Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Reverie

In this season of promise and expectation, my thoughts go to the myriad of Everyday Angels that surround me, my powerful circle of love and hope. You all, who have given me so much, will be in my heart forever.  I know you will be richly rewarded for your gentle kindnesses and loving generosity.  Especially those of you who know my many flaws but love me anyway, thank you for being role models of compassion.  Your humanity inspires me.  I pray that you all will be showered with blessings.

No matter what, I am so grateful for my children and the many treasured Christmas memories that revolve around them.  Throughout the years, you four, individually and collectively, have given me more joyful moments than you will ever know.   There is nothing you could ever do or say that could change my love for you.  That love is for eternity.

December is such a busy month, and not just because of Christmas.  In our family, we have significant dates on both ends of the spectrum of life.  I have two precious grandchildren born in December.  And, sadly, my husband Dennis died in December, five days before Christmas, twenty years ago this month. Our kids were 6, 8, 15 and 16.  I was 39 and he was only 40.

His death was a hideous shock.  He was an active guy, slim and athletic.  But he apparently had congenital heart disease that was never picked up.  The worst thing I have ever had to do in my life was witness the suffering my children endured at his loss and not be able to fix it or make it go away.  Every subsequent family milestone that I went through alone at first was excruciatingly painful, then gradually faded to a dull poignancy.

We have four grandchildren now, will have five in February.  He would have been a marvelous grandfather, because he was a big kid at heart.   He was always up for playing a game, reading a story, going for a walk or making up silly sayings. 

A tugboat pilot, he was very good at his job.  But it was a career he had been caught in, not a career he had chosen.  At 17, a neighbor gave him a job at Circle Line, the Manhattan sightseeing boats, as a line catcher, the lowest job on the pier.  (This neighbor just happened to be a VP at Circle Line).  Dennis was a reliable, hard worker and popular with the other guys, so he easily worked his way up to deckhand.  Because he was ambitious, he studied for and obtained his pilot’s license, a notoriously hard accomplishment.  He became a captain at Circle Line and then a pilot on the tugs.   

But what he really wanted to be, more than anything, was a high school gym teacher.   He would have been fantastic.  He loved kids and he loved sports, he was a natural.  When I “helped” our kids with their homework, I was shrieking maniac within 15 seconds.  He was endlessly patient.  But he never had the luxury of quitting his job to go back to school, he had a family to support.  So he settled for being an autodidact and was quite learned in many subjects, especially the Civil War and geography.  We used to challenge each other to Jeopardy.  Getting comfortable on the sofa, our younger son would sit between us and keep score.  We’d turn the show on and most of the time it would be neck and neck.  But if I won, it was usually just because I had a faster mouth.  He was always a good loser, whereas if I lost, I would pout.  It was years before I could watch Jeopardy again.  It just made me too sad.

He was a die-hard New Yorker, something that had bonded him with my grandfather.  These two complicated men had a genuine respect and fondness for each other.  And like my grandfather, not-so-deep-down, Dennis was a quiet romantic.  His favorite movies were West Side Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Quiet Man and Dog Day Afternoon, all films about flawed men with huge capacities to love.   He had a soft spot for animals, with their helplessness and unconditional affection.  He was especially fond of an obscure TV movie from 1969, J.T.   It has only been broadcast once or twice since (although it is available here on YouTube, in 4 parts).  J.T. is set in Harlem, a touching but raw story about a lonely boy who secretly nurses an injured alley cat while trying to cope with the challenges of inner city life.  Dennis saw himself in that little boy and talked about comparisons often.  Although he had his melancholy streak, he was incredibly funny and had a sharp wit, but plain old slapstick, like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, could leave him crying with laughter.  

Golf was such a passion that he would have pitched a tent out on the green if he could have.   He was a great athlete and probably could have played professional baseball if he had had the encouragement and support he needed as a kid.

Twenty years is an awfully long time. We had been married for 17, known each other for 20, had four wonderful children together.  He had a hard life and dealt with many challenges, some more successfully than others.  He was a very good man at heart, but I know he always wanted to be better.  He was always striving.  I am so sad for him that he has missed so much.   Sometimes it seems as though he will walk through the door any second.  It happens far less now, but I still find myself occasionally thinking, “oh, I have to tell Dennis” and then I remember.  I think he would have been very proud of my accomplishments.  It feels desperately unfair that his life was so short.   But I want to believe he is in a place of happiness and healing, far better off than I can comprehend.

Merry Christmas, Dennis.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Fragment of a painting, Shooting Star, by

Thank you Lord, for making Yourself one of us.  Please strengthen our faith in You.  Please make us worthy of Your love and of each other.


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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pray and Laugh

I didn't exactly forget to put up a Pray & Laugh post last Friday, as I said I was going to do each week.  It is more a matter of still contemplating how I am going to apply it.  Some issues it has occurred to me I need to pray about are deadly serious and certainly do not lend themselves to a subsequent laugh.  But I still agree with my comrade in cancer from last week that it is essential to do both in order to heal.  It is still a work in progress.  However, I'm not going to worry about it.  I know we will work something out together, with quiet inspiration from God, and it will fall into place. 

There have been several things on my mind the past two weeks.  But the situation that seemed to loom the largest (and most expensive) was the fact our boiler was broken.

When I bought my 80 year old house 14 years ago, there was much that needed repairing or replacing.  The non-handyman who had owned the house before me left an awful mess of inept 'repairs'.  Although I had paid a professional house inspector a significant amount of money and he had certified the house as in adequate condition, he was, let's can I put this?  COMPLETELY INCORRECT.  The washer was illegally hooked into the sump pump.  The roof needed immediate replacing.  The attic conversion to two bedrooms and a bathroom had been done with no township permits and was not up to code, therefore two days before closing we found we could not get a Certificate of Occupancy.  And that is just the tip of the list.  I was naive and trusting.  You might also say I was a smug, smarty pants know-it-all.  Or an ominous combination of all, blinded by French doors, the sun room, the fireplace, the Craftsman built-ins, original get the picture.

Follow the picture to the full basement, three quarters finished, with a built in bar, pool table and separate laundry room.  On the far wall of the finished space was a door.  And behind that door was No Woman's Land.  It was dark, dank, held dozens of shelves loaded with tons of man-stuff like metal and wood.  There was a work table to do the kind of work that I, myself, certainly would never do.  And there was...The Boiler.

In an eighty year old house that had only had three owners in it's lifetime, you can expect radiators and an old boiler and that is exactly what I had.  But it kept us warm and had been certified OK by the House Certifier, so I didn't give it a second thought.

Nine years ago when my carbon dioxide detector went off one afternoon, with brilliant logic I said to myself "Gosh, the carbon monoxide detector is going off.  The new toaster oven that I just bought must be defective.  I hate it anyway, I will just get rid of it and get a new one."

I know I am hearing some groaning out there.  Before we go any further, let me remind you from kindergarten to high school to college, childbirth ed training, nursing school and graduate school, I have about 22 years of education.  But back to our story...

I pitch the harmless and helpless toaster oven out and buy a new one.  Boy, those were the days.  Sigh.  Dumb AND well off.  At any rate, lo and behold, the carbon monoxide detector goes off again one afternoon.  "Gosh" I think, "There must be something wrong with the carbon monoxide detector.  I better get a new one."  So I get myself a new, ceiling-type CM detector.  And what do you think happens?  Why, THAT detector was broken too!!!  What are the odds?!?!

My sister was heading over to visit, so I asked her to run into Target on her way by and pick me up a new detector.  She got a plug in one this time and I didn't look at it until after she left.  I plugged it in to the kitchen outlet and the reading shot up to 50 ppm (parts per million).   Safe is ZERO.  Finally showing a modicum of the intelligence I supposedly had, I went down to the basement, back to the scary boiler room.  Before I could even plug it in, I was already woozy and nauseous.  But out of morbid curiosity, I had to know.  The number zoomed up to 375.  Even I knew this was bad.  I opened all the basement windows on my way out, hit the Emergency Off switch for the furnace, got the dog and high tailed it out of there.  Next call was to the boiler guy.

The boiler guy was the same one who had installed the boiler fifty years earlier.  Our children went to school together and I was friends with his wife because of that.  He had a good reputation and offered a turn around time of one day.  Best of all, I would have a new boiler and that issue would not be a problem for decades.

For decades.  Right?  So why did I have no heat less than ten years later?

Because that is the story of my life, that's why.

The first repair person that I called two weeks ago came in dressed like someone exploring a spill at a nuclear power plant.  He gave his dire-you're-lucky-you're-not-dead speech and estimate of $13,000.  I was still sobbing when he left.

The next repair person was arranged for me by a high school classmate.  His technician was funny and kind and thought he had found the problem, but it wouldn't stay lit.  After a few more tries like that and a week of very cold nights, it was determined we did indeed need a new boiler.  No one could figure out why the old one gave up and the guy who had installed it for me was now in his 90's and the business was closed.  The question was moot anyway.  I had just gotten out of the hospital and we were freezing.  I didn't know how I was going to pay for it but the owner of this second company, along with his tech and my classmate, worked out an incredible deal for me.  They worked for hours on Thanksgiving eve, until almost 9 p.m., to make sure I would have heat again. Despite my snarky comments, once again I was blown away by the amazing kindness and generosity of truly good people.

The Prayer

I am so incredibly lucky to have the support of friends and the support of their friends.  This care has seen me through many crises, not just the boiler debacle.  But I know while we are warm this Thanksgiving and have much to be thankful for, there are far many more who are suffering right now.  This prayer is for those who do not have access to warmth, the where-with-all to get help or do not have help available at all.

For Those Who Are Cold This Night

Lord, I thank you for the warmth and safety of my home and for putting in my path people who could and did help me.  Please comfort those tonight who are struggling to survive without this consolation, those who are cold or homeless.  Allow your love to spark in their hearts, to give them hope and the resources to seek help.  For those who cannot reach out, for those who are too beaten down or too unwell, please give them some sense of relief or healing.   Let them feel the blanket of your love and peace surround them.  Open the eyes and hearts of those of us passing them by, that we might be aware and provide whatever help we can or, at the very least, to pray for them.  I humbly ask this.  Amen.

The Laugh

Because I love to laugh, I admire and envy all the comic geniuses who have treated us to their many and varied gifts.  As far as I am concerned, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are two who are at the top of the list.  These brilliant men ironically led tortured, unhappy lives.  But, luckily for us, they have left a legacy of hilarious performances.  This is one of my favorites, "The One-Legged Tarzan".  


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