Posted in Family, Florida Fun, Mom

A salute to flying.

I was 19, working at a securities firm and wondering what to do with my life. I felt no driving force urging me towards a particular career. I worked every day and spent less and less time with my dead-end boyfriend. I still lived at home with eight of my ten siblings. My best friend had moved on with my older brother, and I felt driftless.

Driving around in what was then rural southeast Michigan, I would sometimes come across a sign saying, ‘Airplane rides, $5.” (Yes, it was a long time ago.) Whenever I did, I’d stop and go flying just for the fun of it. It was typically a small four-seater, and the pilot, always a guy, would offer to let me ‘fly’ it. One evening I was talking about it at the dinner table while my aunt and uncle were visiting. My uncle mentioned there was a flight school in Traverse City and said there was only ONE girl in the program. ‘You should look into it,’ he said. Never in a million years did I dare to dream that particular dream.

But look into it, I did. I went and toured the school and discovered they offered a two-year flight program that would earn me an Associate of Science degree in aviation. I applied for FAFSA, saved as much as I could, and the following August I moved myself into the dorms at NMC (Northwestern Michigan College) with the unbelievable anticipation of learning to fly!

It took me three years rather than two, but I eventually earned my commercial/instrument ratings through the FAA. Being one of only two girls in the program, it’s no surprise I eventually married a fellow pilot. A seaplane crash the summer before the wedding caused me to become ground shy and put an end to any hopes of my own flying career. But it turned out for the best as we ended up following my then-husband’s very successful career as a 747 captain.

I wouldn’t trade those college memories for anything in the world. I barely remember any of my academic classes I so thoroughly enjoyed flight school. Every aspect of flying both by myself and with others was always a thrill. Circling over the family home watching everyone run outside waving towels and racing to the car to come to the airport and pick me up; flying ‘formation’ with fellow students over to Interlochen’s grass strip or sneaking my boyfriend up to Mackinac Island; learning aerobatics, getting checked out in a taildragger, soaring with a friend and even flying into Oshkosh for their annual airshow; these memories are all tucked away to be pulled out frequently and enjoyed.

I do miss it. I was young. I was invulnerable. I knew no fear when it came to flying. I trusted my fellow pilots, my little airplane, and myself.

Mom’s cousin Rene, long-deceased, had been a pilot, himself, and she talked of him often as she shared his daredevil flying stories. Not long ago I surprised my then 89-year-old mom with a ride in an open-cockpit Waco bi-plane over St. Augustine, Florida. Mom has always been up for anything, and I knew she’d love it. Mike, our pilot in the back seat, was pretty pumped about taking his oldest passenger flying, extending the usual 20-minute flight to 45 minutes. I’ll never forget Mom’s face mirroring my own check-to-cheek grin as we took off feeling the wind and the power of that Waco. Over the oldest city, circling this way and that, out over the Atlantic we flew entirely thrilled. Turning towards shore, I leaned over to my mom and said, ‘Let’s tip our hats to Rene!’ And with a smile on our faces and sheer joy in our hearts, we saluted the sky.

Posted in Childhood, Family, Lucky Eleven

Christmas Eve Magic

This original post was from a year ago but bears repeating as Christmas Eve approaches along with one of my fondest childhood memories.

Growing up, there was a Christmas Eve tradition in our home that, according to my mom, began when she was just a little girl. Her parents started it, then my parents followed in their footsteps with the reading of T’was the Night Before Christmas.

“The Reading” about 25 years ago

Each year on that night, we would all get into our pajamas and make our way downstairs for “The Reading.” Dad would lie on his belly at the foot of the tree surrounded by all his children with mom standing somewhere behind. He would masterfully and with great relish read from the pages of that well-known book. After concluding with a very dramatic, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” we would suddenly hear, “Crack! Crack! Crack!” and from the ceiling huge walnuts would fall to the floor! At the same time, dad would leap up and run to the window yelling, “I see him! I see Santa! There he goes!” As we searched the dark skies for any sign of the sleigh, mom and dad would tell us to hurry upstairs so Santa could come back. We would then race up to bed and wait until morning to descend the stairs and behold the many presents under the Christmas tree.

As we got older, of course, we were quick to figure it all out. But with such a large family, and always with little ones, it was great fun to see what our parents saw, and it made us want to duplicate it in our own families years later.

The tradition continues.

This is a photo collage I put together on Christmas Eve a few years ago. These pictures started showing up on Facebook as the evening progressed, and I just had to collect as many as I could and put them together as a small tribute to a cherished tradition started over 90 years ago. I was lucky enough to experience this great mystery as a child, and it has been passed along to my children and now my grandchildren. My nieces and nephews and now great-nieces and great-nephews are delighting in the same excitement. I’m sure my mom’s parents never dreamed their idea for a little Christmas Eve magic would be repeated for generations every night before Christmas. But I know when it is, they, along with all our missed loved ones, are smiling down on these scenes.

Posted in Family, Thoughts

Weddings, families, and mantras.

Last year my Goddaughter, was married in a lovely ceremony with lots of family and friends in attendance. This past weekend, another niece was married in what apparently will be forever referred to as a ‘COVID’ or ‘RONA’ wedding. While they were both beautiful events, they each left me a little sad for reasons I won’t go into. Suffice it to say, one of my favorite sayings by David Foster Wallace was certainly brought to mind:

“You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.”

My friend Sarah and I love to hash things out about relationships, personalities, and other deep-thinking subjects. For instance, in a particular scenario, I might act or react in an entirely different way than perhaps she would. And in trying to understand someone else’s actions, we have to remind each other, ‘Me … NOT me.’ Meaning, the way I might treat someone isn’t necessarily the way someone else might treat me in the same scenario. It’s actually very helpful when you’re on the receiving end of a situation where you simply cannot comprehend someone’s actions. It removes the burden of trying to understand the motivation behind their decision and simply realize that just because they may believe what they did was right, that doesn’t make it right for you. And that’s okay. It’s not you. It’s them.

That’s where I am with these weddings. I struggled last year, and I struggle again this year because I do not understand the thought process behind certain events. I’ve hashed it out with a few friends and even some family members, and frankly no one ‘gets’ it. And so I struggle finding the high road knowing that’s where I need to be because we are, after all, a polite and friendly bunch. But I will continue to repeat the mantra, ‘Me … NOT me’ until these feelings fade away.

And they will.

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 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.