Friday, October 12, 2018

An Excerpt from Rude Awakening


The following is an excerpt from my memoir, Rude Awakening, which is available from Amazon at
amzn.to/2A3nEEW


Chapter 18
In Solitude and In Silence



In high school, I started going to daily Mass. I had always loved the mysterious and exotic sounds of the Latin Mass. I found beauty in the ritual and comfort in its repetition. When the bells rang three times at the start of the Consecration, the vibrations between each brought me to a sweet, sacred silence in which I felt as though I existed inside the mind of God and, just before graduation, I became convinced that I should enter a convent.

 As summer ended and the day I was to leave arrived, it became increasingly important to me to spend my last hours at home under the awning over the front patio. That, however, turned out to be impossible because that was the day hurricane Donna, which had slammed into the Florida Keys and blown its way north, slipped into Philadelphia in the middle of the night...

In the morning, I awoke to the sound of raindrops pounding themselves against the windowpanes of my room. As I dressed, things seemed to be happening slowly. It was almost as though they were happening in slow motion and underwater.

I donned the black dress and regulation undergarments that were to become my uniform, then joined my parents in the dining room. Later as the three of us rode toward Chestnut Hill, we sat in silence. When we arrived, my father dropped my mother and me off at the door while he parked the car. My mother and I ran toward the entrance, but a gust of wind forced the rain against our backs, and we were soaked through before making it inside. (Back at home, as I later learned, the wind had just ripped the green canvas awning in two.)...


More than one hundred girls entered the convent with me that day, and although a new building had been built to accommodate all of us, it wasn’t quite complete when we arrived. There was also a delay in the arrival of our textbooks and classes were postponed indefinitely. As a result, we were left with a surprising amount of unstructured time.

If I had entered the convent hoping for intimacy and solitude, our numbers alone made that impossible. Just as in high school, I was desperate to make connections with others but found it impossible to initiate conversations. My sense of isolation heightened. There were no radios, no telephones, and no clocks in the convent, and I felt trapped inside. Never knowing the time made reality feel gossamer.

We slept in one large room on the second floor of the new building that was partitioned into tiny cells, one for each of us. At night, I would lay there, listening as too many of the other girls, all of them homesick, cried themselves to sleep. Most of the girls tried to muffle the sounds by crying into their pillows, but it didn’t help much. I never cried. Instead, I lay there, still and silent as my mind raced in every direction until finally I was convinced there was some trick to falling asleep that I had forgotten.

One night, I heard the sound of a church bell as it tolled two, three, and finally four times before I fell asleep. On another night, the ordinary sound of a car passing was enough to comfort me, and I felt less alone...until one night when I stayed awake trying to imagine what the future would hold for me if I left. Somehow, I knew there was something out there waiting for me...

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Power of Touch



According to the dictionary, to “hug” means to squeeze someone tightly in your arms. Also in the dictionary are synonyms for “hug” which include embrace, cuddle, squeeze, clasp, clutch, cradle, or to hold close in your arms. 



I was talking to my friend Fred again. He was telling me how he used to work at a school for boys and how he had to be trained in the correct way to restrain them. 

“Restrain them?” I asked. “Why do they have to be restrained?”

“Because they often act out,” he responded. Then he told me that there is a proper way to restrain a child that involves four people who gently, but firmly hold him down, one holding his right arm; another, his left; a third, his right leg; and the fourth, his left.

“But why would a child act out when he knows he'll be held down?" I asked.  

“I asked that same question," he said, "And I was told it happens when a child hasn’t been properly nurtured. He'll act out when he wants to be touched. Or when he wants to be held.”

“Oh my God,” I said feeling incredulous until later when I remembered some of my own feelings on days when, like those boys, I would give anything - anything - to feel someone’s touch - to feel safe, to feel loved, or just to feel “real.” But unlike those boys, I have not had to go through my entire life feeling that way.
  


So, maybe the next time you hug a child who needs reassurance or love or just to know that you are there for him, you’ll remember that it doesn’t matter if you embrace, cuddle, squeeze, clasp, clutch, or cradle that child. Maybe you’ll just hold that child close and not be surprised when he - or she - hugs you back.  
   

 My memoir, Dear Elvis, a story about grief and loss can be found at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Oscar and Felix

A friend of mine tapped the window of my school bus one morning earlier this week, (scaring me half to death so engrossed was I in the book I was reading) and said,

“My son came to visit last night.”

“That was nice,” I replied.

“No, it wasn’t," he said. “He had a cold and I got angry. ‘Don’t you know that at our age your mother and I are susceptible to colds?’”

“And what did he say?”

“He said he wanted some soup.”

I laughed.

“So I made him some soup and told him not to touch anything.”

By this time I felt as though I were playing Oscar to his Felix, and I wanted to move back a step or two, but I was sitting inside my bus and he was standing outside it.

“Fred,” I said, “does it ever surprise you when you hear about someone’s death? Someone who’s younger than you?” At 76, Fred is a year younger than me.

“I think about it all the time,” he said.

I do too.

All of which brings me back to a memory from this past July when I got a call from my health insurance rep who said they wanted to send a nurse to the house to visit me. “The nurse will report their findings to your doctor,” she said.

Too late, I thought as I had just gotten over four bouts of bronchitis in as many weeks, and had even spent a night in the emergency room. I didn’t want to submit to another examination, but she promised to give me a $50 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble if I did, so I agreed.

When the nurse got there he started asking a lot of questions: How old are you? Do you smoke? What medicines do you take? Blah, Blah, Blah. I answered all his questions, but when he asked how much I weighed, I didn’t want to tell him.  Unlike my age, my weight is my secret - and my business. But I wanted that gift certificate so I finally conceded.

When he heard the number, he looked as though he were surprised and said, “You carry your weight well.” And then, as though he thought I was the Pillsbury dough boy, he poked me in the stomach and said, “Except for right there.” (Unlike the Pillsbury dough boy, I did not giggle.)

But to get back to what I was saying earlier, I do often think about my mortality. But, and here’s my real secret, I am - despite my thoughts, despite my age, and despite the fact that I am (apparently) overweight - happy, and happier than I’ve ever been before.



My book, Dear Elvis, a story about grief and loss can be found at amzn.to/2uPSFtE


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What's Going On

Summer has ended and I have been back at work as a school bus driver for almost a month now and loving it, loving that it takes me away from myself and my worries, and that between my morning and afternoon runs, between taking my students to school and bringing them home again, I have four hours to myself to do anything I want to do. 

And what I have been doing a lot of during my free time is walking and listening to music while I walk. What I enjoy is listening to classics like Marvin Gaye’s 1971 album What’s Going On, which is my all-time favorite album and the only album I can listen to from beginning to end over and over again. It is also the album that showed how prescient he was about global health and global warming. I also like to listen to modern classics, to everything from Sam Smith’s Lay Me Down to Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up. I listen to music because, for me, it acts like a propeller and makes me believe I can spread my arms and fly, although every once in a while I hear a song that has the exact opposite effect on me. Like Groban’s Bring Him Home, a song which, when I heard it for the first time, stopped me dead in my tracks and threatened to bring me to my knees.
Sometimes while on my afternoon run I drive past a shopping center that was once a part of my childhood and of my growing up years. When we were young, my four sisters and I used to watch it being built. That shopping center is also where I met my best friend back in 1961 when we were both working as waitresses at the Horn and Hardart restaurant. She was 16 and I was 19 and we remained friends until the early 2000’s when she died unexpectedly. But before that, she had a habit that I loved. Whenever I wanted to talk to her about something serious, I would begin with her name. “Bernice,” I would say, and she would always respond with the single word, “Listening.” I guess passing that mall brought that memory back to me because last night when I sat down to meditate I imagined God calling my name and I responded the way Bernice always responded to me, with the single word, “Listening.”

My memoir, Dear Elvis, can be found at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Saturday, September 8, 2018

For Better or Worse

I often sign up for a literature/discussion group given at Temple University’s Ambler campus where each semester the instructor assigns us five books that are somehow related. The topic this time is “Marriage - better, worse or not at all.”

It’s funny that that is the topic because I have been thinking a lot about marriage lately, and I guess these thoughts started in May as I watched the royal couple exchange their wedding vows. Looking back, what stayed with me was the way Prince Charles stepped up to the plate to walk the bride down the aisle, the unforgettable sermon by Bishop Curry, the way the Kingdom Gospel Choir sang Stand by Me, and the sight of Doria Ragland, Meghan's mother, looking alone, serene, beautiful, and regal.

A week after that wedding, my granddaughter, who wrote the post A Teacher Speaks, Arm Us in this blog, got married in Harrisburg in a wedding as elegant and as beautiful as that of the royals.

During that ceremony, the bride and groom exchanged vows, not just to one another, but also to my granddaughter’s five-year-old child from a previous marriage. As the bride and groom each took one of her hands, they promised to love, protect and guide her through the years. And as he spoke, the bridegroom became so overwhelmed with emotion he fought back tears, as did almost everyone in attendance, including I who had never cried at a wedding before.


Of course, after a wedding comes the marriage. But what I know about marriage could fit in a thimble with plenty of room to spare. And what I believe is that a marriage is supposed to be happy. Looking over the the five books assigned for this class - Mrs. Bridge by Ethan Connell, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Barbara Pym’s Excellent WomenDays of Abandonment by Elana Ferrante and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – from what I’ve read and gleaned so far, although beautifully written, there isn’t a happy marriage among them.

 But all this musing about marriage reminds me suddenly of something that happened long ago after I met a man I have written about often in this blog, and in my books. It happened not long after I met him which was five years after he became a widower, losing his wife of forty years. 

We were sitting together in the living room when I got up and went into his kitchen for a bottle of water. In the dining room, I passed a picture of him and his wife. Enchanted by the way they looked together I picked it up and returned to where I’d been sitting with him earlier. “I love this picture,” I told him, “The two of you look so happy. You look so per-.“ 

“No. Don’t say it,” he spoke, interrupting me. “It was a marriage. It was sometimes great. But it was never perfect.”

Good enough, I think now. Quite good enough. 


My second book, Dear Elvis, a memoir about grief and loss, can be found at amzn.to/2uPSFtE


Thursday, August 30, 2018

BlacKkKlansman, A Review

Imagine that you are sitting at home relaxing. There is a television set turned on in front of you and you are idly watching it when what you see on the screen is an airplane striking the side of a building. You are bewildered. Upset. Confused. There is a commentator in the background talking, explaining, interpreting. But none of it makes sense. Imagine that you have been sitting there for a while when what you see next is a second plane slamming itself into another building. Now you are beside yourself feeling frightened, terrified, terrorized. If you can imagine all of that, multiply it by two and you will know what I felt last week watching the credits roll at the end of the movie on the screen in front of me.

The movie is Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and yes, it is that powerful. A true story, it is based on a memoir written by Ron Stallworth, a Black Colorado Springs police detective who infiltrated the Klan in the mid-1970’s. Stallworth, played by John David Washington (Denzel Washington’s son), initiated contact with the Klan when he responded to an ad in the local newspaper which said the group was looking for new recruits.

Contacted days later by the head of the local chapter of the Klan (and then by David Duke who was the national leader of “the organization” as its members liked to call it), Stallworth managed to convince the Klansmen that he was a diehard racist. When he asked his supervisor for a white officer to play his counterpart in face-to-face meetings while he maintained contact over the phone, the chief innocently asked, “Can you do that?” and Stallworth answered, “Chief, with the right white man we can do anything.”

Movie critic A. O. Scott of the New York Times calls this movie “a furious, funny, blunt, and brilliant confrontation with the truth. It is an alarm clock in the midst of a historical nightmare.” It is also a movie that depicts and reflects white terrorism and racial hatred in today’s America with impassioned honesty, intense drama, and at times, hilarious accuracy. BlacKkKlansman is a movie not to be missed. 
 
My second book, Dear Elvis, a memoir about grief and loss, can be found at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Today is August 28!

Today is August 28! Summer is almost over and I am getting ready to go back to work next Wednesday. And although I didn’t travel much further than Atlantic City this summer, I did, as anticipated, read a lot of books.

One of my favorites was Jesmyn Ward’s Sing Unburied Sing, a story about a young African American woman who is traveling with her two children across rural Mississippi to pick up their white father who has just been released from prison. Ward’s story is beautiful and haunting and as current as today’s headlines.

Another book I read was the Pulitzer Prize-winning Less by Andrew Sean Greer, which is a story about a gay author, Arthur Less, who decides to go on a trip around the world in an attempt to escape both the wedding of his ex-lover and his next birthday – his 50th!

Speaking of birthdays today is August 28 and the fifty-fifth anniversary of the March on Washington. I know that because of another book I read, Behind the Dream, which is a look at the events leading up to that March as experienced by Clarence B. Jones, friend, lawyer, and confidante to Dr. King who, if many of us have a way of turning into a god, Jones has a way of making human. Jones is also the man who smuggled MLK's "Letter" from the Birmingham jail in April of 1963.

Anyway, today is August 28 and the reason I keep mentioning the date is that in two days I will be celebrating a milestone birthday of my own, which reminds me of a conversation I had earlier this year.

“Mom-mom,” my oldest grandson asked, “how old are you?”

“Seventy-four.”

Michael was silent for a second or two, and then, “Mom-mom, I just did the math. You’re 76.”

“I am?” I said. And then, “Oh, my God you’re right! How did that happen?”

Which leads me to wonder how Greer could write an entire book about turning 50 when the double digits looming ahead of me seem like two knighted sentinels daring me to approach.

But after thinking about it, I have decided that I will approach 77, and I will conquer it, and then – OMG after 77 comes 78! 


My second book, Dear Elvis, a memoir about grief and loss, can be found at amzn.to/2uPSFtE