THANKSGIVING REFLECTIONS

Above is a picture of a wood carving by Paul Constance

This past Thanksgiving time has been one of intense sorrow and of joy. The death of John Connelly, husband of my goddaughter and niece, Margie, and father of four wonderful adult children came a few days before Thanksgiving. It was incredibly sad but not unexpected since John has been battling a lethal form of cancer, with a ten percent survival rate, for the last seven months. John died early on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. When we gathered that night with our local families for dinner Jerry suggested after we said the blessing, that we go around the table and share a favorite John memory. It was very moving and very special.

When Senator Hubert Humphrey died in 1978 our dear friend Al Eisele was asked to contribute to the writing of his eulogy. ” He taught us how to live and he taught us how to die.” Al’s words to describe Senator Humphrey can so appropriately be applied to John’s final months. He was an inspiration to all who were fortunate enough to spend time with him.

On Thanksgiving Friday and Saturday there there were two gatherings of remembrance and a very moving mass liturgy. All these occasions were packed with those who wanted to show their love for John and their love and support for the Margie and the family.

On Thanksgiving Day, Jerry and I hosted eighteen of our nuclear family. We had two tables, one for the eleven “older” adults and one for the seven “younger” adults. It is so hard to believe that we no longer have any really young grandchildren. Meal prep is easy because everyone pitches in to help. We have some amazing culinary talent in our family. The dinner was a mix of yummy food and the special joy of being together. We missed those who could not be with us because of work, school, distance (Europe), other family commitments or the monster Covid.

Dinner started off with everyone sharing a happening in their lives that they are particularly grateful for. This sharing was very special. John’s too early death was a stark reminder of the value of each day, of taking nothing for granted. My mother was so proud of all her grandchildren. As she got older she frequently said how much she wanted to be around to see what her awesome grandchildren did with their many god given talents. I had two happenings that I recounted as occasions of thanks for me. Like my mother I talked about our precious nineteen grandchildren. I ended with words of thanksgiving for my beloved husband. Thanksgiving Friday was our 62nd wedding anniversary.


UNCLE BUD/FATHER JOE

October 24 is the birthday of my beloved brother Bud. Six years ago he died from the complications of a stroke. He left behind a powerful memory of his love of life, of family and friends, and of the people he served in his role as a Jesuit priest. Born in 1932, Bud was seventeen when he finished high school and entered the Society of Jesus to begin his priestly studies. Shortly before Bud left for the seminary my parents hosted a party for him and his friends who were also headed down the path to priesthood. They were twenty two in number!!! For me at age thirteen who was just starting to focus on life outside my family and friend circle, this was a lot guys who had made a very dramatic life decision.

The night before Bud left for the seminary we had our family good byes. Because of travel connections Bud was going to be leaving very early in the morning. My brother Pete was two years older than me and Bud was four years older. It was so early in the morning my parents wanted Pete and me to sleep in. When finally I awoke I found his high school ring on my finger. Bud had slipped in my room and put it there. I was incredibly touched.

In the different stages of Bud’s seminary training he was assigned to various houses of study in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York. I loved going to visit Bud both because I missed him and because I enjoyed the trips to see him. In the post Depression era we were not a traveling family. Now all that changed. The trips to visit him at the seminary in Wernersville, PA where he did his novitiate and the later trips to Lake Champlain, NY are the ones that stand out in my memory. The physical settings for both places were incredible. I still remember the first lines of a poem I wrote after one of our Wernersville trips. It was a required English class assignment on any topic we wanted:

We came away from Wernersville, a beautiful place high on a hill

Along RT 422 we sped plotting our course for far ahead

First through the crowded streets of Reading and thence to Pottstown we were headed

I really don’t remember the rest of the poem and I don’t think I got a very good mark, but for me the fact that I wanted to write about visiting Bud demonstrated how important these visits were to me.

Bud was ordained in 1963 at the Jesuit seminary in Woodstock, Md. It was a very happy and spiritual occasion. What also stands out is returning to our family home on Long Island where Bud celebrated his first mass at the church we had attended all our growing years, St Mary Magdalene. Family and friends came together to honor Bud, now Fr. Joe, as he celebrated his first mass. This was a moving and very profound time for Bud and for all the family.

Except for the years when he was working in Samoa and in Chile, Bud became an important part of future family occasions: weddings, baptisms, First Communions, funerals and home masses all were particularly blessed to have Bud as the celebrant. Bud being the priestly celebrant at these spiritual occasions gave them a very special dimension.

As daughter Meg says the home masses were especially meaningful with the singing, the participation by all ages and abilities. As the numbers of our grandchildren increased it was so easy to gather for a home mass. Churches are crowded at holiday time. We knew that was the case but seldom experienced it because we were enjoying our home masses. If one of our precious grandchildren suddenly needed a drink of water or a trip to the rest room it was no big deal. I clearly remember the first Easter mass after Bud died. We arrived at our parish church about twenty minutes early but too late to find a seat in the main church. We went to the community hall which had been set up as a chapel. There were about thirteen of us. We had to spread out in order to find seats. The service was very moving with its community feel but it was different from the family togetherness of Bud’s home masses.

Daughter Maura recalled Bud’s recurrent theme of “the sacrament of the present moment”. Being appreciative of the here and now, not dwelling too much on the past or over focusing on the future. There are many examples of Bud’s ability to focus on the present moment. When my mother lived with us in the mid 1980’s for the last ten months of her life, family and friends frequently offered to help. Bud never asked. He just showed up at our house and started helping. One of his visits that particularly stands out was when he arrived at our door with two bags of fresh vegetables explaining that he was going to fix ratatouille for our family dinner. Bud at that time ran a retreat house outside of Richmond. The squashes and tomatoes and eggplants for the ratatouille came from the retreat house garden. I didn’t let Bud know that ratatouille was not a favorite with me. I was kind of tired that day and not feeling particularly organized. I was grateful for Bud’s cooking expertise. The ratatouille was mouthwateringly delicious.

Jerry and I were in Florida when we got the call that Bud had had a stroke and was in the hospital. At that time he was in residence at Gonzaga High School in Washington DC. His focus was spiritual direction. He was eventually transferred from the DC hospital to the Jesuit care facility located on the grounds of St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia.

Since Bud was so much a part of our family I tended to forget that he was part of another family – his Jesuit family. I had assumed that we would be caring for Bud in his illness. Not the case – with love and competence his Jesuit family took over.

When Bud died the funeral was at St, Aloysius Gonzaga church next to Gonzaga High School in Washington DC. It was a very fitting location and it was crowded. My brother Pete and I both spoke. We tried to share the love that we and our families felt for Bud. It was not a difficult task. All present in the church had had their lives touched by our Fr Joe / Uncle Bud.

FRIENDS AND FAMILY

Me and my best friend

Last week we had dinner with my brother Pete and his wife Louise. We were at a restaurant in the Hyatt Hotel in Reston- a nice half way meeting point between our home in Fairfax and their’s in Mc Lean. Pre pandemic it was a fun place to go. Good food, quiet environment, clientele mostly contemporaries, and free parking. We had not been there in over two years. When I called to make the reservations I learned that the restaurant had been bought out by a very “hip ” restaurant. We did’t realize that with new ownership came a new clientele, mostly in the twenty to fifty age group, who preferred a noisy bar scene. Food was still very good. Parking was no longer free. We were so pleased to be together but it was noisy. We were grateful when the crowd started to thin and it was easier to hear one another.

I have been reflecting on our long and meaningful friendship with Pete and Louise and on the importance of friendship in each of our lives. I am particularly moved by the friendship words of Oprah Winfrey: ” lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus when the limo breaks down”.

When Pete and I and our brother Bud were growing up we were blessed with many older family members. And then their numbers started to dwindle. As I have mentioned in previous blogs great Aunt Rose was particularly good to me. I think she thought I was a bit too uptight and it was her goal to “loosen” me up a bit. I loved her very much, and was very sad when she died. I was about 12. I remember going with my parents and my brothers to the wake which preceded her funeral. Many in our big family had come together to honor Rose. There was a gathering room and a viewing room. My parents and Pete and Bud went into the viewing room. I stayed in the gathering room with family and friends but really more by myself. I was just too upset. After a while my brothers came back to be with me. I nervously asked how great Aunt Rose looked. I can’t remember which of the boys replied but one said, ”Well she looked OK till she realized you were not there with us. Then she sat up and said,” where is Peggy Ann?” (the name she always called me). This was such a silly response it made me smile and finally gave me the courage to enter the viewing room and pay my last respects to my beloved Aunt.

Great Aunt Mary, Rose’s sister, was the last of that generation to pass. She died at 97. I became closer to her when I was a student nurse at Cornell University. The Cornell nursing school and med school are both in New York City. They were not far from Aunt Mary’s apartment. She would frequently invite me to dinner. It was such a gift to share my student nursing experiences with her. She had been a student nurse in the 1890’s. As Mary’s friends and family members passed I was introduced to the concept of old age without contemporary friends. It was a concept that I knew but didn’t really understand the significance. But now I do.

The Hyatt in Reston where we dined with Pete and Louise was a place we often went for dinner with our friends Moira and Al. One evening in particular stands out. When we walked from the Hyatt parking garage to their restaurant we passed through the hotel lobby. It was so crowded . There were lots of small groups gathered together. Some were singing softly and they were good. When we got to the restaurant there was again the low murmur of singing coming from various tables. The waitress explained that it was a convention of barber shop quartet singers. They were projecting such a happy energy that when our dinner was over we were having such fun with Moira and Al we decided to walk around the hotel and scope out what was going on. The hotel had a big auditorium with an endless number of rows of chairs. We ended up filing in there with Moira and Al and hundreds of the conventioneers. We felt a tad silly but again we were having such fun. The various groups that performed in the show that followed were outstanding. At a break in the entertainment an officer of the national organization got up to talk. He gave an impassioned plea that members attend the national convention that was coming up in several months. I think it was going in San Francisco. He asked for a show of hands for those who might be able to attend. He had been so impassioned I couldn’t believe it when no one raised their hands. I looked at Moira. I could tell that she also felt badly at the lack of response. And then we realized that Jerry and Al were both raising their hands. And when those who were going to the convention were asked to stand, Jerry and Al did and finally more folks joined them and the speaker was satisfied. Moira and I were astonished, glad and a little giggly at what our guys had done. When the speaker was followed by a brief intermission we left. Moira and Al were such close friends. It was hard when they both died. Moira first and Al in the last two years. Good friends are a special treasure – in good times, in tough times and in silly times.

Now that Jerry and I are in our mid eighties we are grateful to have survived some difficult health issues. We take nothing for granted. We are very aware that each day is a blessing. We are fortunate to have a supportive and loving family and to have close friends. I don’t think one needs a lot of close friends. A close friend is a treasure. One you may have frequent contact with one another, you can then go for years without seeing one another and then when life’s circumstances bring you back together again you pick up the friendship as if there has been no time lapse. Jerry and I have just started up again a book discussion time with our friends Bob and Dot. We last did this with them in the 1960’s when we lived near one another. Now they are in North Carolina. We meet over Face time about every six weeks.

This morning I got a phone call from a dear friend Chris. Her husband Jim is in the hospital. A month ago we golfed and had dinner together. Another couple that we are close to is Jan and Bill. Not too long ago we played bridge and had dinner with them. Bill is now recovering from a stroke. Each day with family and friends is a treasure – not to be taken for granted.

SURGERY TIME ?

The surgeon called on August 5, and said that after looking at the results of my CT scan and my MRI which I had had done three days previously, he felt he could offer me an 85% chance of success for surgery which would alleviate the lower back and right leg pain which was making walking so difficult for me. Though I would prefer 100% guarantee of success I was ready to go with the 85%. What I wanted to know was did he think I would ever be able to golf again. I am not a champion golfer but I am a very happy golfer. I love the beauty of our golf course. Even if I am not playing well I find the golf course setting to be very relaxing.

A surgery date was set for August 22. By August 15, I had gone through two of the four pre op exams required for this surgery. On August 16 I had a conference with the anesthesia department and the next day a final examination was scheduled with the surgeon. Husband Jerry and daughter Maura were with me for that. Was surprised that the surgeon was open to Maura being present. But the surgeon is definitely open to family participation – particularly when the patient is an 85 year old woman. Felt a little annoyed that the surgeon seemed to imply that 85 year olds were not all that reliable but I didn’t really care. He came highly recommended. The fact that Maura is a very competent nurse practitioner made her an ideal person to accompany Jerry and me. Our son Joe – the doctor- would have come too but his schedule is only open on Fridays – it did not mesh with the surgeon’s availability. Would have liked to have also had Joe present but I could not wait. I wanted to get the surgery over with. I had to go with the date that fit the surgeon’s schedule.

And then after several weeks of horrible pain – it suddenly wasn’t as bad. When I went for my final pre op visit I wondered if I should put off the surgery, should I let the surgeon know I was feeling some improvement in my symptoms? What if the pain started heading again in the wrong direction? Fortunately the decision was taken out of my hands. The surgeon detected my confusion. He made the decision to put off the surgery and to get a second opinion. He gave me the name and number of an orthopedist that he said he would go to if he had symptoms similar to mine. I was able to get an appointment for September 12 – three plus weeks off. The surgeon further suggested that, if possible, I gradually increase my daily activity routine. I have always been a faithful exercise lover but once the leg and back issues surfaced all that came to a screeching halt.

In early summer I started lectoring at the 9AM Wednesday mass at our church. Had not lectored in over thirty five years but now in spite of being nervous at getting up in front of the sixty to eighty parishioners who normally attend the weekday services at our church I was able to do it and I loved it. It was an honor to be able to share the word of God. But as walking became more difficult, I was unable to easily climb the few steps to the altar so my lectoring days were short lived – to be started again when the medical issues were resolved. When they showed some improvement I was ready to return to lectoring but the stair issue assumed a greater importance than it should have. At home I was walking up and down fifteen stairs going from the first to our second floor. I was doing that slowly, taking my time and holding on to the railing. Reflecting back now on the big deal I made in my mind over the three steps, I have told myself that this is a classic example of sometimes giving myself a hard time. I blame it on not feeling well but I think there are lots of times in life when we judge ourselves or circumstances too harshly.

I am now feeling so much better. When I saw the arthritis doctor this past week he was delighted at my progress and suggested I cancel the medical appointments related to my surgery – the second opinion surgeon, the pain management doctor. He felt strongly that time, rest, appropriate eating and exercise would lead to a complete recovery. He limited my golf to chipping and putting till I see him again in a month. In his opinion my swollen lumbar spinal disk was finally going down in size on its own. He felt that a surgical procedure was no longer necessary to facilitate this process and to stop the disk from pressing on the nerves which were causing all the pain.

I was a little tentative about canceling the various medical/ surgical appointments. It takes so long to get these appointments lined up. But when I finally made the cancellation calls I felt liberated and pleased.

According to Google ,” Pain is an uncomfortable feeling that tells you something may be wrong. It can be steady, throbbing, aching, pinching …………………it can be debilitating.” These words provide a good description of what I was experiencing. Pain medication was not very helpful. The weaker meds did not lessen the pain and narcotics made me feel loopy. My most powerful tool against the pain was prayer and prayerfully offering up the pain for either our wonderful family, for friends or for a meaningful cause. I like to reflect on the words of the baseball player Satchel Page. ‘” Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.”

BEACH WEEK

A beautiful rainbow on a sunny day

We returned Saturday from our annual family beach week at Diamond Beach, New Jersey. Back in early winter husband Jerry studied the tides for late July and early August and based on the summer forecasts we went ahead and rented places for the last week in July. The tide study is very important for our beach loving, body surfing, wave riding family.

Of our nineteen grandchildren, sixteen were able to be with us for all or part of this very special beach time. When the children were younger everyone came to beach week but now with school and jobs and travels that’s no longer possible. We knew this day would come and we savor the time we do have together.

Four weeks ago the family came together for Emily and David’s wedding. The only ones missing were Augustine and his fiancee Rowen who are presently in Malaysia. The bride and groom could not join us for beach week because they had to return to California for the start of David’s post doc and Emily’s PHD internship. But they were with us in spirit. One day when we were all down on the beach and Emily and David were able to get away from work, they texted us from the beach in Santa Monica – we felt an instant beach communion with them.They just didn’t seem so far away.

This beach week we got a very special weather gift – something I had never seen before, something Jerry had never seen before. It is reflected in the picture above. I don’t know what to call it. According to wikipedia a rainbow is” a multicolored circular arc.” This was not an arc, it did not appear following a rainstorm. We were on the beach , enjoying a beautiful day when one of our group looked up and saw this weather treat. I don’t know how long it lasted – maybe five minutes, maybe ten – it was just awesome. We had several days when the dolphins put on a display for us. Maybe the skies just decided it was their turn to show off their beauty.

This is the first beach week that I did not actually go in the water. Perhaps the first summer in eighty -two years that I did not personally experience the glories of the ocean. My lower back and right leg decided to misbehave to the degree that just plain walking was difficult. Beloved family searched the web and granddaughter Annie found a shop about thirty minutes away that had a wheelchair capable of navigating the sandy beaches. We kept the wheelchair locked with the bikes in the parking garage. It was too bulky to fit in the elevator. I just had to walk from our unit to the elevator. And then one of the children or grandchildren would meet Jerry and me on the first floor with the wheel chair if we were heading to the beach. If we were all gathering in the outdoor lounge area of our hotel then Jerry and I took the elevator to the second floor and slowly walked to the lounge area. It was a little difficult but doable.

In the old days of beach week, when the children were smaller, each family took a turn providing dinner for all. This year we all gathered for pizza night in the second floor lounge. We also gathered there for dessert night: an incredible cheese cake with chocolate made by the master chef Jim and a very yummy birthday cake provided by Lane and honoring Joe and Alec’s birthdays. And we were also in the second floor outside lounge for our annual talent night. Grateful to our guitar players, our vocalists, our poet, our master of ceremonies- truly a very special night.

As we never really know what the future holds I with my walking difficulties was not sure how the beach week would unfold. Well it was unequivocally one of the best ever. I was so appreciative of the special times with each of our children and their families. I have a special health drink which I fix each morning for Jerry and myself. I forgot to pack a measuring cup. The powerful med which the doctor gave me to mitigate my lower back and leg pain made me a little loopy in the head – I didn’t feel confident without a measuring cup. Atar and Meg came each morning. The drink and the cereal which they created were so scrumptious. Loved having Jerry, Annie, Charlie and Lilly in our building. Their drop in visits were a special treat. The card games with the MacCurtin’s were challenging and fun. Lunch sandwiches by Paul were incredibly yummy. The chance to spend time with Joe, and Lane and Alec and Quinn and Elsa and Kiernan was a special blessing. Loved being able to have visit time with Jeremy and Amy and with Vaishnavi and Khushi, and Jim and Lisa and Meggie, Jimmy and Josh. A special thank you to Khushi for lining up the Cape May ferry for our trip home. And special hugs to Maura for staying on top of my doctor prescribed meds. The loopiness which they cause make me very aware of the need to check that I am staying on schedule.

Today I saw both the arthritis doctor – who happens to be a member of our golf club and a personal friend – and the pain management doctor/surgeon and got orders for a CT scan and an MRI. These tests will be the deciding factor in the need for surgery. I am so grateful that I was able to be part of beach week and to thoroughly enjoy our annual family gathering.

The Jerrys and Liam approaching the surf!

WEDDING JOY

The outdoor wedding venue

Saturday, June 25, 2022 was a very special day for Jerry and me. It was the wedding of Emily and David. Emily is our oldest grandchild. It was the first wedding of any of our nineteen grandchildren. A wedding that was originally scheduled for June 2021 but was switched to 2022 – a bow to the power of Covid. The extra year’s wait was long as far as this grandmother was concerned. My constant prayer for our beloved grandchildren has been and continues to be that they find the right life partner. When Emily and David got engaged in December 2019 my husband and I were so happy for both our granddaughter and her fiancee. They are both kind caring people ideally suited to be life partners. And they share a common interest in autism research and in neuroscience.

David is a triplet and it was his triplet sister, Alisha, who provided the venue for Emily and David’s first meeting. Alisha and Emily both were working at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in the Autism Department. In the months that followed their first meeting we heard a lot about David. When David joined us for our family beach week it just seemed so fitting that he was with us. And then in December 2019 when we were in New York visiting Emily’s father Jerry and his wife Teresa, it was very exciting to get a call from Emily and David that they were engaged.

Our nineteen grandchildren range in age from 15 to 29. It is probably fair to say that there will be many more weddings in our future and they all will have their unique specialness. And they will also be sources of overwhelming joy. But at least now for future weddings we will be prepared for the overwhelming wedding joy that is invoked.

One of the unexpected features of Emily and David’s wedding was that they asked their grandparents to be part of the wedding party. Jerry and I were very touched and honored. It meant that we participated in the wedding rehearsal and the special gathering afterward. That was followed several hours later by a welcome party hosted by David’s parents for all those who were already gathered for the wedding. It was a special treat to celebrate the night before the wedding with those who had come from far and wide to honor the marriage of this very special couple.

Not surprisingly I have been doing a lot of reflecting not only on family weddings to come but on past family weddings. I thought of the double wedding of my mother and her twin sister to their law school classmates, my father and Uncle Jim. Great Aunt Mary who had no children of her own, wanted her wedding gift for her nieces to be that she would pay for the wedding reception and that it would be at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. I do not know how old I was when I learned that the site of my parents wedding reception had been the iconic Plaza Hotel. I had a hard time processing that this grand hotel located on Central Park South was the site of my parents wedding reception. For so many years in the post depression era money was tight in our family. It just did not compute that their wedding reception had been held at the Plaza. But Aunt Mary was a wealthy woman who was successfully running her deceased husband’s publishing business . She could afford the Plaza and that is where it was. I wonder what the bridal couples wanted. One time when Jerry and I were in New York we had tea at the Plaza. I tried to envision the wedding reception there. And I have to confess that I pocketed a teaspoon from our tea. I wanted a souvenir.

When Jerry and I were married I was living in Washington DC and working in Virginia. Jerry, a native Washingtonian, was working at the Patent Office and attending Catholic University’s law school at night. I can’t remember if we gave any thought to a Washington wedding. It just seemed fitting to return to the parish church on Long Island which had been my family’s spiritual home all my growing years. Jerry agreed. And we were both so pleased when the chaplain at the Cornell University – New York Hospital, who had become a close friend in my student nurse days, was available to officiate at our wedding , assisted by my Jesuit seminarian brother Bud.

In our sixty one plus years of marriage Jerry and I have lived in two apartments and three houses. I like to think of the our first home as the baby home, the second as the place where the children passed their school education years of grammar school, high school, college and post graduate time. The third home where we have lived since 1990 has been the wedding house of our children. And now Emily and David have introduced a new dimension – it is the house where we prepared for the joy of our first grandchild wedding.

The John James Audubon Center in Pennsylvania provided a lovely outdoor setting for the wedding. And the center seemed such an appropriate location – not that far from Haverford where Emily went to college and not that far from Princeton, David’ s alma mater. And it was close to Philadelphia where Emily worked at CHOP and where she and David spent many happy courtship hours.

Am closing this post with a picture of our son Jerry talking at the reception with the newlyweds after he gave a blessing and warm words of welcome to all. The smile on Jerry’s face captures the WEDDING JOY we were all feeling!!!

MISTAKES AND MAKING NEW PLANS

A recent tweet by Maria Shriver came up unasked for on my FaceBook feed: Don’t carry your mistakes around with you. Instead place them under your feet and use them as stepping stones to rise above them. Have been pondering these words and find them very powerful. It is all too easy to be consumed by a mistake. I like the visual that Shriver paints. Mistakes should not be given the power to dominate our lives, rather they should become”stepping stones ” to something better.

There was a time when reflecting on my life decisions I regretter heading to college two days after I graduated from high school. My first day of kindergarten was in February, as was my first day of grade school, as was my first day of high school and my first day of college. I was in one of the last classes in New York State to start my school life in February. Someone finally came to the decision that February starting dates for school students were not a good Idea and that phase of educational life was put to rest.

In high school I took an intense class load of subjects that culminated in New York State Regents exams. Some of my fellow February graduates opted to take a break from school and not start the college phase of their school life immediately but to rather wait till September. Not me, I wanted to go full speed ahead with my life. So one week I was immersed in a period of Regents exam taking and then soon after I was immersed in a fairly heavy load of college courses. On reflection, It might have been nice to take an education break. Had I made a mistake?

Starting college my plan was to go into teaching and perhaps attend law school at night – as my parents had done. I didn’t feel passionately about following this life path, it was just one that I was familiar with and comfortable with. In the first few weeks of my first college semester I read an ad on the subway as I was heading to a day of classes at Marymount. The ad had a profound effect on me. The ad was from the American Red Cross promoting their Spring class schedule. The subway was crowded. I had not been able to get a seat. To pass the time I starting reading the ads posted on the subway car. The ads were kind of boring except the one from the Red Cross. It spelled out information on their Home Nursing Classes. I was intrigued and interested in the medical content of the classes. I thought this is something I will do when I have finished all my other schooling. And then the subway arrived at the stop for Marymount and I got off. At the end of the day when it was time to take the subway home – I was a day hop – I searched the subway ads for the one on the class offerings of the American Red Cross. When i found it, I read it carefully and slowly. It was early March and I was in the midst of making a Novena to St Francis Xavier that I be guided in making the right life decisions.

As I shared in a previous blog, after a period of reflection and study of what would be involved, I started investigating nursing programs and in particular those programs that offered a BSN. I wanted a BSN nursing program because I felt it would offer more opportunities in whatever nursing field I ended up working in. My search came to an end almost as quickly as it began when I discovered that Cornell University’s nursing program, which was attached to New York Hospital, offered exactly what I was looking for. Cornell required 60 undergraduate credits coming from some very specific course requirements in order to be considered for admission. By participating in the six week summer school semester which Marymount required of all its February admissions, by attending Marymount for one additional year and by getting appropriate grades, the Cornell nursing program was definitely available to me. I was excited. I did not apply to any other nursing school. My maternal grandparents were both Cornell graduates in the late eighteen hundreds. My mother and her twin sister had attended Cornell for two years before they transferred to Barnard College of Columbia University. Their brother, my uncle, was a Cornell graduate as were many cousins. I felt like Cornell was in my blood. Now all I had to do was get the grades which would make admission to Cornell a reality.

Trying to be very disciplined in my studies and in what college activities to get involved with, and trying to do some good decision making, I decided that I could just join one club at Marymount. I was still feeling the academic blitz that included my final term of high school and the full load of college courses I started just three days after my high school graduation. The Marymount club that was most appealing to me was the Collegiate Council for the United Nations. I loved the discussions of world events. I thoroughly enjoyed when we had mock UN meetings with other colleges and each college was assigned a country to represent.

A few months into my CCUN membership I was honored when the president of the club asked if I would be one of the two Marymount representatives at a week-long overnight conference being held in June and hosted by Sarah Lawrence College. All CCUN organizations in our area were sending representatives. I thanked the club president for the honor but said it would mean missing a week of the six week summer school program. But she persisted in asking me as did the club moderator who stressed that since I would be representing Marymount the school would be covering all the costs of the conference;. The moderator even took it a step further and checked with the facilitator of the summer school program who gave her OK to my missing a week of class. I was so conflicted and did not understand why these good people were pushing me to attend a conference like this when I would only be at Marymount for one more year? I was very clear with everyone that I was on a nursing school trajectory. They replied that in the year plus time that I would remain at Marymount I could do some valuable promotion of the Marymount model UN program to my fellow students.

Here I was trying to make a good decision about my use of time and I was having dangled in front of me attendance at a conference that I knew I would love but didn’t think I should be attending. Finally with the encouragement of the summer school facilitator I agreed to attend the conference. And it was awesome!!!

Krishna Menon -who was a leader in India’s fight for independence- and Eleanor Roosevelt were my two favorite speakers at this conference. Though Franklin Roosevelt had been dead for a little over ten years, Eleanor continued to be very active in many socially important causes. I had never been in an intimate gathering with two such famous leaders. At the host college Sarah Lawrence, the setting for the gatherings with our guest speakers was a homey room with lots of comfy chairs. It was an intimate setting for the twenty five of us in attendance. To this day I still remember the awe I felt spending an evening sitting about five feet away from Eleanor Roosevelt. There are so many Eleanor Roosevelt quotes I like to ponder. One of my favorites is SUCCESS MUST INCLUDE TWO THINGS:THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN INDIVIDUAL TO HIS UTMOST POTENTIALITY AND A CONTRIBUTION OF SOME KIND TO ONE’S WORLD.

. Some decisions are not black and white and might entail mistakes and yet have very positive results. I learned so much about current events and past world history at the Sarah Lawrence conference. In my remaining time at Marymount I was a very vocal advocate for the Model UN organization, and at the same time, was well prepared to move on to Cornell.

APRIL SHOWERS BRING MAY FLOWERS

Spring has always been one of my favorite times of the year. It is a time of new growth. as trees and flowers start to strut their horticultural beauty. Spring is also the time when Jerry and I honor the birth of our daughter Maura. There was a late winter that year and when I headed to the hospital to give birth to Maura there were few signs of the coming beautiful Spring. When I headed home several days later Spring had burst in all its glory. I felt like nature was joining with Jerry and me in celebrating the birth of our precious baby girl.

My own birthday is ten days after Maura’s April 16th date, and while I would have liked her to be born on my birthday I was okey with us having separate birth dates. Everyone should have a special day to be honored. Though Maura has always shared her special day with my beloved cousin Jim, his home was in California so there was never any birthday confusion.

This past Tuesday was my 85 birthday. I am grateful to family and friends who have made this birthday so special. It has been a time of reflection on previous birthdays. Jerry and I met on March 5 of 1960. Though we had only known one another for less than two months I so wanted to spend my birthday that year with him and was sooo happy when he invited me to dinner for my special day.

Reflecting back on past birthdays the first one I remember is my 4th birthday. Maybe that one stands out because it was a surprise party. My brothers and the few friends who were invited were hiding in our basement. I was upstairs with my mother and was totally oblivious to any intrigue when she asked me to head to the basement to get I don’t remember what. It was only when I got downstairs and my brothers and my friends started jumping out of their hiding places – with exuberant cries of “surprise” ” surprise” that I started to realize what was going on. I felt both shy and happy. Surprise parties were not a usual event in our family.

When I was 16 and attending an all girls high school, I hosted a luncheon for about eight on my birthday. This was a big deal for me. It was how my friends celebrated their 16th birthdays and it was what I wanted to do also. My family didn’t do much outside entertaining. It was 1953. My father was teaching full time. My parents law practice which they operated from our home was gradually building up a solid client base of neighbors and fellow community members. We had now lived in our home for about fourteen years. Mom and Dad had developed an ever widening respect as real estate and estate lawyers. But, because their financial worries from the depression were still so vivid for them, they were both in agreement that my father should keep his full time teaching job. That meant that during the school year my mother handled all legal matters that arose between 9AM and 3:30PM. She was a busy woman. I did not want to impose.

When my parents asked what I wanted for birthday, stressing that they thought 16 was a very special number, with some trepidation I told them of my desire to have a “elegant ” luncheon. When my brothers were 16 they had a typical family celebration. I also wanted that but I wanted this luncheon too. I was so happy when my parents were in agreement. I sent invitations. I planned a menu. I did the grocery shopping and the food preparation. And when my mother suggested I set the table with their wedding china and glasses, that was like the icing on the cake. I knew my mother understood how important this luncheon was to me and that I was having so much fun preparing for it. I was about to be 16 – to me that was a magical age. Strangely I remember very little about the luncheon – except that it went off without a hitch. What stands out is the pleasure I got from preparing for it. I was growing up. I was about to become a woman!!!

The next birthday that stands out is my 21st birthday. I was in my next to last year in Cornell’s nursing program. I had great girl friends but no guy friends who could make my heart go pitter patter. I wanted to do something special to mark this milestone and was delighted when my Aunt Bette and Uncle Jim invited me and my cousin Kathy to spend a few nights with them at a hotel they liked in Wilmington Delaware. All I can remember of the hotel was that it was beautifully decorated and charming with lots of old wood that generated a warmth. And I remember the staff who made a fuss over my birthday. Not sure how we passed the time but it went by quickly. I loved my cousin and my aunt and uncle so this was truly a special celebration of turning 21.

Two years later I celebrated my 23d birthday with the man who nine months later would become my husband. It doesn’t get any better than that. I don’t remember where we went or what we did. I just remember that I was incredibly happy.

Having five children in six years we early on decided that it was important that each child’s birthday be very special. By the time they started school and for as long as it worked, each of the children had a family party, a friend party, and dinner out with just Mom and Dad. It was at the dinner with us that we started asking the birthday questions: What is the best thing that happened to you in the past year? What are you most looking forward to in the coming year? What do you want to be when you grow up?

The birthday questions have become a family tradition that continues to this day. And at some point the children started asking them of us . This seemed very appropriate as the children grew and we became empty nesters. As you enter a new phase in your life it is important that you don’t just stumble into this phase, but rather that you give thought to where you are and how you want to spend your time. In the past fews years a fourth question was added, ” What is your spirit animal?” This is a fun addition that has generated some “spirited” answers.

As I travel into my 86th year I like to reflect on the words of Albert Camus: “I realized through it all, that in the midst of winter, there was within me, an invincible summer.”

THESE SNOWBIRDS ARE RETURNING HOME

Not exactly a picture of the auto train we will be takIng back to Virginia but I liked the picture

A few days ago I was sitting on our balcony watching a dad play in the ocean with his two small children. I reflected on the passage of time. It seems but the blink of an eye ago that beach scenario would have been Jerry and me with our five. And instead of today when we have a hard time getting up by nine, it would have been more like 6:30 or 7 AM to match the getup time of our brood.

In the 1970’s we went in with my brother Pete and his wife Louise and purchased a two bedroom beach condo on the Delaware shore. We alternated our beach time with them. And on some occasions we went together. When the two families combined that meant the nine children were on sleeping bags in the living room – dining room area. That might seem like a lot but it worked. The nine children were close in age having all been born in a six year time period and they were all good friends. And as the children got older, friends were frequently added to the mix and there might be twelve or more young bodies occupying the floor space. When the children were small the large numbers worked well. As they got older and bigger it was a little tight.

I remember one time when the full cohort of children, cousins and friends were spread out on the floor, most already asleep, and Jerry and I and Pete and Louise were in our bedrooms, there was a knock at the condo door. We were going to respond but when we opened our bedroom door we could see that our oldest son had already welcomed the latest guest, a very pleasant teen, and was showing him a spot on the floor to put down his sleeping bag. We went back to bed. The next morning we were up early to get breakfast organized. There was no sign of last night’s late arrival. Oldest son reported that the teen had wakened, looked around at the various sleepers and asked what unit he was in. When told the number he said something like ” Oops, I am in the wrong place. I belong next door. ” He quickly gathered his stuff and left.

My mother, and her twin sister and husband also bought a condo in the same building. They divided their time between the beach and their Northern Virginia apartments and gradually they seemed to be spending more time at the beach – as long as their health permitted. They loved it when their children and grandchildren were beach present but they also carved out their own social life. They were good swimmers and excellent bridge players. They built a special relationship with the condo pool lifeguards who were rather lax on calling adult breaks for the pool. But many times when Mom and Aunt Marg arrived, a pool break was called immediately. No one seemed to mind – I think the parents of the little children in the pool were glad for the break. And Mom and Aunt Marg were happy to do their water exercises in an empty pool.

We are filling this final week of our 2022 Florida time with our favorite activities. Last Saturday night we went to the Elks Club St.Patty’s dinner dance with our friends Janet and Jerry. They are the special friends who like so many of the same things we do: dancing, bridge, and MSNBC to name a few. The Elks Club and Shuckers( which I have mentioned in a previous blog) are the only places we have found in this part of Florida that offer monthly dinner dances. Prior to our attendance at the Elks dance functions I have known very little about this fraternal organization. I was surprised to learn that it has nearly a million members nationwide and that it has been in existence for one hundred and forty one years. From what I can gather it seeks to promote patriotism and a sense of family and community. The dance was so much fun. We stayed to the very end. We had never done that before. We were treated to their special end of the evening ceremony. All were asked to gather in a circle. An Elks Club officer stood in front of us with an American flag and asked us to bow our heads for a moment of reflection honoring our veterans and then we all sang God Bless American. It was a very powerful experience!!!

Sunday we attended mass at Holy Family Church. We miss our parish at home when we are gone for three months but Holy Family has turned out to be an ideal spiritual home replacement for these snowbirds. We love its inclusiveness. The congregation seems to be a mix of hispanic; philippine and seniors of a multitude of different backgrounds.

The rest of this “final” week has been filled with golf, bridge walks, riverwalks, a beach walk, and dinner and bridge with Janet and Jerry. They came to our condo on Monday and Thursday night we headed to their home. We will continue our weekly bridge with these good friends but it will of course be on line till next we are together. Perhaps they will add on a trip to Virginia when they drive to Kentucky to visit their family.

Reflecting on this week I must also mention watching the confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson. She is so eminently qualified I could barely maintain my composure at the attacks against her by some of the Republicans. Judge Jackson handled these attacks perfectly. Not me. I was irate at the grandstanding of her attackers.

It is now late Friday afternoon. Our car is packed and we are ready to head to the auto train tomorrow morning. We are sitting on our balcony. Jerry is reading and I am finishing up this blog. The ocean is relatively calm. A sailboat is slowly going by. We have been watching three pelicans glide over the ocean in formation . They skim the ocean looking for prey. And then suddenly all three dive in. It is a special Florida treat that I will miss, but it is time to return home. I am eager and ready as I bear in mind the words of TS Eliot, ” Every moment is a fresh beginning.”

SNOWBIRDS & OTHER BIRDS

Blue heron briefly accompanying us on a walk

Don’t know when I first heard the term “snowbird” but I remember being surprised that it referred to my fellow human beings. Little did I think that one day my husband and I would join the ranks of the snowbird family. A snowbird is someone who normally lives in a area that gets cold in the winter months and decides to pass those months in a warmer climate. For Jerry and me the metamorphosis came gradually after our children had grown. We started by accepting the kindnesses of Florida friends who wanted us to visit. We were truly blessed to have such caring friends but that got awkward- whose invite did we accept first? In 2014’s winter it got kind of complicated and we decided to forgo Florida and head to Puerto Rico. We had an awesome trip – dividing our time between San Juan, Old San Juan, the El Yunque tropical rain forest, Ponce, golf and the beaches.

In 2015 we rented on Hutchinson Island – the Stuart portion. We did that for several years till we switched to Jensen Beach and a condo right on the ocean. Last year with Covid on the rampage we did not come to Florida. But this year, once health issues were under control, when a unit became available, and not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we grabbed it. It is a condo on the ocean with an equally stunning view of the Indian River lagoon at our front door. When we first became snowbirds we were not focused on an ocean front rental but now we are hooked.

This Covid time has been tough but it also has had some positives. One of them I blogged about in February 2021. In Covid time, Jerry and I have cultivated a more meaningful interest in the bird population. At home in Virginia we now have feeders for big birds, for small to medium size birds, for hummingbirds, plus we have a suet feeder for any interested bird. And thanks to a change in our choice of bird seed – at the suggestion of our former neighbor and now North Carolina resident, Gini – we no longer have an invasion of squirrels going after the bird food.

It used to be that I did not like the term “snowbird”. It seemed a tad derogatory to me, especially when verbalized by a Florida native. Recently Jerry and I were playing in a duplicate bridge game. While we were waiting for the bridge boards to be passed out, the couple we were playing against asked where we lived. When we said Northern Virginia they seemed genuinely surprised. They replied “you don’t dress like snow birds.” We were confused. They elaborated. When typical snowbirds arrive in Florida they put away their cold weather clothes, and dress like it is summer time – no matter what the actual temperature. Today is windy and in the low sixties – you are dressed accordingly. Look around the room. Those who are dressed like their next stop is the beach, have probably just arrived from the North. It was an interesting observation that I reflected on later. In duplicate bridge there is not much socialization once the games begin. You are allowed 7 minutes per hand. It does not allow much time for reflecting on non bridge thoughts.

Our backyard bird visitors at home are diverse in color and size with yellow and blue and red and black and white being the dominant colors. The Florida shore bird population is so different from our colorful backyard birds. On Jensen Beach the majority of shore birds that we see are sea gulls, pelicans, and large and small sandpipers. On our walks and on the golf course we mainly get treated to sandhill cranes, egrets, and a variety of herons.

When I was younger I wasn’t focused on the bird population. I liked robins because they were a sign of spring. As I got older hummingbirds and bluebirds became favorites. And when son -in -law Paul and I started a hummingbird competition – who spotted the first one as the cold weather was winding down – that added a special dimension to these small birds who graced our backyard feeder.

I don’t know the percentage of snowbirds who actually own a place in Florida. Most that we have met are renters. But there are disadvantages to being a renter. You must learn the ins and outs of your new unit, and the does and don’ts of the condo building. It is sort of weird that this year’s unit, the place we rented because there was nothing else available, has turned out to be the nicest and the friendliest. There are 66 units in this building and only 9 are available for rental. This year, because of Covid, and because of ill health in some family and friends, the number of our overnight guests has been drastically reduced. Illness in family and friends is of course more common in our age group. And because this is a reality of getting older, we “oldies” are especially appreciative when we are able to gather with those we love.

Gatherings in person are best but sometimes going virtual is the only option. This past Saturday, granddaughter Lilly who is in grad school in London, granddaughter Annie who is working in Miami and I – presently a snowbird in Jensen Beach, Florida – hosted a virtual bridal shower for granddaughter Emily who is in grad school in Santa Barbara, California. It was such fun planning this happy gathering with Lilly and Annie. Participants came together from California, the Midwest, the East Coast and London. It was special to see everyone, to meet for the first time David’s mother and sister and to share the love we all feel for Emily and her fiancee, David.

This past Thursday the New York Times ran a feature article on Jane Brody’s retirement . I have always enjoyed her Personal Health column in the New York Times. She has written extensively on aging . Just discussed with my husband the definition of a contemporary. Is it fair to call Ms Brody a contemporary since she is four years younger. We decided that anyone older than Joe Biden is our contemporary. Jane Brody urges all to have meaning and purpose in their lives. I am sure she would approve of our bird interest. A quote of hers that I particularly like is:” Our goal shouldn’t be to add years to our lives but rather to add life to our years.”