Tag Archives: family

The Picture

Sometimes it takes a while for the reality of something to sink into our brains. It may be a matter of coming to a place where you can accept the reality when it’s much easier to deny it, or it may just be that something hits you that says something like “remember that event? It’s real.”

After thirteen months, it’s finally beginning to sink in that my mother has died. Not that I was in denial or anything. I knew she had died. I saw her in the coffin. And the coffin in the ground. But I didn’t really accept that the person I had seen was my mother. Looked like her, but it wasn’t the woman I knew as my mother.

She died at age 90 of complications from dementia. Complications is a nice way of putting it. Basically, even though she had some memory issues, she knew she was alive, and what her quality of life was like, and would be like. And she said the hell with it, I’m done. After twenty six days of a self imposed starvation diet, she died. My father was with her. But I was nine hundred miles away.

She had been struggling for several years. It started gradually with, with small difficulties in finding a word when she was speaking. In the end most of her words were just a string of gibberish. It made sense to her, but no one understood what she was saying. And you could see her frustration.

For several years I was afraid that every time I visited her would be the last time I would see her alive. Finally I was right. It was one thing when she and my father lived in their own home. The place they lived for thirty eight years. But when they moved to the assisted living facility, which is really very nice, she went downhill fast. There was no more running on autopilot because she no longer knew where anything was. She stopped cooking, cleaning, making coffee, washing dishes. And her speech capabilities faded.

The last time I saw her I walked out of the room and knew I’d never see her alive again. She was sitting in a chair, babbling about something, looking very, very fragile. She had lost a lot of weight in the assisted living facility. She was my mother. At least she resembled her in appearance, and sounded similar. But the life I saw sitting in that chair was not the woman I knew as my mother.

My mother was vibrant and intelligent. She graduated from college the year before I did after having sacrificed for many, many years to raise her family. Her degree was in Far Eastern Art, and she got a job in an art museum working with Japanese wood block prints. Spoke Mandarin. She loved art and history and was widely travelled. Politically active with an eye toward power to the people. She was really something.

So, when she died I wasn’t surprised, and it wasn’t devastating. I lived nine hundred miles away so I hadn’t seen her as often as I would have liked. And after all, it was this new person, not my mother who had died. I went home, helped my dad and sister with the arrangements, went to the funeral and that was that. Sounds cold, but I loved my mother tremendously. She inspired me in my thirst for knowledge and deep thinking. But the woman who died was not my mother. Not in my mine.

As the anniversary of her death approached I thought about the facts. But they were just cold facts. She was dead. But in my mind, my mother, the person I knew as my mother, had been gone a long time, replaced by an imposter.

Then it came time for my own birthday. Just a few days later. And my wife was putting together a big party for me. Milestone birthday and all. She put out a lot of pictures of me as a kid and teen and young man and then as husband and father and whatever. At some point I looked glancing at one of these pictures and it captured my attention. A closer look revealed that my mother, my real mother, was in the picture. She was old, but vibrant, smiling, aware and active.

I had just completed the Philadelphia Marathon and she and my father had come to see me cross the finish line. My father took a picture of her hugging me as I wore my finisher’s medal and warming blanket. I was happy. She was happy. My father was disappointed I hadn’t won the race. He was convinced that being an overweight forty five year old white male was no excuse for not winning.

When I saw the look on her face in that picture, I recognized my mother. And then realized that my mother is gone. I can accept that. In a way it’s sad now, But I will always remember her as she was in her prime.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?



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A Moving Idea

Sometimes an idea will simmer in your mind for a long time before you get the details worked out. Or even begin to take it seriously. Then some sort of trigger gets pulled and you feel compelled to act. Even obsessed with bringing this idea to fruition.

When I was a child my father’s employer transferred his job to another city. Another state. He loved his job, so he was going. And so were we. He was moving from the sprawl of Northern New Jersey to a manufacturing town in Pennsylvania. Not far from the Amish Country. He wanted to live in a rural area.

He and my mother looked at houses to make their new home. One of them was a farmhouse on a large hunk of acreage. In the middle of nowhere as farmhouses with vast expanses of land tend to be. He liked it. My mom, not so much. She was afraid that she would be isolated from the rest of humanity. And that her two young children would be stranded far from friends. Eventually they built a house in an upcoming new subdivision. Close to town, and shopping. The best schools in the state. A one-quarter acre lot.

This particular area was still considered to be in the country, and there were vast cornfields behind the house. And across the street, in the still undeveloped portion of the neighborhood, there were open fields. Up the road was the farmhouse and red barn to which all of this land had once belonged. So my father got a little of what he wanted, and my mother got everything she wanted.

That’s where I grew up. From age five until I graduated from high school. The day after I graduated, my parents moved out. They had bought my father’s dream home. An old stone farmhouse on ten acres of land. With a barn. They lived there for the next thirty-eight years and although I had grown up in suburbia, I have ever since considered this second home, Shadowlawn Farm, to be my real home. Like my father, I too loved the country life.

Fast forward to twenty years ago. My life takes many turns similar to my fathers. My wife and I had started a family and were living in an urban subdivision. The schools were failing and we wanted more for our children. We started to look in the neighboring county. Which happened to have the best schools in the state.

We looked at existing subdivision homes. We looked in the country. Every Sunday we would drive out to the country and ride around looking. One neighborhood had particular appeal to my wife. Best one in the county. We had always heard that you should buy the worst house in the best neighborhood you could afford. That was her plan. I was still holding out for the farm.

Finally it was my father-in-law who caused me to take action. He shamed me into it. What he said to me one day was that my kids needed to move. They needed to be near other kids. And I should get off my wallet and do right by my family. Of course I was going to take care of my family, but I didn’t have to do it at the expense of my life. But I did.

Time was passing and a new school year was approaching. If we bought a new house, or piece of property in the next county we could enroll the girls in the best schools available. There was a vacant lot for sale in that best neighborhood. So I bought it. And my wife and I got together with a builder and proceeded to construct a new house. It was exciting, but a story for another time and blog post.

Fast forward once again. This time to 2016. For the past twenty years I have been poring over real estate books looking at houses. Moving has never been a consideration. The kids were still in school. Then college. My wife was content. I was antsy. Then my back failed. Two surgeries later and I was having real difficulty with the stairs in our three story house. And walking. Moving suddenly became a consideration. But where?

To be continued…

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?




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Stressless Moving Series

Certain events in life cause great levels of stress. Some of the biggest stressors include loss of a loved one, major health issues, becoming an empty nester, loss of a job, retirement and moving. There are many others, and by no means am I downplaying their importance. In the past year, I have experienced each of those I listed above. At least once.

Some of these I’ve talked about a little I think. And some I don’t care to talk about at all. But moving, now that’s a subject I will gladly talk about. So, just to give all my readers a heads up, I am going to be putting together a series of posts regarding my adventure in moving. From nineteen years in the suburbs to a mini farm in the county.

Stay tuned for chapter one soon!

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Trouble in Paradise


What makes a tropical paradise? Lots of sunshine. Cooling breezes blowing in from the multihued crystal clear waters. Sandy beaches. And of course, plenty of scantily clad bronzed bodies!

Some folks might add things like great shopping and fine ding. Or theme parks and museums. Or any number of other activities and attractions. But it’s the physical characteristics of location that make a place tropical, and then the lifestyle that makes it paradise. And everyone has their own idea of paradise.

There are many tropical places with beaches. And many with mountains. But from my experience, limited as it may be, Hawaii really is a tropical paradise. It has beaches. And mountains. And forests, valleys, rivers and palm trees galore. The waters are insanely blue, and clear. And there is an incredible variety of things to do and see. All as noted above.

But one ting I noticed, something that doesn’t show up in the travel brochures, was that not everyone living there believes that it is paradise. Sure, there are the high rise hotels and condos on Waikiki Beach where residents can take advantage of the paradise. But along side that there are enclaves of little rundown houses. As you move through Oahu you will see further evidence of poverty and decay.

And then there are the homeless. I didn’t see huge numbers of them, but they were everywhere. Sleeping on sidewalks. Pushing shopping carts filled with plastic bags housing all of their worldly possessions. And camped out on the beaches and in the parks.

Of course there are hustlers and street performers who make their money off of the tourist’s sensitivities and guilt. Two nights in a row I saw a group of young men singing and dancing on the sidewalk, preaching their ministry of abstinence and purity, and collecting money to support themselves. And one night a woman approached me and asked for twenty dollars because she had lost her purse. That’s bold!

Then there are the street people. Just minding their own business, living on the street. I saw them digging through ashtrays looking for any half smoked cigarettes that they could finish off. And sleeping on the beaches, under the palm trees with their shopping cart safely nearby. And one dude who was very animatedly conversing with some imaginary person while standing guard over his shopping cart.

I don’t know why all of these people live the way they do. Hustlers do it because its easier than working nine to five. Some people are down on their luck. Big time. Others have issues that keep them out of mainstream society. I can’t fix it by myself and I’m not saying anyone else should try to, or should even care if they don’t already. Just making an observation.

And part of that is to say that in Hawaii it seems that the homeless are still part of the Ohana, that’s family, and are left alone and treated with human dignity. At least I didn’t see the cops or anyone else hassling them.

They say aloha is a way of life, and if it includes tropical islands, and treating each other as family and with dignity, then I’m all for it! That’s part of my story. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.com

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She lived in a world filled with symbolism. Immersed in the ancient civilizations of China, Japan and the Native Americans, she was familiar with the importance of symbols in life. The Chinese and Japanese each have written languages made up of characters, each representing more than just a letter or even a word. They often describe a phrase, or a story, or have situational meaning. Native Americans have a limited written language in their native tongue, but do have symbols and sign language. This form of language results in hundreds, and even thousands of characters, or symbols, used in written communication.

She spoke Chinese, and read Japanese, and understood some of the words of the Native Americans of the eastern forests. Art was her forte though and as in all art, the creations of these peoples were filled with symbolism and hidden meaning.

When she died, she took with her a great deal of knowledge and expertise. I wish I had picked her brain so much more when I had the chance. But I knew some of the symbolism and I wanted to pay my final respects with as much of it as I could.

In choosing a flower arrangement, I opted for white chrysanthemums and blue iris.White is the color of death in the East, and chrysanthemums represent longevity. She was 90 years old when she died. The blue iris is recognized in China as the dancing spirit of Summer, its petals reminiscent of a butterfly’s wings. She certainly had a wonderful spirit. And both of these flowers were her favorites, and I remember her growing them in her garden for many years.

To her funeral I wore a wristwatch to recognize the Native American people of the Southwest. It had a sterling silver band, etched with leaf symbols, and encrusted with turquoise stones. This is my favorite watch, a taste I picked up from her. And I only wear it on very special occasions.

As I stood over her open casket, taking a final look, I placed a gift for her into what was once a warm and soft loving hand. Now cold and pale. It was a small Chinese cloisonné box. She loved the Chinese and Japanese enamelware, and ceramics. Inside the box I had placed a note to her for her journey. The note was written with a fountain pen made by the Esterbrook Pen Company, a place where she worked when she met my father. In the note I told her that my own children and I said to each other, every morning on their way to school, “and most of all, we love each other.” I knew she wasn’t really holding the box, but I hoped she was able to understand the massage. And to get the symbolism. She was my mother…

That’s part of my story. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.com

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Storage Wars

Enough is enough! She finally told me to pack up my stuff and get the hell out of her house. Well, not exactly all of my stuff. And she wasn’t quite ready to throw me out. Yet. The Powerball numbers hadn’t been drawn yet and I was waving my lucky ticket.

It was the garage. And the basement. Over the past couple of years I had filled them both up with all sorts of wonderful treasures. Things I had gathered from far and wide at yard sales, junk shops and even the occasional antique store. These were things I knew had great value, and I knew I could sell them for much more than I paid.

If you are any kind of collector, or dealer, you probably know exactly what I mean. You buy something you think is cool and save it for yourself. After a while you have a lot of these things and it occurs to you that maybe you should thin the collection. Time for a yard sale. But you keep collecting. A yard sale is not going to handle what you need to dispose of. So you move up to having a booth in an antique mall.

And then two booths. And still its not enough to handle the growing collection.

Soon you look into finding a storage place to keep it while it waits to hit one of the antique markets. What I found was that renting a booth at the antique store was cheaper than renting a storage unit! No brainer- get another booth and keep the stuff out where people can see it and buy it. But that isn’t turning over the inventory fast enough. The garage once held two automobiles. Now there is no room for either. She wants her car in the garage. She doesn’t care where I park mine, but she wants hers in the garage. Get that crap out!!!

I finally found a place to store the stuff that cost less than another antique mall space. Its got twenty-four/seven access so I can go visit my stuff when I get the urge. Or need to move something to one of the stores. Trying to load up my truck I find myself struggling to decide what to take first. What might I be able to leave in the garage once I clear enough room for her car? Keep the mid century stuff in the garage because it will be the first stuff to go the the store. Keep the “projects” in the garage because I need to be able to work on them. Keep the things I like in the garage. Because I like them. Shit. There is nothing left to go to the storage place!

Rethink this. Wicker furniture. Spring and summer sale item. Take all of that. There is a desk that needs a lot of work. Save that for later so off to storage. This is getting s little easier.

Then the bubble bursts and she reminds me that what she really meant to say was I want ALL of this crap out of here. Everything!!!!! So now it’s a matter of what goes first so I can pack the storage place in some order. Damn. I may have to move myself into the storage booth so I can see my stuff.

But, we are going to sell the house soon. And it will be a lot easier to do that if the garage and basement look like there is plenty of room for storage. We don’t have to show buyers that by example. Let them use their imagination. Full of their crap.

Hopefully, over the next couple of days and weekends, I’ll get it all out. As well as all of the junk my two kids are still storing here. And no more stuff will fly out of the back of the truck while I’m driving down the road. And the garage and basement will be beautiful. And we will sell the house to move on to the next thing. Whatever that may be. Hopefully it has plenty of storage.

And if the lucky ticket doesn’t pan out, it could very well be that I’m out the door too! That’s part of my story. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.com

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The Dog Who Ate Christmas

Sit! That’s a good girl, here is a treat. That’s the strategy: reward the puppy for good behavior with food. Dog treat that is. Stay away from giving her table scraps or else she will be begging at the table all the time. She went to obedience school and she learned to eat treats.
As a dog, she already knew by instinct how to eat her food. And everything else she could find. It must have something to do with her teeth hurting as she loses her puppy death and acquires her wolf fangs. She chews on everything, and eats most of it. But it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with hunger.
There doesn’t seem to be anything she won’t eat, but wood seems to be her favorite thing. Any kind of wood. Wood trim on the walls of the house, sticks from the yard, and lumber she finds who knows where. She’s probably eating the foundation of the house like some kind of termite. In the form t yard there is a big pile of stuff she has found and brought to the place where she likes to hang out when she is outside. IJ addition to the wood there are tennis balls, basketballs, a popcorn tin, shoes, paintbrushes and a can of WD-40. Whatever she can get her mouth on. And she won’t let go unless she is offered something better!
When I was repairing the bottom of a chair recently I removed four screws from the seat and put them on the floor with my tools. When I turned around to reinstall the screws, one was gone. As was the wrench! The wrench I found. Yup, in the fornt yard pile. The screw I’ll have to replace. She likes pottery too. Its crunchy after she breaks it into small pieces. And glass. It’s amazing she doesn’t have some kind of stomach issues.
One day during the Fall I had found some really cool outdoor Christmas decorations. Iron rods shaped and welded together into the form of giant candles. I attached a long string of colored lights on the first one and was planning to plug them in at night and let them shine from the balcony ion the back of the house. When I finished the first one I plugged it in and sure enough it worked great. Preparing to do the second one I turned around to look at something on the first one and damn! That dog had eaten the plug off the string of lights. I found the plug, you know where, and it was a little mangled but I thought I could still make it work. Snip, snip, twist, twist, tape and it was almost as good as new. At least it worked.
I finished the second candle and plugged it in. Yeah, it works! And for the next two nights I plugged them in and they light up the night. Then I noticed she had eaten the plug again. This time it was gone. Nowhere to be found. I wasn’t going to look for it in the next logical place it might show up.
Normally I put strings of colored lights all over the shrubbery in the from t of the house, into the trees, along the gutters and on the porch columns. A blazing show of splendiferous color! Very festive. In the name of tradition I also do candles in the windows and a Moravian star on the from t porch. There are power cords, and plugs, everywhere.
So, after the debacle with the cord and plugs on the candle in the back of the house I decided that I could risk either the power cords, or the stupid dogs life, by putting out this brilliant display of lights. I stuck with the candles in the windows and the Moravian star. Boring white lights. But obviously Christmas lights.
The man across the street may have been relieved because he didn’t have to look at this carnival of color every night, but it was very disappointing to have to forego the colored lights. Some people I know will understand my dismay at having no colored lights. I’m pretty sure this will be the last light display I put on at this house after eighteen years. I’m moving, but that’s another story.
Inside the house I always put up a big live Frazier fir tree and cover it on colored lights. Strings and strings and strings of them buried deep inside the branches and strung along the tips. Looks like Times Square! Its always tall, and usually narrow as its place of honor is a corner, next to a window on one side and a cabinet on the other. This year we went to North Carolina and plucked it form a mountain top. A tall, and very fat thing. On the mountain top it looked much narrower. Inside the house I had to trim a few branches here and there.
And we covered it with lights and decorations and have it sitting in a tree stand filled with water. I was wondering if the dog would attack the tree, but its still standing. Right after the tree went up we vacuumed the floor around it to pick up the loose needles and that seemed to have terrified the dog sufficiently to keep her away. At first.
She began to poke around with her snout and realized that it smelled good- fresh wood. And water too! Just like a kid in a candy store. I couldn’t tell if the tree was thriving and drinking the water or the dog was drinking it! Every once in a while I’d find a small branch laying on the floor, with one end all chewed up. Guess who brought that to the party! She only ate one ornament. It was paper and hanging on a very low branch.
We knew we couldn’t put any present s under the tree this year. She would devour them in a second. But it was when she was getting a drink of sap filled water and got her snout tangled in a string of lights as she pulled away from the tree that I got nervous. I saw the lights flying of the tree one by one as she pulled further and further away, not knowing what to do with the light string that was attacking her. She shook it off and ran away. The tree was still standing and the lights were put back in place.
Its still not Christmas so she had time to knock the tree down and eat the ornaments and eats the lights and nibble, gnaw and gobble until there is nothing left. Not even the trunk of the tree. And then she will jump onto the sofa and put her head in my lap and fall asleep. Its them that I realize that she may eat the trappings of Christmas, but she is part of the love.

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