Posted in Childhood, Family

Close to heaven.

When my sister and I were in our early teens, we were lucky enough to have horses. Well, a horse. We boarded several, but we owned Clancy, a sable-brown thoroughbred with the temperament of a big lab. He was tall and gentle and surprisingly patient with a couple young girls learning to ride bareback through the fields around our home. Our neighbor friends boarded a couple of their horses, as well, and one of them was really smart. Clipper could open the door to his stall at will. Thankfully there was a paddock around the small barn that housed him and the others. But every once in awhile, it didn’t matter.

More than once the phone would ring in the middle of the night, and the convent nuns would be calling to tell us our horses were in their field again. Mom would come wake Kathleen and me and tell us to go get them. We lived in a very small town at that time, quiet and rural. This particular summer night, Kathy threw on some shorts under her PJ top, and she and I, in my kelly-green baby doll pajamas and tennis shoes, walked the half mile, bridles in hand, to the church yard where we found our two errant horses nibbling away on the green grass.

I have the sweetest most vivid memory of she and I atop those two horses climbing the hill towards home, hooves slowly sounding their ‘clip-clop’ down the dirt road. It had to be near midnight, but we didn’t need flashlights. Back then, with few lights for distraction, the dark sky had set off the brilliant stars and the Milky Way, creating an atmosphere so peaceful, I never wanted it to end. Letting the horses find their way, our heads tilted back looking at the deep, vast, star-filled sky, it was probably as close to heaven as I’ve ever been.

Posted in Thoughts

The unexpected gift of 9/11.

Ground Zero

September 11, 2001. We all remember where we were and what we were doing when the towers came down. I personally remember being at work prepping for a day of hearings when someone came in and said a plane had hit one of the World Trade Centers. We all jumped up, went to another room, and then watched in horrified silence as the morning unfolded, barely wanting to believe what our own eyes and ears were telling us.

Know what else I remember? I remember the days, weeks, and months post 9/11 and the feeling in the air in the communities around us, in the media. We suddenly seemed kinder, not so quick to cut that car off in traffic or perhaps allowing someone to get in front of us in the checkout. Whatever else our enemies were hoping for when they planned this attack, what they least expected was what actually happened. Instead of an America divided, we were an America united regardless of race, religion, or gender. We weren’t left or right. We were united Americans, and we were proud of it.

They say never forget. But I think outside of the anniversary of that day, most of us do forget. We forget the visual, we forget the fear, and we forget the enemy. Now the enemy is us. Less than 20 years later, what we are now is unrecognizable to just a generation ago. And I miss it. I feel almost guilty because of the horrific catalyst that led to that feeling, but I do. It surprises me to say it, but eventually, we felt good. Perhaps ‘good’ is the wrong word. But we felt changed. We all had each others’ backs. We talked to each other, seemed to trust each other. We were all going through the same thing.

So here we are, 19 years later, unrecognizable as the same country. Regardless of where you think the blame lies, ask yourself, in the end – and I have to say, this may well be the beginning of the end – are any of the reasons for this division so important? What should and will matter is love given and received. That is the measure of a life. How did we treat each other, our families, siblings, friends? Right, left, or middle, in the end, is it really going to matter which side we were on politically?

Stop for a moment and think. What if another 9/11 happened today? What if one of your family or close friends were caught in the tragedy? What if your neighbor or co-worker or even the homeless guy on the corner – what if they simply and suddenly didn’t exist? Would you have regrets?

I think that was the unexpected gift of 9/11. We didn’t want any regrets. We didn’t want any what-ifs. We checked in with our loved ones, expressed concern to strangers, and offered our help. We were united, all of us. My hope and prayer for today is that we can look past the outside cacophony of noise that is being shoved down our throats and remember. Remember the ultimate sacrifice of so many who lost their lives that day. Those heroes didn’t ask the victims where they stood politically. They didn’t discriminate against race or religion or gender choice when they risked their own lives to save theirs. The worst possible disgrace would be if that tragedy was for naught.

Remember that day, and then remember the gift of that day. And be kind.

Divide and conquer: to make a group of people disagree and fight with one another so that they will not join together against one. ~Miriam Webster

Posted in Florida Fun

Labor Day 2020

It’s a lot different celebrating Labor Day when you’re retired. When you’re working, Labor Day means NOT doing the normal labor of your work week. But when you’re retired, it’s more about doing sort of the same things, but with more people and with a ‘reason.’ This is my second non-labor Labor Day celebration. Meg flew in from Richmond, we met up with friends Donna and Mark and Kevanna and family, but we missed our friend Q since she decided to labor instead and make lots of extra money.

We went to what David likes to call ‘Wedding Beach,’ since that’s where we were married. But it’s actually called Bay Drive Park, and it’s really lovely with a pavilion, bathrooms, and lots of less-crowded beach than at Flagler Beach. With canopies up, chairs perched, warm temps and a slight breeze, the ocean beckoned with her 80-degree temps, and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. A cookout later at our place with burgers and dogs then cards and a movie completed our celebration, and we all went to bed too tired and a just little sunkissed.

Posted in Florida Fun

This was a BLAST!

I love Florida. There are just so many opportunities to do things that you can’t do anywhere else. This time it involved the Kennedy Space Center and an event they called, “Launch and a Movie.” Like the name implies, for 50 bucks a car, you can attend a rocket launch at pretty close proximity compared to most other ways to see one, then they will show a movie about the Hubble telescope. As soon as it came into my email I jumped at it. Our friends Donna and Mark were also interested, so after the first attempt was scrubbed, we made our way down there on Sunday afternoon, had a nice dinner, and found ourselves in a great spot for viewing. With chairs set up, we waited for the countdown, not exactly sure where to look but with a pretty good idea.

I’ve seen the rockets go up from our home. The contrail is visible and exciting to recognize. But this was a whole different experience. I wasn’t really prepared for the sound. We were told that if you could somehow withstand the heat of liftoff, if close enough, the sound waves would actually kill you. As that behemoth lifted off, there came a low rumble, then a louder one, and finally, when it was at neck-craning height, the noise resounded through my body. I could actually feel it! Such a THRILL!

Eight minutes later, we witnessed the first stage booster come screaming towards earth. These brilliant astro scientists actually programmed this thing to return to earth and land on an X!

What??

Shortly after it disappeared behind the trees, we heard two sonic booms. Wow.

I wish the videos could give you the sounds we heard. If you have earbuds or headphones on, you can hear it. I can’t wait to do it again. You do have to do some waiting around, but the 15-minutes of sheer awe are absolutely worth it. It was a total BLAST.

The fourth picture below shows a satellite view of our location at the Space Center. We’re the blue dot. The top red circle is where liftoff was. The bottom red circle is the ‘X’ where the first stage booster landed.

Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven

Chuck

Chucky, Charlie, Chaz, my older brother, turned 69 this year. It’s so hard for me to believe. I’m four years behind him, and while four years was a huge gap when we were younger, thankfully, as we’ve aged, four years’ or even 10 years’ difference has faded away to nothing and age has equaled out.

Being the oldest of 11 kids had to have its challenges, but since that’s all he knew, he probably didn’t question it. There were no brothers close in age (my brother Pat was five years younger than he with two girls in between them), so whenever possible, Chucky would hang out with his cousins Greg and John, both older by a year and three years, respectively.

While I have memories of him as a younger child, most of my earliest memories of Chuck begin in our teens. His horses (Buck and Red), teasing me about boyfriends, riding me on his motorcycle. Though he went away to the seminary in 9th grade (my parents held out great hope that at least one of their eight boys would get ‘the calling’), he finished his high school career at a small Catholic school where he was senior class president and graduating valedictorian. He was obviously popular, had a darling girlfriend, and seemed headed for greatness.

College, heartbreak, jobs, and moves filled his next several years. Chuck ended up marrying my best friend from high school while in their late 20’s. After settling in northern Michigan and and then starting a family, he finally found his niche as marketing director for the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City where his engaging personality was put to the best possible use. Chuck finally achieved his own level of greatness when his 25-year career culminated in his induction into the IFEA’s (International Festival and Events Association) Hall of Fame; quite an honor and much-deserved.

So now my big brother is retired. This wonderful father of two exceptional young men is now the grampa to two (and a half at this writing) darling little girls. With some extra time on his hands between seasons (he loves winter in northern Michigan), he came for a visit a short while ago. We had such a great time together, his second morning spent sitting on the lanai where we drank coffee and talked, still in our jammies, until 1:00 in the afternoon.

Chuck is one of those honorable men who gives pause before speaking, who questions without judgement, and who listens and makes note of what’s said. He encourages and delights in others’ accomplishments. He is sincerely interested in you. With a lively sense of optimism and fun, he is his proud father’s eldest son. Often asked to speak at a celebration or a memorial, he is eloquent, humorous, and thoughtful. I admire him greatly and want only his happiness. I count myself lucky to be not only his sister, but also his friend.

Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven

Kathleen

My sister, Kathleen, my memory keeper, turned 67 this year. Two years older, she and I were pretty much inseparable into our early teens. She, with the long, wavy red hair and freckles she hated, and I with the short dark hair and crooked teeth, grew up together sharing bedrooms and bathrooms, our cousin, our friends, and our love of horses. I got her hand-me-downs and rode on the back of Clancy. Before me, she experienced the firsts like driving and dating, leaving me behind in more ways than one. Once we reached our late teens, we were like night and day, and we started to grow apart both physically and emotionally.

Kathleen, Kappy, Kathy, Kate – nicknames she loved and hated – was always the responsible one. As a kid, she could get a roll of Neccos and save the preferred chocolate ones until later. We’d both get new Easter shoes and were told not to wear them early or they’d get scuffed. She listened. A good student, she never caused a problem, even when my parents had to move her from a small Catholic high school to public for her senior year. While I’m sure she hated it, I’m not sure I ever heard her argue with them.

She married young and badly. After 19 years and two sons, she divorced and moved north to her family. With supreme struggle and the help of her clan, she was eventually able build a new career in the legal field, buy a house, see her boys off to the Air Force and to college, and finally meet the love of her life, Jim. And with her move north, we became close again sharing girlfriends, celebrations, and lots of laughter.

She has Dad’s disposition; mostly sunny with an edge of moodiness. She usually is, like him, the life of the party. She is loyal and compassionate. She will listen and encourage and offer advice, typically good if not always welcome. And though she now claims she doesn’t have a lot of memories of our growing up years, I do, and so many of them are filled with us. And while she and I may have different personalities, I’m discovering as we age how much we look alike when Facebook always wants to auto-tag me as ‘Kathy’. We may not talk for months on end, but we will eventually check in with each other, catching up and sharing our lives. And because of who she is, she will be that person, the glue that will continue to hold our large family together through the coming years.

She’s now retired from a career as a legal secretary. She is able to spend her winters in sunny Florida where her Jimmy fishes on the Gulf while she reads on the sand. Back home she volunteers, visits our mother often, and enjoys her girlfriends. She’s earned it.

Posted in Family, Lucky Eleven

Maureen (Me)

Me. Smiley (as a young child), Moe throughout most of my life, Moeski, and Maur, by Dad. I feel like I’ve had as many nicknames as I’ve had chapters in my life. The third of the lucky 11, I’m the only girl who can say I’ve both older and younger sisters and brothers. I’m a pretty typical middle child, but where do you find the middle in a clan like ours?

While I had a lovely childhood, I don’t think I was necessarily a happy child. I needed more attention than my poor parents could give, considering there were six of us between 1951 and 1959. As a mother now, I can’t even imagine how Mom did it. I know she says her strongest memory of it all is being tired all. the. time.

We grew up with horses, dogs, and cats, though the cat thing is another story. Never in the ‘popular’ group, I usually gravitated to one friend per school. I was a high-risk teenager, though no one in my family was really aware of it. Our poor parents had too much on their plates to direct their attention to one teenage girl who seemed okay. Several stories come to mind, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to share them.

After a serious high school relationship broke up, I went away to college to become a pilot. I loved everything about flying, and I can still feel the excitement deep inside me when I recall those memories. I met my future husband there, married, had three kids, and eventually divorced after 30 years. Knowing my track record through high school, it doesn’t surprise me at all that I married who I did. But he gave me three wonderful kids, so I wouldn’t change a thing.

After a career as a court reporter, I discovered knitting, opened my own shop for several years, and then reeled a bit as life dealt blow after blow, including the death of Dad, my shop going out of business (thanks, Hobby Lobby), and my divorce. I rebounded with an old love, lost my home, went bankrupt, and finally felt compelled to leave the state altogether and regroup in Florida. It has taken me years to not only like myself, but to accept who I am. My five-year employment with Hospice exposed me to some wonderfully wise people. And after two years of online dating and kissing a lot of frogs, I was lucky enough to meet David, my best and last love.

Everyone’s life is a story, and mine is no different. Would I want my secrets exposed? I’ll decide that after Mom’s safely tucked away in heaven. Would I change anything? Not if it didn’t get me right where I am at this moment. I’ve been fortunate in so many ways, and I know it. I’m Irish. I’m moody and quick-tempered. But I have Dad’s genes, so my glass is always more than half full. I love to find the humor in anything, and I love to laugh. Mom, on the other hand, is a very tough act to follow. She is the epitome of selfless and always has been. I can’t say that I got that particular gene. But she plays in my head, her little sayings, her shared thoughts. I cherish the winters she spends with me, and I love to spoil her, as does David. I’m more than lucky enough.