Mother Nature Gets Angry

Mother Nature can bring us beautiful sunrises and sunsets, breathtaking mountain views, and flowers of every color. But she is not always our friend. I remember paralyzing blizzards and ice storms whose dazzle was breathtaking, yet dangerous. You were excited to have a day off from school. I was glad to have you home for some snow fun, except for the year when you were all home for an entire week. That was awful!

Hurricane Floyd came to town in 1999 and rendered us without power for days. Dad and I sent all of you to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to sleep while the two of us stayed behind. We slept in the basement to bail the water when the sump pump could not keep pace with the infiltration of water into the house.  As was our tradition when we lost power, we went to Boston Market for dinner. But the effects were temporary and life went on for us and all of our friends.

Jamie returned to New Jersey in 2011 and had to endure the wrath of hurricanes Irene and Sandy. With so many of our friends and family in the Garden State, my heart was with them all as they lived through both storms.

Now we are in South Carolina and it is not a hurricane, but the related moisture that brought in hurricane-like rain without the corresponding wind. Kelly had a wedding to shoot on Saturday, and while the brunt of the storm did not arrive until she was safely home that night, I still worried for her safety, knowing she would be traveling unfamiliar roads alone in the dark. Once you are a parent, you cannot turn off the concern. It is just impossible!

We have not been impacted by this storm as much as Floyd. Our pantry, refrigerator and freezer is always full; you laugh at us for that all the time. We bought extra water, boiled it as instructed, and cautiously stayed inside as we watched others venture outside ignoring the warnings to stay safe. Dad has been worrying about the safety of our nearby dam.

The news reports have been heartbreaking as we watch the floodwaters rise, the dams break, and see people losing their belongings and their homes.  Unlike Floyd, I fear that life will not go back to normal in the foreseeable future. I am saddened by what I see but hopeful as I watch the kindness of strangers and hope that our friends in New Jersey do not blame the legislators from South Carolina who voted “NO” for Sandy relief. I was embarrassed, saddened and ashamed when that happened here and thought, “When that happens here someday (and I knew it would), I hope we are not punished by the stupidity of a few.” I have confidence that this will not happen. I believe that most people–the cashier at the store, the police officer, teacher, and the stranger that I wave to as I pass them on the street–are compassionate.

Bryce is too young to understand how lucky he is. Our governor has a press conference, and the boredom puts him to sleep. He is forced to stay inside, and when the rain stops briefly, he is taken outside and says, “yea, outside!”

For the most part, I love my new state and hope we can rebuild. But for now, I am just sad.

Gym Class- Oh Goody!

During elementary school, I enjoyed gym class most of the time. Anytime athletic skill was not a requirement, I had fun. There was lots of fun in fifth grade when we learned to dance the German polka and several folk dances. The injury risk was low and no athletic competence was necessary, so Phys Ed was good. On days when throwing a ball or running fast was required, gym class stunk!

Once I was a seventh grader, we had to wear gym suits and get undressed in front of the other girls in class. This was the turning point for me. As a shy person, this was difficult, and as a fashion statement, well, this was simply fashion murder. See for yourselves.

Ugly high school gym suit
Ugly high school gym suit

In high school, I used my contact lenses to get excused from gym class. I would “lose” them, so we would all have to stop and look, thereby gloriously disrupting class for everyone. I was a hero for others like me. Once I “found” my contact (which was nothing more than popping it out and presenting it to my teacher), I had to go to the nurse to reinsert it, which sadly consumed the remaining class time.

During the gymnastics rotation, I had to resort to more drastic measures. I did not have the skill of Aunt El or Jamie when it came to flips, cartwheels and the uneven parallel bars, so I needed to be excused for the entire marking period until we moved to the dance rotation.

Before I explain my strategy, you must understand that I really, really hated gymnastics. I feared it would result in permanent bodily damage, or at least everlasting humiliation. It was not a smart plan, I know, but I had no choice. I know you will be rollling your eyes and thinking I was a wacko, but in that moment, it made sense.

Aunt Ar was like me. She said, “the only athletic ability I had was to wear that uniform and white socks. Otherwise I wouldn’t have passed gym.” It was clearly a genetic problem.

We had this square exercise thingy with wheels at home which I enlisted in my master plan. It looked like this:

Exercise Thingy

I put it in the middle of our bedroom, turned off the lights, and then ran across the room. My hope was that I would trip over it and break something thereby getting me out of gym class for the marking period. Sadly my plan failed, and thankfully, for Aunt Ar and Aunt El, they escaped unscathed.

So I somehow survived junior high and high school gym class. During college, I chose badminton and tennis as my Phys Ed electives. When we moved to South Carolina, I was briefly on a traveling tennis team, and now I play bad golf. That’s it. Now you know. Don’t laugh!

The Shy Bug

I have fought the shyness devil since I was young. When I was in kindergarten, our class put on their first play. The leading role was the rabbit. How I coveted that part! We also had human props, such as the two students who walked back and forth across the stage. They were the curtains.

When Grandma came to school, I was allowed to choose the part I wanted to perform when she came—any part. Did I choose my hero the bunny? You know I did not, I picked the part of a stupid bird who sat in the corner like a piece of furniture. Grandma said she was mortified. She said I looked like “Boob McNutt,” who was a stupid, klutzy, sad cartoon character. I was insulted when I researched who he was. How could Grandma compare cute little five year old me to Boob?

My bashful streak followed me most of my life. In high school, I wouldn’t wear red because I thought it would make me more noticeable.

Over time, I forced myself to overcome those feelings. Volunteerism helped tremendously. Moving helped me even more because it forced me to make friends, or else be alone. Living in the South, where striking up a conversation with random strangers is a way of life that made me realize I had to force myself to make idle chatter, or appear rude and unfriendly.

The turning point was my trip to England, where I was thrust, to a degree, into a mini spotlight at the ceremony to honor my long-dead first cousin-four-times removed, Louis Brennan. I had to stand up at a church full of dignitaries and say a prayer and get interviewed by Irish radio, Irish television, and two Irish newspapers. Once I was able to survive doing that, I realized I had won the battle. I was able to do a toast at Jamie and Geoff’s wedding. I am not outgoing, but I today, if Grandma came to see me, I am confident I would choose to play the rabbit in the school play. I have good company. Pope Francis admitted that he, too, was bitten by the shy bug.

Kindergarten Me- School Street School 1960
Kindergarten Me- School Street School 1960

Grandma came to see me, I am confident I would choose play the rabbit in the school play. But I have good company. Pope Francis admitted that he, too, was bitten by the shy bug.

I’m Sorry and I Love You

As I sifted through the pile of letters written by the three of you through the years, I discovered several reoccurring themes—love and apology. It was heartwarming to see the notes you wrote to each other and to Dad and me expressing your feelings of love. We may not say it enough, but you certainly all knew how to put your feelings down on paper. Today, however, I am focusing on letters of apology from Jamie.

Some were clearly written by choice, while others were forms of punishment which I forced you to write. Some were brief, while others were quite involved. I suspect the length was related to the depth of your guilt. Most, not all, closed with love.

Jamie, at the age of eight, we received a note of apology for interrupting. Note the postscript.

Jamie Interrupting Letter-age 7

When you were ten, you wrote us a very short note, but the humor was in your very specific mention of timing.

Jamie-Sorr- age 12

Interrupting was clearly a problem because I found a lengthy letter written at a later date when I must have instructed you to invest more thought into your apology.

I am sorry for what I did. It is wrong cuz interrupting is mean cuz other people are talking and it is also wrong and *RUDE*! I will try to avoid doing this even though it’s a habit that just happens to be a not-so-good one. It is also mean to interrupt your friends but it’s like meaner to interrupt your parents cuz it is not being respectful.

You acknowledged the difficulty in making a promise you could not keep but vowed to try. We all interrupt. I know it’s rude and annoying and from the point of view of the “interruptee,” it makes them feel as if what they are saying is not important.

I will try my hardest to stop as best as I can cuz I know I’ll do it again some other time so I’m not going to make a promise I cannot keep. But I will promise to do it as unoften as possible and I will try not to do it anymore even though it will happen by mistake.

So to the three of you: I am sorry for interrupting you, not understanding you at times, and criticizing one of you for being a “pig” for the way you kept your room. I hope you have taken the lesson of being able to step up to the plate and apologize when you are wrong. It will keep your marriages, friendships, and family relationships from falling apart, but it is not always easy.

P.S. I love you.

If I Could Be Anybody

We came from a family of writers. You may have seen the album filled with notes from my brothers and sisters to each other, the tooth fairy, Santa, and Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma would find them under a pillow, on the floor, or sailed, paper-airplane style, down the stairs. Hopefully someone knows where to find them.

I thought it was a great idea, so over the years, I collected your notes and some of the cuter assignments from your early school years. I am going to choose a few of my favorites for you all to see. Kelly is the first victim.

In second grade, Kelly was given an assignment titled:   If I could be anybody.

Here’s what she said.

If I could be anybody I’d be me.

I have a nice family and good friends.

I’m good at drawing and gymnastics.

I have a nice teacher. I do not want to be anyone else.

I do fun things. Also, this summer my family and my cousins are going to the shore.

So I just want to be me.

That year, you had Mrs. O’John. I do not believe she ever had a student who didn’t love her to death, and we were a lucky family to all have had her. She was kind and sweet and loving, and I can only hope that Jamie’s students feel the same way about her in years to come.

The shore vacation was one of our trips to Long Beach Island with the Duffords. That is a subject for another time.

Enjoying gymnastics was probably inherited from Aunt Ellen and certainly not me. I detested gymnastics and had a few tricks up my sleeves to avoid that class. Again, that is a discussion for another day.

As a mom, for me and now for you, having your child say that she does not want to be anyone else makes me feel like I was doing a good job—at least in 1992. Do you still feel the same way, Kelly?


If I could Be Anybody
If I could Be Anybody

Meal of Mercy

The “Meal of Mercy” is Aunt Arlene’s name for the luncheon after the funeral service. It can be held at the home of a close friend or family member, or at a hall or a restaurant. It is a time to share memories of the dearly departed and provide support to the family before they return to their homes, less one person. Irish wakes traditionally resembled a party more than a funeral, with eating, drinking, and laughter.

In our family you may have heard me discuss the “funeral cake.” Although it is a tasty cake which has graced a table or too on a happy occasion, I always associated this crumb cake with death. (That is why it should never be served during tailgating!)  If we would come home and see the cake sitting on the dining room table, we would ask, “Who died?”

Here is the recipe. Good for a brunch or my funeral

Funeral  Crumb Cake

1 Box Duncan Hines butter cake mix

2/3 cup oil

4 eggs slightly beaten

2/3 cup milk

Mix well and beat until smooth. Pour onto 12X18 cookie sheet.  Bake at 350° for 20 minutes.

Cool slightly.


2 sticks margarine and 1 stick butter- melted and cooled slightly

4 cups flour

2/3 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine dry ingredients and vanilla in large bowl.  Pour melted butter and margarine over and mix with spoon or fork. Spread crumbs over cake by hand, filling in all holes.

Put back in oven for 20 minutes longer. Watch to see that it doesn’t brown too quickly.  Cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

If I am at least 80 when I die, you may give me an Irish Wake, sharing many of your favorite memories of me as well as the songs from my funeral playlist accompanied by a nice slideshow. No one needs to wear black unless it is accompanied by garnet. All colors are welcome with the exception of orange and purple. Sequins and sparkles are permitted. No body viewing is allowed. I find it creepy. If you want to see me, then visit me when I am around to annoy you.

And speaking of 80, since I won’t be around for the meal of mercy, perhaps you can have a “Mommy Roast,” on my eightieth birthday, where you can all sit around in front of me and tell stories so I am able to defend myself.

Stay tuned for more party ideas!

Yo Vivo En Boonton

I spent five years learning French, and that time helped me enough to get a taxi from Charles DeGalle Airport to our hotel near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. That’s it! Now, as I have seen how quickly a child can learn the English language in just 2 ½ years based on watching the three of you and now our first grandchild,  I feel that my foreign language education was deeply lacking in quality. I believe that total immersion in a language is the best method to learn another tongue, so perhaps, moving in with a family that has a newborn baby and following that child for two years could have  a far superior result than what is learned in high school.

Did you know that French was not my first foreign language? It was the third. Grandpa made a feeble attempt to teach us Russian. I know several words and phrases, but apparently, the Russian words made me laugh, so he did not persevere. I can say, “I love you, I want to go out and play, good, tea, yes, no, I want to eat, and, of course, Do Svidanya.” That is not enough to carry on much of a conversation with a Russian two year old.

In fifth grade, I began my Spanish education during our Thursday afternoon Spanish club meetings. We learned to count to twenty and inform a new acquaintance that “yo vivo en Boonton.” Both boys and girls were taught to belt out songs in Spanish with enthusiasm and little embarrassment as well as how to perform several Spanish dances. Sometime ( ewwww and yuck), boys and girls even danced together!

Our teacher, Mrs. Simms, was quite the visionary in deciding to expose us to a foreign language during a time when learning another language in elementary school was rare. Little did she know then that in forty-eight years, Spanish would be the second most spoken language in the United States, with more people speaking Spanish here than in Spain.

I chose French based on nothing more than the fact that I liked the sound, but it was not a practical choice. While it is true that French is spoken in twice as many U.S. homes as Italian, which is now taught in some kindergartens in New Jersey (right, Jamie?), it is not nearly as common as Chinese.

So other than that bucket-list trip to Paris a few years ago, French got me nowhere. No matter how much some people refuse to admit, Spanish is the way to go in learning a second language. Mrs. Simms, how did you know?

Spanish Club- School Street School- Boonton, NJ March 1966.
Spanish Club- School Street School- Boonton, NJ
March 1966.  (Can you find me?)