Monday, May 26, 2014

Immensely Proud and Profoundly Saddened

If you happened to catch the PBS broadcast of the 25th anniversary of the National Memorial Day Concert last night, hosted by Gary Sinise and Joe Montegna, you are no doubt feeling immensely proud and profoundly saddened this morning. The line-up of orchestrational expertise, notable vocalists and performers, and military dignitaries was impressive, but what was perhaps even more striking to me was the solemn demeanor of the massive crowd gathered in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Thousands sat in respectful silence as patriotic songs were rendered, actual war film viewed, and a number of heartfelt speeches delivered to pay tribute to our fallen soldiers. Of course, those serving today were honored with applause and appreciative words as well.

In that crowd were many of the young men and women who've returned from duty forever broken. Those in wheelchairs, those who have suffered loss of limbs, those who can no longer remember, and those who remember and wish to God that they didn't, sat with tears streaming down their faces. As I questioned the "why" of it all, the answer became crystal clear. These people believe that freedom is worth fighting for, even dying for. However we who live in America and enjoy that freedom and take it for granted don't possess anything remotely akin to the passion of the soldiers who are consciously willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. We barely give freedom a second thought except maybe on holidays designated specifically to remind us of how lucky we are to live in this great country of ours.

One of the honorees, John Peck, a young man who at the age of 25 lost both arms and both legs in Afghanistan, truly touched my heart.  As I listened to his story, and watched the tears flow, I couldn't help but join him in his emotional release.  I felt extremely guilty that this man will never walk again, never hold anyone in his arms, never be whole.  I, on the other hand, having done nothing to preserve our freedom, not only can walk, but skip, jump, climb, and run. Having done nothing to preserve our freedom, I can not only hold someone, but use my hands in countless activities that give me great pleasure. And, I am whole without ever lifting a finger to preserve our freedom. John Peck is my hero and I am humbled by his greatness.

Another upcoming holiday, June 6, 1944 is known as D-Day. During World War II, our troops landed on the beaches of Normandy and were mowed down by the Germans even before they had a chance to defend themselves. I suppose this day of remembrance is extremely special to me because I was born only three months after over 6,000 Americans lost their lives that day. I somehow believe that one of their spirits wandering over the earth entered my soul and still lives within me even now. He keeps reminding me that I enjoy my freedom because he was willing to forego his own.

Please remember all those who have served and continue to serve not only on Memorial Day or D-Day, but throughout the year. Whatever you can do, deem it an honor and do it with the same passion that those in our military faithfully exhibit for you. Maybe this can help a little to assuage the guilt we all must bear.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sixty-Six Years of Wishing

For the past sixty-six years, I've wished that my dad hadn't passed away so soon.  I was only three, and my brother, Dan, five when Dad died on May 19, 1948, at the age of 38. He was inspecting a steel furnace door, when it suddenly became unhinged and fell, crushing him from the waist down. His accident happened on the seventeenth of May and he died two days later.

I documented this horrible tragedy in my first chapter book, Playing Hooky (When We Were Kids, Book 1) so that my children and grandchildren will know who he was, a talented and funny person who loved his wife, son and daughter to no end, and enjoyed every moment of his short life to the fullest.

On every death anniversary, I think about what my life would have been like had he lived.  I know I would have been a "daddy's girl" because we had a special bond even before I was born.  Dad told my mom that if their second child was a girl, he wanted her name to be Florence Frances.  Florence because it meant "flowers" and Frances because his mentally-impaired younger sister's name was Frances and since she would never have the chance to have her own children, he wanted his daughter to carry her name. He had a heart of gold, my dad.

I have only a few pictures of him and just one of him, my brother, and I all holding hands, taken in Baba's backyard.  But the images in my mind are many.  I see Dad coming home from the mill, picking me up and swinging me around the room, him smiling from ear to ear, and me giggling excitedly.  I hear him telling mom about his day as he lovingly embraces her. He asks what's for dinner and promises ice cream if we eat all our vegetables. Afterwards Dad reads the daily paper from cover to cover.  When he gets to the comic strips, he howls out loud.  My brother and I can't imagine what he finds so funny, but we join him nonetheless. He sings every nursery rhyme he can think of and then graces us with "Danny Boy" the Irish ditty he became famous for in our hometown.  Although his given name was Frank, everybody called him Dan because whenever he had the opportunity, he sang that song. I see Dad helping me get ready for bed and telling me stories of his own childhood.  He kisses my forehead, lets me know how much he loves me, and wishes me sweet dreams.

One morning just like every other one, Dad fixes me a bowl of cereal, picks up his lunch box and heads to work.  When I hear the four o'clock mill whistle, since we live directly across from the gate, I run out on the front porch to meet him. But on this particular day, he doesn't come home.  He's in the hospital fighting for his life, a battle he eventually loses.

Yet I still see him proudly watching me make my First Communion, graduate high school, secure my first teaching job, get married, have three beautiful children, become a successful educator, be blessed with seven energetic grandchildren, start a second career as an author at the ripe old age of sixty-eight, and live every moment of my life to the fullest exactly like he did.

My Dad has always been here with me though I didn't realize that until just a few years ago.  However, having come to that conclusion no matter how late in life, I now have a beautiful sense of peace that was missing for so long. And every time I read the comic strips in our local paper, I hear him howling.

Love you, Dad, always and forever.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Mother, the noun, is defined as a female who bears an offspring.  To mother, the verb, is defined as someone who tends to the necessary needs of the offspring she bore or has willingly accepted the responsibility for the offspring she has vowed to raise to adulthood.

Becoming a mother barring any medical problems is relatively simple.  Engage in intercourse with a male of that species who supplies the sperm that unites with the female's egg, wait out the appropriate gestation period and deliver the baby or babies on a certain date.

(From this point on, my comments pertain specifically to humans.)  But, to mother a child from birth to adulthood is an entirely different experience that requires a woman to be patient, selfless, involved, and committed.

From the get-go, while in labor, the mother-to-be exhibits extraordinary patience while suffering the extreme pain connected with delivery.  Nature demands that she begins to mother even before she's ever laid eyes on her child. What she is enduring, how she looks and acts throughout her excruciating experience doesn't even enter into her mind at the time.  Her selflessness has already taken hold of her being even without conscious awareness on her part.

As soon as her baby is placed in her arms, she begins to mother immediately.  She inspects every inch of the tiny infant, pours every ounce of love into it that she can emote, and keeps careful watch on the baby as well as anyone who comes near.

And from the moment she returns home, she begins to mother her baby.  Her patience grows with every wail no matter the day or the hour.  She becomes less and less concerned about her self as her focus on her child intensifies.  She is completely involved in every aspect of her baby's life.  And most importantly she is committed to mother her infant for the rest of his or her life with patience, selflessness, involvement and commitment.

Indeed, every child has a mother, but not every child is mothered the way he or she deserves to be.  In fact, unfortunately in our world today, more and more mothers don't mother at all.  They have no patience with their children; screaming and smacking is their chosen method of training.  They are only absorbed in their needs and wants whether it be drugs, alcohol, material things, or advancing a career.  They have absolutely no involvement in the life of their child; interest in school work, extracurricular activities, the company they keep, and what they watch and read isn't on their radar at all, they simply can't be bothered. 

And they aren't committed to their children, the can't be because they have no idea of what it takes to be committed to another person other than themselves.

If I were to rate myself as on my mothering skills during my children's early years, sadly from one to ten, I was probably around a six.  But as I matured, I realized that I owed them so much more than I had managed to give.  I did develop more patience, and I did put aside my needs in order to satisfy theirs, and I did become more involved in every aspect of their lives, and my commitment grew stronger with my awareness that it had been somewhat lacking.  I thank God that I woke up to what it meant to be not only a mother, but what it meant to mother.

I pray that the young mothers of today begin mothering their precious children in time; the influence they wield now is the essential element needed to ensure that the lives of their babies will be healthy and productive leading them to become responsible adults.

Becoming a mother is relatively simple; but mothering your children is the hardest thing you will ever be asked to do.  But doing it is the greatest gift you can possibly give them.  And whether or not you realize it, it is the greatest gift you can give yourself as well!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Old Mice, Young Blood

So I'm reading the Trib this morning, and lo and behold, the answer to the fountain of youth smacks me right between the eyes!  According to research done at the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard, two prestigious higher learning establishments, the brains of old mice are greatly rejuvenated by injecting the blood of young mice into them.  The aged rodents get stronger, can exercise longer, and become more mentally acute.  

At age 70, if I'm to believe this medical phenomenon, I need to go out, find some youngsters, persuade them to donate a pint of their blood for my much-needed remake, and I'm good to go for another twenty to thirty years of pumping iron, running marathons, and pursuing the ever-elusive Ph.D. in abnormal psychology.  I just can't believe my good fortune!

No, in all seriousness, I can't believe it.  First of all, drinking the blood of humans to live forever only truly happens in the movies.  I've never been a fan of vampire flicks and doubt very much such creatures ever existed.

Secondly, who in their right mind wants to live past let's say one hundred?  Your family and your best friends have left this valley of tears long ago, and you have nothing in common with the society in which you currently find yourself.  People and their lifestyles have drastically changed, and I would guess, not always for the better.  So here you are, fit as a fiddle, smarter than a whip, and alone in mind, body, and, most importantly, soul.  You don't agree with present day politics, not that you ever did, and realize you still can't make a significant difference in local, state, and federal governing unless you join forces which is against every fiber of your rejuvenated being.

And thirdly, although you're stronger, faster, and smarter, one look in the mirror horrifies you!  The road map of wrinkles etched across your face, along with sagging eyelids, and drooping jowls makes you draw back in disgust.  How could I become so ugly, when what seems like only yesterday, I was a hot chick! But because of your newly-acquired mental acuity you realize that "yesterday" was sixty-some years ago, and your good looks are definitely a thing of the past.

After careful analysis of the research mentioned above, I've concluded that no matter how many Bloody Marys I might be offered to enhance my aged brain, I will most certainly abstain.  My life has been the result of the choices I've made, whether or not they've been the best, but they've been MY choices.  I've enjoyed every minute and wouldn't have changed most of that time.  The few things I wish could have evolved differently were totally out of my control.

Getting old isn't the worse thing that can happen to a person.  Getting old and regretting the life you've chosen to live IS!