Tag: memoir

Age is Only a Number

Age is Only a Number

Mother was always on the go.  She lived at home by herself and did her own cooking and cleaning.  Once a week I would pick her up then collect my two sisters who lived nearby.  None of them drove.  Thursday was our day to shop, pay bills and go out for lunch.

Mother spent four days a week at the church hall making sandwiches for the homeless, working on a quilt, knitting prayer shawls, cooking funeral lunches and whatever else needed doing.

On the seventh day, Mother was in the front row for mass and served coffee for the meet and greet after the service.  Sunday afternoon was reserved for family visits.  My sisters, brothers and I dropped by with our spouses and kids.  Weather permitting, the kids could be found outside climbing trees, playing hopscotch or a rousing game of statue.

The adults sat around Mother discussing family matters and solving the world’s problems.    Once the grandchildren went off to college, I would pick my Mother up after Sunday mass and take her to breakfast.

Recently I noticed Mother slowing down.  She started moving a little slower and walking with a cane on our shopping trips.   Her eyesight, hearing and memory never failed.  Now and then she would skip a day working at the church  proclaiming,

“It’s about time some of the younger women get involved.  I’m one of the oldest to show up.”

As designated driver, I took Mother to her annual physical.  On the short walk from the car to the office door she said in a shallow voice,

“I feel like I’m one hundred.”

I laughed and said, “You are ninety-nine you know.”

The part about feeling 100 came from a friend’s story about her mother.  The rest is a compilation of memories of my Grandma, my Mother and various Aunts.

E is for Ethan

E is for Ethan

The road to adoption is not for the faint of heart.  It takes courage, faith, persistence, determination and a whole lot of fearlessness on both sides of the adoption.  The newest member of our family, Ethan celebrates his first birthday this week.  This one’s for you Ethan.

ethan 2

E is for Enchanted.  Your parents were enchanted with you from the first minute they met you.  At one day old you captured their hearts and souls.

E is for Ever-lasting Love You will always be loved Ethan.  If you ever doubt it, just look around you.  You are surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who love you now and forever.

E is for Elated.  Every time your Mommy and Daddy look at you they can hardly believe they get to call you “our son.”  They have permanent smiles on their faces.  They radiate in your presence.

E is for Excited.  Your cousins are lining up to spend time with you.  They are so excited to have you as a part of the family.  You are excited to see them too.  You light up when they are in the room and look for them when they disappear from sight.

E is for Extraordinary You will have an extraordinary life as the son of two extraordinary people.

E is for Extreme.  We are extremely grateful to Ethan’s birth mother for the courage it took to evaluate her options and choose adoption.

E is for Eager.  We are eager to watch you grow and develop into a fine young man.

E is for Emotions It is hard to express all of the emotions swirling around you.

E is for Explode.  It feels as if our hearts will explode.  We love you so much.

E is for Enjoy.  Enjoy this very special family you are part of.  Enjoy each day.

Happy First Birthday Ethan!

ethan 4

 

The Cone Zone

The Cone Zone

Summer Sojourn 2016, Part Two

Of the six states and two continents I have called home, Kentucky is byky roads far the plushest and greenest of them all.  The rolling hills, narrow country roads covered by a canopy of trees and lined with fences speak of a gentle life style.

Both Lexington, Kentucky and Gainesville, Florida claim to be the “horse capital of the world.”  I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but between the two, Lexington wins, hands down.

* * *

Heading north on I75, just before you cross the Ohio River, a spectacular view of Cincinnati appears on the horizon.  Take a good look.  It doesn’t last long and it beats the view from ground level as you drive through. Once out of the Greater Cincinnati Area, Ohio is basically flat.

Ohio – it should be named “The state of Perpetual Road Construction.”  Orange cones, barrels and signs of “road work ahead” abound.  I intentionally did the drive on a Sunday to avoid construction slowdowns.  For the most part, it was a good strategy.

I’ve been travelling this stretch of road for decades.  One of my favorite land marks used to be “Big Butter Jesus” until it was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.

If you have never seen this edifice, the best description can be found in the following song on YouTube:  Before the fire…  I apologize in advance if you find it sacrilegious.

After the fire, a new last verse was written to the song and can be viewed here:  After the fire…  Fast-forward to the end.  It is worth it!

* * *

Michigan, My Michigan!  The very minute you cross the state line it’s hard not to notice how much more aggressively people drive here.  Keep your wits about you, an eye on your side mirrors and another on the rearview mirror.

I suspect there are more cars than people in Michigan.  One person may own an everyday car to get to work, a vanity car, and an SUV or truck to pull a boat or RV.  One word of advice:  plan your north- and southbound trips to avoid the masses migrating “up north” to their cottage/cabin on Friday and returning home/south on Sunday.

Michigan is also known for the prevalence of construction zones lined with orange cones and barrels.  The local news report includes a “Cone Zone” advisory.  With all of the construction going on you would think the roads would be in better condition.  The hard winters and number of cars on the road do take their toll.

And so as Part Two of the Summer Sojourn unfolds, I leave you with this from the Mitten State.

Welcome to Michigan Sign at State Border
AJ7400 Welcome to Michigan Sign at State Border
The Slow Lane

The Slow Lane

On the first leg of my summer sojourn I witnessed many types of fearlessness.  So this is less of a story and more of a travel log of the first four states on my journey.

us 19I left my home in Florida, north bound traveling the back roads.  Once off U.S. 19, a four-lane divided highway, it was two-lane country roads into Georgia.  A road sign indicating a town was often followed by a blinking light, no commerce, no residential district in sight.  No sign of civilization as far as the eye could see.

Fearless are those who have chosen to live on the road less traveled.  Where do they shop for groceries?  How often do they make the trek?  Do they have large gardens and farm animals for food?  Are they lonely?  Why have they chosen such an isolated existence?

* * *

One consistent sight along north Florida and southern Georgia roads was the plethora of Baptist churches.  Most were small, white buildings with steeples, the kind ybaptist churchou see in movies, very picturesque.  No two of them were of the same denomination.

Fearless were the missionaries who blanketed the south propagating the faith.  What was their motivation?  What population were they targeting?  Could there have been enough money to keep so many congregations alive?  How do they all still survive?

* * *

Once I joined fellow travelers on I 75 no words can describe the antics of fearless drivers on the road.  They seem to have no value for their own life or the lives of anyone around them.  What is waiting for them at the end of their trip?  It must be something special to risk everything to get there a few minutes sooner.

i 75
They send me to the slow lane, fearful I might be caught in bumper to bumper traffic crawling past them, their car crushed on the side of the road.  Hopefully no one will be injured.

* * *

Tcowswo fearless cows, one brown and one white, pushed their noses out the trailer window.  Traveling 70 mph, face in the wind must have been exhilarating for them.  Or maybe they just wanted some fresh air.  It was a comical sight I wish I could have caught on camera.

 

* * *

Are animals that try to cross a major interstate fearless or merely unaware of the danger they are in?  When they don’t make it, the fearless carrion birds show up, risking their lives for a fresh meal

* * *

Fearless were the crews thatt road 2 blasted through mountains to build the roads in Tennessee.  Not to be outdone by man, Mother Nature shows her fearless side in the plants and trees growing out of the rocks bordering the interstate.

 

* * *

On a respite in Kentucky, I am once again struck by the fearless beauty of the horse farms; miles and miles of fences.  Pastures glow sporting thirty shades of green.  Horses strut and gallop with fearless grace and glee.

horse farm

* * *

If you are fearless enough to leave home and bask in the beauty of this great country we live in, your efforts will be rewarded may times over.  You don’t have to go far.  Just look around you.  See the beauty you have driven by so many times before.  Look for the unexpected in the ordinary.

Go fearlessly on your journey.  I recommend the slow lane.

 

The End of the Line

Father’s Day always brings to mind one of the most fearless people I know, Raymond F Barry, my dad.  He was proud of his service as a Staff Sergeant in the Army during World War II.  Originally stationed at Clark Field on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, he spent thirty-four months as a prisoner of war.  He didn’t talk about it very often.  He did however save articles, books, photos and letters.

raymond barry

I would like to share two excerpts from a memory book about his service.  This first piece is taken from “History of Cabanatuan Prison Camp 1942-1945” written by Maj. Gen. Chester L. Johnson, US Army.

On April 9, 1942, some 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers and prisoners of the Japanese, captured on Bataan began the infamous “Death March” out of the Bataan Peninsula to central Luzon.

After being forced to march the 85 miles to San Fernando, under the most inhuman conditions, the prisoners were forced into small freight cars and hauled to the town of Capas, which was 45 miles away, in the hot sun with the doors to the freight car closed.  From Capas they were forced to march the final 8 miles to the Camp O’Donnell POW camp.

Weakened from four months of continuous combat, living on starvation rations and minimal or no medical attention, thousands of men died on the death march, in the freight cars and at Camp O’Donnell.

After the fall of Corregidor and the Manilla Bay Fortress islands on May 6, 1942, 16,000 Filipinos and American servicemen were ferried to Manilla.

The American POW’s were marched through the streets of Manilla…as a show for the Filipino civilians.  The American POW’s were shipped by train to Cabanatuan where the Japanese had established an American POW compound.

American POW’s in Cabanatuan were assigned to work on a farm…all the work performed was hard labor…the results were that in a 30-month period, 3,000 died at Cabanatuan alone.

These POW’s died from disease, executions, beatings and starvations.  It should be noted that more Americans died at Cabanatuan than any other prison camp since Andersonville in the Civil War.

In October and November of 1944, the Japanese moved able bodied POW’s to Manilla…Only about 500 American POW’s judged too ill or too crippled to work were left behind in Cabanatuan.

On January 30th, 1945 at 7:45 p.m. An American team of 100 Rangers…along with two small Alamo Scout teams (22 men in all)…in a totally successful surprise attack liberated the camp.

* * *

In Dad’s own words:

freight car

After walking five days without food, this (boxcar) is what is waiting for us at San Fernando.  We were squeezed into these small cars and hauled to a town called Cabas which was about forty-five miles away, in the hot sun with the doors closed.  The trip lasted five hours.  Some prisoners succeeded in opening holes in the sides of the car to let in fresh air.  We were weak, tired and sick.  I can’t describe the feeling, to be treated worse than cattle by a stranger who does not know you, and hates you bitterly.  From Capas it was about an eight mile walk to Camp O’Donnell.  Another Death Trap.  This surely was the end of the line.

* * *

It wasn’t the end of the line.  He was moved to Cabanatuan, worked on the farm, buried the dead, and eventually was left behind with those too ill to work.

Dad returned home legally blind from malnutrition and suffered other health issues throughout his life.

He was married to the same woman for 58 years, raised four relatively normal children and lived to be 86.  Along the way he earned a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Michigan and taught school for 24 years.

As a side note:  Near the end of Dad’s life, while in the Veterans’ Hospital, one of the Rangers on the team that liberated Cabanatuan was in the same facility.  He would stop by dad’s room every day to ask he needed anything.  He felt responsible for the life he saved.

And so on this Father’s Day, I salute you Staff Sergeant Raymond F Barry for your fearless determination to survive, your fearless dedication to your family and friends, your fearless insistence on the importance of getting an education, and your fearless guidance that serves me still.

Happy Father’s Day from Your Favorite (and only) Daughter

Eight Daring Women

Eight Daring Women

I spent last weekend in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with seven of my new best friends.  Our purpose:  explore and respond to our soul’s whisper and heart’s desire.  The journey within can be more fearful than traveling to the most remote corners of the world.  Here is my ode to my fellow travelers.

Eight daring women step into the arena.

Four stalwart horses stand at attention, electric with anticipation.

Eight daring heartbeats racing, pulsing through the sultry, arid ether.

Eight daring women eye-to-eye with one-thousand pound sentient beings.

Eight daring women exposed and vulnerable.

Eight daring women open to the possibilities.

Eight daring women supporting one another through tears and laughter.

Eight daring women forever changed.

horses 2

 

Thank you Beth Bryce, my fellow travelers and my two equine teachers, Dandi and Lilly, for helping me understand the importance of stillness and letting my bright light shine.

Retro-Fear

Retro-Fear

Retro-Fear.  I made that up, I think. Naiveté often looks like fearlessness. Or, “If I knew then what I know now, I might not have (insert act of fearlessness.)”

It all began with a lie, the decision to leave Atlantic City and move to New York City (NYC).

My boss sat on the other side of his desk and lied to my face. Unaware I knew the truth about the possibility of moving from the training department to the marketing department, he told me the job was a demotion and paid less money.

I’d met with the Vice-President of Merchandising beforehand to work out the details. Writing marketing copy seemed much more interesting than writing training manuals.

My boss lied to me.  I was sick to my stomach.  I pressed my lips together and took a deep breath.

Asking my boss to inquire about the job opening was a courtesy and the politically correct thing to do. Calling him on his lie would have been political suicide for me and put others in harm’s way. So I held my tongue.

Back at my desk, fuming on the inside, steam coming out my ears, I vowed to be gone in thirty days.

My college roommate lived in NYC. I called to find out if she knew anyone needing a roommate. She was looking for a new apartment and needed a roommate.  We hatched a plan.

I used vacation time and weekends to look for an apartment and look for a job. At the end of the month I had both. I borrowed the company van and moved my belongings to New York.

fear 2

Three important bits of self-knowledge came from that move.

  1. Personal integrity is important to me and a vital quality in the people I surround myself with.
  2. Like Frank Sinatra sang so eloquently, “If you can make it there you can make it anywhere.” New York offers a lot, but is not an easy place to live. After that, nothing scares me, much.
  3.  Big cities are not for me.  I am a small-town girl through and through.

I wouldn’t even consider moving to NYC today. Is it retro-fear or knowledge and experience?

Every decision takes us down one path instead of another. No telling where I might be today if I had stayed in my job and not taken the path to the Big Apple.

fear 1

Milk Box Confession

Milk Box Confession

Bless me Father, for I have sinned.  I just skipped Mass.  But since we are only obligated to attend once a week, and I will be there Sunday, is it really a sin?  Have I broken any of the commandments?  Do I even have to mention this in my next confession? 

It started with a mad dash from the hallway in front of the church.  Every Friday, just before lunch, all fourth and eighth graders lined up, single-file, to march in for weekly Mass.  I looked around. 

 Is there a teacher in the hallway? No.

Can I get around the corner of the building before one comes back?  Probably.

Will someone ‘tell’ on me?  Maybe.

Is it worth the risk?  Yes, if it works.

A deep breath in, hold.  One last look to the end of hall then out the glass door and around the building.  Whew, exhale.  Time stood still.  Gasping for air, heart pounding in my ears, I waited for a shrill, nun-like voice to call me by my full name.  But the next sound I heard was the processional hymn as the priest followed the altar boys down the center aisle.

I’m pretty sure someone else tried it first; I was not an original thinker back then.  I would never have considered skipping an actual class like English, or Math or even Religion.  Aside from being obvious that you were missing, it would have been sacrilegious, pun intended.  My father was a school teacher; school was not optional.

Once I believed that Mass would go on without me, I started to walk home for lunch.  So many things could have gone wrong.  I walked as slowly as I could.  I not only took the long way home, I went around the block to approach the house from the other direction, avoiding the kitchen windows on the front.

I quietly opened the door to the garage.  I was still early.  If I waited too long, my younger brother would catch me in the garage and he would ‘tell’ on me.  If I didn’t wait long enough, there would be questions and I would probably make up a lie.  That would be a sin.  It’s not exactly in the top ten (commandments), but it would probably fall under number four:  honor your father and mother.

Decades later I would look back on this break from being a rules-following, goodie-two-shoes kid as an act of fearlessness.  It was the first indication that I would question my religious upbringing to become a recovering Catholic.

But on that particular day, I sat on the milk box, fidgeting, restless, rehearsing my next confession.

Bless me Father, for I have sinned…

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake

Today’s post is in the “fearless, memoir” category.

When I think of facing fear and acting with courage, this is the earliest memory that comes to mind.  It was the first, but certainly not the last time I would have to take this walk.  It got easier each time, which is the point of the story.  In my own words…

Sometimes acts of courage are thrust upon us.
Sometimes we knowingly choose to take the courageous path.
Each act of courage gives us the fortitude to face the next opportunity
with the knowledge that we have the strength to overcome our fears.

Strawberry Shortcake

At seven years old I stand at the end of the driveway, one step away from the sidewalk.  I’m dressed in shorts and a tee shirt, sandals on my feet.  Biting my lower lip, I look at the kitchen window of the only home I remember.  Is anybody even watching? I wonder.  I turn my head and size-up the one hundred feet to the next driveway.

In my right hand I’m holding a small, brown suitcase.  Normally it’s full of doll clothes.  Not today.  The doll clothes are piled neatly on my bed.  I’ve filled the suitcase with pajamas, a tooth brush and a change of clothes.  In my left hand, clutched to my chest, is my favorite stuffed animal, a tan dog with one dark, brown ear.  The other ear was ripped off in a tug-of-war with one of my brothers.

I take a big breath in and blow it out, making a sound like rushing wind.  My chest hurts; my heart is heavy.  So many thoughts are running through my mind.  Why am I the only one who has to leave? Why is mom in the hospital?  When will she come home?  When can I come home?  

Holding back tears, I step onto the sidewalk.  One foot in front of the other, I slowly take the longest walk of my life.  Approaching the neighbors’ house, I hear the family out back on their porch talking and laughing.  I stand outside the screen door, all forty-five pounds and forty-four inches of me.

“My dad told me to come over to spend the night,” I say in soft voice, quavering and uncertain, barely covering the sob that was about to leak out.

“Come in.  One of you boys take her suitcase and put it in the downstairs bedroom.   Would you like some strawberry shortcake?” the mom asked.

“Yes please.  That’s my mom’s favorite dessert.”

Fearlessness

Fearlessness

I’ve decided to make Travels With Mary Sue 2016 a memoir about Fearlessness.

Why a memoir?  My life story would bore you and me.  Focusing on selected moments in time will feed my creative need to write and help me hone my writing skills.

Why fearlessness?  To foster self-reflection about how and why I arrived at this place in time.

For clarification, what is a memoir versus an autobiography?

Memoir – a themed collection of stories about moments or events in the author’s life.

Autobiography – the author’s entire life to the present.

Here is the first installment.  Some details may not be totally accurate because my memory for time and color is not exact.


 

Fearless Hair

“It’s fearless, what you are doing with your hair, letting it go grey,” commented a classmate at our fortieth high school reunion.

“Hmm!  I never thought of it that way,” I replied, not knowing if it was a compliment or not.

In fact, I did color my hair for years.  I went to the drug store the minute I saw those random, wiry, grey hairs coming in.  You couldn’t miss them amongst the chocolate brown strands. I stood in the store holding boxes of hair color products up to the mirror, looking for the closest shade to mine.

What a mess, coloring my own hair at home.  Dark brown dye splattered all over the gleaming white sink and tiles in the bathroom.  The frayed, white towel, splattered with cocoa brown hair dye, now had a singular purpose–protecting my clothing during the hair dying ritual.  I say ritual because short hair needs to be “touched up” at least every four weeks.

After six months, I asked my hair stylist if he would color my hair.  I was at the salon once a month for a cut anyway.  I liked this no fuss, no muss plan.  It did come at a price; the monthly cost of a hair appointment doubled.  I had a substantial income, so why not treat myself to this indulgence.  I added a manicure to the routine.  So much for being low-maintenance.

jan 16 2016

Why and when did I stop hiding the grey?  To save money and before it was obvious.

I made a career change and moved to Homosassa in 1999.  I continued having my hair colored for about a year.  Then my income dropped into the basement and I needed to live on less.

Over time, the percentage of grey hairs to dark ones was increasing.  I never wanted to be that women with dark hair and grey roots.  Not a good look.  I’ve heard it referred to as the skunk stripe.  Yikes!

My mother had thick, wavy, beautiful, white hair at a very young age.  Maybe I would be lucky enough to have the same gene.  So far, not so much.  My hair is salt and pepper, heavy on the salt.  It’s thinning some, with a little wave.

I avoid the mirror and the camera to minimize those who is that old lady moments.  You know the ones.  You are shopping and see your reflection in a window.  My favorite moment — realizing the two old women I saw on a closed circuit television in an art museum were me and my friend.

I totally understand why others enhance their hair color.  We all have to like what we see in the mirror and in pictures.  Our image of ourselves has a lot to do with our self-esteem.

Feeling down?  Make a hair appointment.  Let someone wash your hair.  Warm water flowing over your head chases the stress down the drain.  The feel of someone gently caressing your scalp can transport you to another place.  Refresh your hair color and you will feel like a new person afterward.

There can be something sensual about having your hair washed, by the right person.  Two movie scenes come to mind.   Robert Redford washed Meryl Streep’s hair in Out of AfricaOut of Africa  Enough said!  Kira Sedgewick washed and cut John Travolta’s hair then gave him a shave in Phenomenon.  Phenomenon  Hmm!

But I digress. Is it fearless to let my hair go grey?  Maybe!  I’m not afraid of aging or looking my age. I’m not afraid of what others think of my hair or me.  I’ve earned every one of those grey hairs.  I wear them as a badge of honor.  They remind me of where I am on this journey: more than half-way between the beginning and the end; more salt than pepper, with a touch of sass.

fear 3