nothing and made $22 minus the $10 set up fee.  Don’t give up your day job.

I enjoy rummage…not so much for the actual purchases I make, but for all the possibilities.  I see things people have created then and now and I think how wondrous the human mind is to  take materials and design things useful or fun.

In the course of my preparing for today’s rummage, I went through some old photographs. They were passed on to my Aunt from Great Uncle Joe who died in the 1960s.  When I came across this picture and poem it occurred to me that this  photo and poem bears witness to the fact that Arthur W Baker lived.  Like many of the things I saw at the flea market, a point in time and something that remains of the day.


Revised: The Phoebe Snow ran through my Grandmother’s yard

lantern from the Phoebe Snow, circa 1960s

One day in the  fall of September 2005, I was talking to my parents about the trains.  It had been over twenty years since my grandmother had moved from her home on  Lake Street in Elmira.  My grandmother’s house abutted a viaduct and when I stayed there as child in the 1960s, the rumble of the train reverberated through the home.  The Erie Lackawanna Railroad ran above my grandparents’ front and back yard on its trips between New York City and Buffalo.

“Yep,” my Dad said, “on the other side of the viaduct was a train stop, in the middle of the night, on many nights, the Phoebe Snow, a popular passenger train, stopped and Grandma opened the store up for the passengers.”

In my mind’s eye, I saw my 4 foot 10 inch Grandma throw on her navy blue coat and walk out the side door with her unique gait, landing heavier on her right foot.  Down the red brick drive to the front of their building, turning the key to Grandpa’s store and the glass cases lined with Mallow Cups and cigarettes in their Lucky Strike and Winston-Salem wrappers.

I wondered how the passengers transversed the viaduct, apparently there existed a set of stairs that climbed up and down to the other side.  “What if they needed other things…things not at the store?”

“Oh, your grandmother, she’d help them out,” my Dad said.

I liked this story, it was comforting somehow, like the trains.  The trains which I still find calming, the repetitious rumble, powerful moving ahead while standing still.  I later asked my Aunt about Grandma opening up the store for people on the passenger train.

“Oh, yes,” she always did that.  “In fact, on the last night the Phoebe Snow went through, the conductor gave her this lamp:  ‘Here you go, something so you will never forget the Phoebe Snow.’ ”

My Aunt went into her garage and pulled out the lantern in the above picture.  “We saved it after the Flood of 1972 but I need to clean it up, maybe a project for this winter.” she said and walked it back into the garage.

My Dad passed away soon after that and my Aunt never got around to the lantern.  It is passed on for another  time when it may bring people together and light the way.

Link to YouTube video about the Phoebe Snow:  http://youtu.be/P6yjxjtVcuY


PICS ... Some from Reuters
PICS …Most from Reuters

this I believe: it takes luck, it takes courage, it takes a strong mind and healthy body, it takes the kindness of others, it takes money, it takes  synergy… These pictures are from Reuters this week, Pinterest, and my iPhone.

If the Donald becomes President…add your thoughts

If the Donald becomes President

1. The White House hairdresser will need to be ever vigilant…there is no telling what Air Force One will do to that hair.

2. The Democrats and Republicans will be forced to unite like never before.

3. International despots will show no mercy: “Why he just called me a mother _ _ ?”

4. Fill in your own blank under comments.  To be published by me they must show logic and pc.

An Open Letter to Whoopi Goldberg….We most certainly WERE Listening

Originally posted on Rebecca's Ramblings:

Since I saw The View’s so-called “apology” clip on social media, I’ve given this post a tremendous amount of thought. My first instinct and knee-jerk reaction was to sit down with my laptop and blast them with full force…unload my anger  and outrage onto the page…err…computer screen…so I could purge it and get all of that negativity out of my system. I’ll admit, I even got about a quarter of the way through that piece, when I stopped to re-read it. It was a scathing, searing diatribe that quite frankly, made me ashamed of myself. It sounded like something that the View Crew would say…it was petty, spiteful, angry and distasteful. That’s not who I am as a person, a writer or more specifically, a nurse. Quite frequently, I end my blog posts with a sentence urging my readers to be kind to each other. I am a tireless advocate for tolerance, peaceful coexistence and doing…

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The Reading List for Life Part II

Chatham Bookstore 2015
Chatham Bookstore 2015
In the spring of 2007, I wrote this for a friend who was leaving our fun work group.  At the time, bookstores were still common.  In our small work group we had experienced  a series of family deaths during a short time leading to a strong bond.  We worked in human services and witnessed a lot of human suffering and joy as a result of our job.  This led to many conversations in which, I was always saying to my friend, you should read this…

My dearest M,

I am on my big green couch surrounded by melting snow and a fog rolling in from the lake. I think that writing you a letter about the reading list for the rest of your life might be good fun.

So, first, you must procure and read:  Men are Just Desserts, that way,  no matter how frustrated you get with your man, you will know that he is just dessert and that you have to cook the meal (aka: go tango dancing with your friends).

Another good book about men and life and relationships is A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg.  Read the book before you read about her marriage, it is eye-opening.  After, you may also enjoy The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve. When the dysfunction in relationships  rears its ugly head, read The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy and  its sequel, Beach Music: they help make sense of things.  Conroy shows how dysfunctional groups are born, live, and die while he depicts the earth’s beauty interwoven among  the craziness.  After you read The Prince of Tides, you might want to see the movie.

A Slender Thread by Diane Ackerman is a comforting read when next winter, out in California, you may miss upstate NY.  Ackerman’s allusion to the slender thread of life and her tales of her work as a crisis-line volunteer hit home, metaphorically and geographically.  Note, when she references her friends Carl and Ann, she is referring to the late Carl Sagan.

I have not read all of the Old Testament but find The Psalms very comforting.  Also, on the  political scene, read The US Constitution and  Amendments.  It’s a quick read.  If you haven’t read The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels, read that too.   In my assessment, we have the closest thing to communism on the planet, “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.”

On a lighter note, The Tao of Pooh simplifies the whole religion/existence thing. It just does.  Pima Chodron and the Dali Lama have writings on Buddhism: they heal when the heart is confused and or sad  or just tired.  Pima Chodron practices a sect of Buddhism called Shambhala.  There is a magazine by that name and a publisher by that name.  I find many of their publications helpful.

How can I recommend everything to read in a few lines in a way that will entice you to check off the whole list?  Read Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway and see what you make of it.  When people disappoint you and you can’t believe it is happening, read The Winter of our Discontent by John Steinbeck, and when you want to help your family and can’t, this book may help:  A River Runs Through It you will see that it is an age-old problem.  Here is a partial quote:

“For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
― Norman MacleanA River Runs Through It and Other Stories

When you are really old, read When I am Old, I’ll Wear Purple.  I have not read this one but I know old ladies who have. When you are mid-age, whatever that is, since, because, oh by the way, we don’t know when the grim reaper is coming, read Back When We Were Grown Ups by Anne Tyler.  Very good coming to terms story, surprisingly light.   A good read if you ever think at 50 of hooking back up with that person you use to date, who was he? what was his name? oh Mike. Mike? Read the short story, The Story of an Hour, by Kate Chopin.  Wow, the duality of perception and the complexity of marriage in the shortest story I ever read.

If you have not read Robert Frost’s poems, start now, online.  They are good odes to nature with metaphorical life symbols. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
 And sorry I could not travel both…

Richard Powers, Richard Powers: read Gain and other books by him.  He is in his 40s and a fabulous writer about our times.  The science gone amok and the humanity that tries to cope.

So many books, so little time, the page is almost done and my attempt to be witty begins to fail. If you haven’t read The Velveteen Rabbit, buy it, read it, and save it for your first-born.
 Along with Pippy Longstocking and The Diary of Anne Frank.
 About grief read, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, if you haven’t already.  I felt so connected in my aloneness after my father died by just reading this book.

About the inevitability and confusion of death, read 3 poems by Emily Dickinson.  Because I could not stop for death, “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died,” and “There’s been a Death in the Opposite House as lately as Today.”
To understand the body and how it breaks down from a very humane perspective read:  How We Die by Sherwin Nuland.

Cheer up, The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is a good book to read.  Each section prefaced by her daughter Caroline Kennedy and the themes include youth, adventure, etc.
 Oops, I forgot, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, in this he proved that you can become a famous writer at 60 and that you never really get over childhood altogether, but you can make peace with it.  I also forgot to tell you about the books by David McCullough: history, my favorite, John Adams.

 And on the spooky side, looking always for the metaphor: Stephen King’s Needful Things, do we need it or want it so badly we need it
? Misery and The Green Mile are also by King and very good. Anne Rice, Cry from Heaven and Memnoch the DevilFrankenstein and Dracula both of which have scenery somewhat like upstate NY from November to March.

Well, I could go on, but what fun would it be for you, the reader? For after these , the world awaits of book suggestions from other friends, NPR, the web and the browsing that happens on a ho-hum day, when there, out from the shelf, pops a book you have never seen or heard of. But for some reason, out of all the bunches you are faced with, that one book calls your name. You open it, it sucks you in, page turning to the end, you wonder what force, what serendipity, drew you here to this one of zillions waiting for a reader’s eyes?  You don’t know if there are messages in the atoms that draw one to another, you only know that through that tome you arrived somewhere else at the end of your journey and you never left the couch.

The Reading List for Life Part 1

When I was in eighth grade I had a fabulous English teacher. Her name was Ms. Dawson and I was an Honors Student, one of those in an advanced class.

She taught us so much within the confines of her classroom. We read and watched Death Be Not Proud, we were assigned a word of the day monthly and stood up in the front of class to present it…a good technique for teaching public speaking. She helped us connect poetry to images in the outer world and then published our works in a book I still have some forty years later.

Fast forward to eleventh grade where I was demoted to Regents class, the non-brilliant classification of the day. The brilliant students were on the other side of the wall in a class with, what I do believe was, a brilliant teacher named Barry Swan.  I only heard  pieces of his lectures, but I learned through stories that Barry Swan made students’  think.  For sure, he had passion.  You could hear it in his voice when it passed through the wall to the room I was sitting in that year.

My English teacher was out most of the year.  She had been a victim of polio and became head of the Teacher’s Union…I think the latter was her passion and I think the polio led to her  absences.  She was a nice woman, gave me As on all my papers, but I don’t think she read them.  One day, I actually wrote, if you are reading this please indicate it.  When the paper was returned there was no mark on that line.  I remember we were  to read Beowulf…I could not get past the first page and had no motivation to try it.


When I went to college, it dawned on me, and was elucidated by many of my friends, that I did not read enough and do the simultaneous thinking.  It was as if I stopped with junior year.  My college boyfriend sent me into the summer after our sophomore year with a reading list.  There were 10 books on that list, I bought all of them.  I read most of them…they began to change my life.  In retrospect, I think it was because the books covered such a wide range of topics and made me think of the uncertainty of certainty.

Here is the list of five of those books.  Sadly, I cannot remember the other five but as you can see what a combination.

  1. The New Testament
  2. The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis
  3. The Roswell Incident
  4. Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton
  5. The Cosmos by Carl Sagan

For each book, I can summarize in about one sentence why it changed my thinking:

The New Testament is an integral part of the foundation of our society, like it or not!

The Screwtape Letters, written by the senior devil to the junior devil depict a truism:  as soon as you proclaim your humility you lose it.

The Roswell Incident made me wonder are they out there and could the government really cover them up if they are?

The Seven Storey Mountain confirmed for me that it is body, mind, and soul.

The Cosmos:  I admit I never could get through this tome, but I loved the pictures and I loved the concept billions and billions.  I later in life worked for the man who hired the author, that was pretty cool.


Whose Got Your Back

“it ain’t who you know but whose got your back” so sings Aloe Black

What a world we have created…speaking through our electronics more than we do Face-to-Face. Reading and watching the news of Syrian heart break right after the post about my dog’s happy meal. All of life’s mess mixed into one stream.

We are a trusting lot in this country…way too trusting. It is obvious from what some of us post on Facebook. I think it comes from the bubble we live in. The bubble of safety brought to us through CNN and the U.S. Military.

So in the muddled world of Facebook we must remember that liking a post doesn’t translate into love and trust. It is easy to forget that when we are so much with our electronic pals.

The kind of love and trust developed over face-to-face connection of real conversation and real trust. The kind of love developed through hard times and fun times and the kind of love that occurs when people dislike your choices, tell you why, and love you no matter what.

The kind of relationships with people who have your back as Aloe Black sings. Those rare gems who will stop you dead in your tracks, tell you what you don’t want to hear, and who, by grace you open your heart to.

We can all rationalize why our decisions are right. We can defer to those higher authorities, like my dentist who says I must have X-rays if I want my teeth cleaned. Those authorities who make it so simple to just say yes, or we can question, “really and this is based on?” What… possibly your need to pay off the X-ray machine.

And, in our questioning, speak to those people we trust, to sort out whose got our back and whose agenda is too much muddled into their advices.

There aren’t many in the camp of people who are for you…may we all have the wisdom to identify them and keep them close in this mixed up, crazy world.

And may we find a collective way to extend our humanity towards our pets to those refugees so in need of our help.
inspiration for this piece

The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis
People of the Lie by M Scott Peck
T.D. Jakes
Aloe Black

this quote by Shakespeare

To beguile the time,
Look like the time.
Bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue. Look like th’ innocent flower,
But be the serpent under ’t. He that’s coming
Must be provided for; and you shall put
This night’s great business into my dispatch.image

goop for the rest of us 99 percent

Gwyneth, I know you mean well, but really, I just can’t afford most things promoted in goop.

Here are some headlines for goop for the rest of us!

BE: Self Preservation:  Can’t afford plastic surgery, try drinking water and applying lots of moisturizer: maybe it will catch on and some of those plastic surgery dollars (resources) will be diverted to causes that really need money, WIC, for example.

MAKE: Eat Organic:    try growing a few lettuce leaves in the back-yard or a herb garden on the window sill~start a world-wide reduction in carbon emissions…its a long way from the city to the organic farm.

goop for the rest of us

GO: Where to stay in New York City: Can’t afford $500 a night, maybe you better visit Jersey and take a bus over.

MAKE: From the kitchen, cooking with your man:  Scrumptious Blueberry Muffins: buy a mix; add frozen blueberries.

BE: Self Help:  How to Become More Resilient while doing more and making less after the tax man cometh.

GET Style:  Alternatives to the “R” Blouse in Blue for $225 found at your local thrift shop.

DO: Paris Foodies:  Not going anytime soon, Julia Child wrote some good books: check them out at the library.

Cheers from a goop subscriber who likes the inspiration but not the cost!


Blueberry Muffin made by husband
Blueberry Muffin made by husband

Blowin’ through the wind

written July 2014

Blowin’ through the wind

with wind
Blowin’ through the wind

along about May I started thinking about the wind, how great it feels sweeping over the arms and face during many months in the Northeast.

I also thought about how darn right evil it feels in mid February: searing through whatever puffy nylon armaments I might be wearing.

this summer, I’ve also been watching the wind, the way it moves the cattails this way and that way, apart and together, like a well choreographed dance.

one day, driving past an old friend’s cottage on Seneca Lake, I looked up at a tree swaying in the wind, bent in the late afternoon sunlight.

I thought about how the winds of time just keep blowing forward~
wondered if there was any way to go back 30 plus years to
the cottage near the creek…

to water ski slalom; to throw my head under the fast moving waters of Hector Falls on a Memorial Day; to eat Mom’s macaroni salad with the green olives and sour cream, Faye’s potatoes, and Cara’s green bean casserole?

to wonder if my Parents and their friends would ever stop playing the “What time precisely will the sunset?” game.

a few days later I learned one of the friends, a contemporary, lost his wife.

no going back, what was I thinking, whole lives have been lived since that time…
lives just blowing through the wind.


The land of What?

These days I’m always hearing What?

The other day, at the nursing home… my aunt and I waited patiently in her room for one of her appointments. I was tired and not saying much…every once in a while she’d asked me a question: “How is your pal Stefani?”

“Oh good,” I replied.

And then it started…”What, What? I can’t hear you.”
“She is good,” I replied, again.

A few minutes later, she asked the same question and we went through the same scenario.
Finally, I said, “maybe you should get a hearing aid?”

“What, at my age?” she is 91, “there is nothing wrong with my hearing.”

Last week, we went to dinner with my Mother…granted we were in a corner, near a speaker belting out Frank Sinatra, but I asked her to sit next to me to minimize the whats. She still couldn’t hear me…the what’s ensued. I’ve asked her about getting a hearing aid, she scoffs and says,  “What?”

This am, my husband said to me…”What time are we leaving?” I replied, “oh about 10.”
“What,” he asked. “What time are we leaving?”
“10”…I said again.  “When are you getting your hearing aid?”

“What, I don’t need a hearing aid!”