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My Aunt Kate’s birthday is today

My mom’s older sister was 8 years older than my mother, a divorced woman (legally – annulled via the church) but always there for my mom. I think she might have been trying to make up for leaving the family home as soon as she could after their mom died when she was about to turn 15 and my mom was 7 years old. 10 years later on Nov. 26, the same day, their father passed away. In the meantime, Mama had taken care of the rest of the children, especially her younger sister and brother, who were 5 and 3 years old when their mom died.

Aunt Kate was the one in our family that every family has, a real tough customer, didn’t take any guff, an independent woman in a time before that was socially acceptable. She joined the Navy as a nurse, but her personality was not the good bedside manner nurse, more the one who gave you an enema, whether you needed it or not. When reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I could picture her as Nurse Ratchit.

I did love her. She took the time to take one or two of us out for a day or a weekend, to give Mom a break from all 7 of us. I really enjoyed that. She took me with her when she visited her brother, my Uncle Leo, and his family, when they lived in Kansas. She drove and gave me the job as navigator, using a map on which she had highlighted the routes she wanted us to use. My cousin Connie was around my age, and they took us to a farm where I could have ridden a horse, if I had the courage – though I decided not to do it after the horse stepped on Uncle Leo’s foot while he was trying to hold it still for me to climb on board. Papa even wrote me a letter, which I was able to read right after we arrived. They had dinner ready for us, and Uncle Leo presented me with the letter, so I got to read it to them – Papa was of Irish descent, and they were all Italian, so his palate didn’t deal well with spicy things, and he warned me in the letter not to eat the green peppers Uncle Leo might tell me were okay. Uncle Leo’s eyes lit up, and he offered me a bowl of jalapenos, assuring me they were, indeed, green peppers. Though I had never seen them before, I trusted Papa and didn’t take a big bite out of them. All of us laughed at that!

Some of our visits didn’t go as well. One time Tim and I went with Aunt Kate, who lived in Canton in a lovely apartment building. She walked us down a couple blocks to a playground and left us to play by ourselves. I got tired before my little brother, but couldn’t leave him alone, as I wasn’t sure I could find her apartment by myself, and I wasn’t about to leave him and go back alone. I was positive she was going to come and get us soon. Eventually, we realized she wasn’t coming, so I put a good face on and told Tim it was time to go, and we headed back. I was so relieved when we found her building on our own. I never wanted to go to that playground again!

Another time, when it was just me with her, Aunt Kate announced we were going to go sun bathing. She told me to put on my bathing suit and grab a towel and a beach chair, and we went down to the alley between her building and the next one, and she laid down on a towel on one beach chair and told me to do the same. I was astounded – I had never heard of sun bathing, and didn’t realize you kept your suit on, so I was terrified she was asking me to go and lay down naked in public! But I was so scared of her making fun of me I didn’t question what she meant.

Mama died in 1990, and Aunt Kate lived a few years after that, so I would visit her when I visited Ohio, and we would go to the little house all 8 of them grew up in, which was in Louisville or Alliance, two very small farming towns where Uncle Fran, her brother, and his wife, Aunt Mary still lived. Poor Aunt Mary got stuck driving us to that little house all the time, as Aunt Kate could no longer drive but wanted to show it off to us. I loved seeing it, but heard Aunt Mary say, under her breath, ‘if I never see that house again, it will be too soon!’ I then realized not everyone enjoyed seeing houses other people grew up in – my husband is probably grateful to her, as I loved going to my old neighborhoods showing off the houses I lived in as a kid, and he had no interest in that, so he was spared that bit of torture.

When Grandpa Flanagan died, Aunt Kate came over to watch over the little ones, so Mama and Papa could go to the funeral without having to take care of all of us there. When she came in, that was the first I had heard of Grandpa’s death, so ran to the back of the house to tell the older siblings that Aunt Kate was there and Grandpa had died. I loved it that Kate was there, so I had a big smile on my face, and my brother Brian said ‘Didn’t you like Grandpa? Why are you smiling!’ I didn’t know how to answer, it was my first death. Mama’s parents had died before she even met Papa, so we never knew them, and Papa’s mother died in 1957, the same year my baby sister Regina was born, so I was only 5 and don’t remember anything about that. They figured I was too young, so Tim and Reggie and I stayed home with Aunt Kate and the rest went to the wake and funeral.

Later that year, Reggie got pneumonia for the third time in her life, and was crying all night long, then it got quiet. At first, I sighed and was about to go to sleep, when I realized there was something wrong. It was too quiet. I came out of my bedroom and Mama said, ‘she’s gone.’ This time all of us went to the wake and funeral. My sister had entered the convent that September, so she was only able to come to the funeral Mass, escorted by a couple nuns. All the aunts and uncles came, from both sides of the family. My father’s youngest brother brought soap on a rope and a fake shaver for Tim and myself. I remember discovering static electricity. We didn’t have rugs at home, and the funeral parlor had several levels, with metal staircases, so my brothers and I would race up and down, dragging our feet, then try to touch each other and give them the spark instead of shocking ourselves on the metal hand rails of the staircases. We also experienced the neighbors bringing over casseroles and freshly baked bread for the bereaved family. My best friend’s mom had made the bread, and I remember marveling that she could do that but wasn’t nearly as good at taking care of her kids as my mom was with us. Of course, she was 16 when she had Patricia, who was the oldest of her 5 kids (and my age). I was the third youngest, and my mom was 35 when I was born, so she had a lot more experience than my friend’s mom.

I was living in New York when Aunt Helen and her sister Kate died, so wasn’t able to go to their funerals. Kate had tried to make sure the priest who presided at Helen’s funeral had some details of her life, but he ignored her notes and she got so angry that she insisted there be no big Mass for herself. I felt badly, but have Mass said for her every year on her birthday. She would have been 111 today.

My cousin Jim, Uncle Fran’s youngest from his first marriage, shares some stories with me now when we chat, as he is 10 years older than me, and is grateful to her for keeping in contact with his branch of the family. Uncle Fran remarried and had two more children with his second wife, Aunt Mary, and most of Mama’s family only talked to them, but Kate insisted on keeping in touch with all my cousins. She was a wonderful, unique person, and we miss her. Happy Birthday in heaven! You and all your siblings and parents must be having a great time!

May of 2021

I am still dealing with low energy every other day. Trying not to do too much on my good days, so my bad days aren’t too bad. I finished my radiation therapy at the end of April, traveled to Florida to visit my sister-in-law (she has lived there since 1975 and this was my first visit) for a week, went to Trinita for the spring arts and crafts fair this weekend and am back in NYC once again. My husband doesn’t like to travel, so he stays home, even if it is his sister.

We are trying to clean our apartment and declutter, but I am not good at taking the time to go through our books. What to do with them, when I decide I can let go? Friends who used to sell things on the street are not around, not sure where they went during the pandemic. I may just bring them over to the library, so they can get any profit that might be had.

My sister-in-law is trying to do the same thing, but she keeps sending things to us! We are trying to let her know we can’t take any more anything, she needs to give them away closer to home. She has problems with energy too, and has insomnia to boot, so doesn’t know when she will get a good night’s rest. I keep her in prayer, but need to find ways to reach out to her on a regular basis, so she doesn’t feel so alone. When I call her, she can’t hear on the phone very well, so I need to write more often – but I need to print the letters out from the computer so she doesn’t have to try to read my handwriting. I do try, but it is not very easy to read.

My family in Ohio are due a visit, I am trying to figure out when I can get there. It will be two years on May 21st since my sister’s husband passed away. We call on Facetime but it is not the same as being there. One day soon!

Snow Day in time of COVID

If you are in school online, do you get a snow day? My pastor teaches at the Seminary two days a week, but online, so he has to work today and tomorrow, and so do his students.

Growing up in Ohio, we didn’t get too many snow days, but did enjoy the few we got. We went sledding, and always had to watch each other’s lips to see when it was time to go in. We were so well wrapped, we didn’t feel the cold, but when my little brother Tim’s lips were blue, we knew it was time to come in and get warm. He would say, “I’m not cold.” But his teeth were chattering and gave the lie to his bravado, so we knew it was time.

My best friend Pat Hook moved down to South Carolina when we were in 6th grade. We wrote back and forth pretty regularly, and she had a snow day when it snowed at all – less than an inch on the ground. She went out to get the bus and her neighbors said, ‘There’s no school, silly, can’t you see the snow?’ She couldn’t believe it, as it had to be 6 feet or more for us to have a snow day in Bedford, Ohio.

Here in New York City, it is rare for a snow day, as the street cleaners are out as soon as the snow starts. But a snow like today, begun on Sunday night and snowing steadily through until Tuesday, they say, doesn’t give the cleaners time to really clear the roads, so it is dangerous for cars to be out, which means many people can’t get around. Subways get delays and closings, as snow falls on the tracks in the parts of the system that is above ground, and the buses, even with snow tires, have difficulty getting around as well. Landlords are responsible for keeping their sidewalks clear of snow, but it is hard to keep up with this kind of snowfall, so it isn’t really safe even to walk around.

I love going out and walking around the neighborhood, making tracks in the unshoveled snow in some areas. People who live in Brooklyn and Queens and the outlying neighborhoods have it even harder, as the street cleaners are not as efficient there. This morning I made it to Mass at 8am (I live next door, don’t be too impressed) and walked around the block to the Key Food (4th Street) and bought a couple things, then dropped off a couple letters at the local Post Office (3rd Street), which was open only a half hour late, thanks to the wonderful workers there. Later, I will go out again, and take some pictures of Tompkins Square Park, which should be delightful. It is only 5 blocks away, so I should make it without any trouble.

The hardest job for the snow shovelers is to make a path for people to cross the street in the middle of the block. The street cleaners shove all the snow over the parked cars, so there are mounds 6 to 8 feet high in between them. They sometimes get the corners clean, but rarely, and so the workers the landlords hire shovel their snow on top of the snow in between the parked cars. If you want to get across the street in the middle of the block – say, you want to go to church and live across the street, either you walk all the way to the corner, or someone creates a path in between the parked cars. Every time the street cleaners come by, they pour more snow on that path, so you have to keep it up. Our maintenance worker has been shoveling steadily since 6 am. He makes a path on the 3rd Street side, then goes to the 4th Street side and makes a path there. By the time he gets back to 3rd Street, he has to start all over again.

When I ran the Religious Education Program, I used to encourage the Confirmation students to help with the shoveling for credit for their Confirmation service points. They would help for a few hours, then go around the neighborhood and ask people if they needed help, sometimes for money, sometimes for more credit. The pastor really appreciated their assistance, as he had to help our maintenance man if no one else showed up, it was too much for one person!

My husband and I love snow, but we usually don’t get to enjoy it. If it is deep enough to make a snow day, it is usually icy underneath the snow, and it is treacherous to walk around, especially if you are unsteady on your feet. As we age, it gets harder to enjoy the things we like. But it is not too icy today, so I am going back out soon, and will take pictures.

The New Year and More Basal

I discovered I have more basal skin cancer on my nose, under the scar from the surgery I had in 2015. Hopefully, it will not have spread far and wide, but I am to have surgery with two dermatologists who are experienced in repair so they can do the repair immediately after the removal of the basal.

Mid December, Dr. Ellen Marmur did the punch biopsy, where the basal was detected, on Dec. 21st, on Dr. Marmur’s recommendation, I met with Marita Teng, who had done similar repair for another patient of Dr. Marmur’s, and Jan. 11th with Joshua Rosenberg, who did the big flap over my nose in 2015, so they will work together to deal with this new incursion.

Hearing before Christmas, it just made this season’s holidays that much more special!

They have set Feb. 10th for the surgery, so I am getting the presurgery checkup from my primary care this week and will have a Covid test within 5 days of the surgery. I am asking for healing thoughts and prayers from everyone, and am so appreciative of all your support!

Be seeing you!

Happy Anniversary to me and Daver!

My husband and I got married at City Hall on this date, 1986. We had been together since 1981, but his family is dysfunctional and he wasn’t sure he was the marrying kind, so we lived together and gave each other space, but learned to trust each other more every day.

On December 25 (we had been copying my sister and her husband’s habit of celebrating with a card every month on the 25th) that year, he proposed. Not only to get married in City Hall on New Year’s Eve, as my sister and her husband and the two younger of their kids would be visiting between Christmas and New Year’s, as usual, but he also proposed that we get married in church in Ohio on the 4th of July, my sister’s 10th wedding anniversary, so my mom could be there. She had to use a wheelchair, and couldn’t deal with traveling to New York, but my sister’s parish is all on one level, so she could be there for that. I could also wear her wedding dress there, we would have time to get it to fit me, thanks to my designer friend Sally Lesser.

Now, you may not think this is a big deal, very romantic and all, but many people do more.

Daver is shy. Many of my friends for over 20 years think I make him up. He doesn’t like to meet people. He doesn’t go out for drinks or to the theatre unless I make him see something I am in. I only have guests over when he is at work. He says he doesn’t like anything, but obviously this is not true. HE proposed not only for City Hall, but Ohio in the summer, too.

We had time to go out and buy a wedding ring for me and an ear cuff for him – he can’t wear rings as he worked in a warehouse and it would cut his finger off at some point. He likes gold, so he got a gold ear cuff, I like silver, so got a silver wedding ring and an ear cuff, so we match. Mary Kay helped us shop. I bought a gorgeous dark green silk dress, and we got a headband of flowers with the bouquet and Daver got a suit. We also got our wedding license. We told Daver’s mother, who lived in Poughkeepsie, so she was able to come down for the day and be there. His father and sister were in Florida, and his grandmother was in Wisconsin, so they would have to come for the Ohio wedding, too short notice for this. My brother Tim lived in Staten Island at the time, so he was able to be there, too. The rest of the family were only able to come to Ohio, but I let them know.

Ron and Ginny, Jude, Ted and Cindy, Pam, George and Sally and all my theatre NYC friends wanted to come to City Hall, and the first three got there, but missed the ceremony because it was so short. We went early so we were among the first, and Joan agreed to be a witness for the couple behind us, as they didn’t realize they needed one and were panicking. This was excellent, so we were still there when Ron and Ginny and Jude arrived, and they could join us for the wedding reception at a nearby restaurant. Mary Kay found a chocolate cake for our wedding cake, and Tim had a blue garter for me (old, borrowed and blue), so all my bases were covered. Jude caught the bouquet and Tim caught the garter, so got to put it on her, which he loved.

On the form there was a place for two witnesses, but they only required one. Mary Kay was the official one, but Patrick at 5 years old, signed, too. Ray and Mary Kay insisted we would use their hotel room that night, and they would stay at our apartment. Of course, they brought us champagne and wanted to stay up with us before they went to Times Square to see the ball drop, and we thought they’d never leave! But they did, and we found out later they got stuck in traffic and missed the event. Poor Jacob couldn’t believe it, stuck in a taxi in New York City, if they’d stayed home he could have watched it on TV at least! But Ray and the kids explored the way they clean up Times Square, and they were all fascinated by how fast they do it.

After they went back to Ohio, Daver said we should stop celebrating every month, it was driving him crazy trying to find a cool card every month. So we remember today, (and September 25th and July 4th when I see a neat card) and five years later we went to Ireland on our honeymoon. But that’s a story for another day.

Inspiration on Christmas Day

I have been thinking about writing a novel for years. This morning when I woke to use the restroom at 3am, before going back to sleep, I started thinking about it once more, and came up with an approach that might work.

I can write to my grandchildren and tell them my story that way. It is not a toy, but I hope they will like it anyway. Hmm, I think this will do!

Hoping the ideas won’t dry up when I sit down to actually write, but I am excited about it for the first time in years, so that is a great Christmas present.

For a Christmas without visiting in person, this is turning out pretty well. Time to have breakfast and go to Mass, so I can come home and open our presents (can’t do it before breakfast or Mass, ritual I have preserved since we were kids at home – only way our parents could control the seven of us).

Covid Christmas

We can’t gather, travel or eat in restaurants or go to shows.

We can visit by zoom, facetime and phone, and write letters and blogs and post on Facebook or other sites.

I count my blessings and try to be aware of those who are in need, and those who are made less than by the system within which we all live. Being alert to what I can do, and listening to those to whom others don’t, and being open to what is new to me are things I am trying to do.

Seeing the beauty and joy of each day is a gift.

Help me to stay in the moment and share what I have with all I meet.

May we all be reborn in the knowledge that God loves us, and doesn’t make junk, so we are a gift to the world for all. And so is everyone else.

Living longer than Papa

Since Papa died at 62, I am now 3 years older than he ever got to be. Some days I feel like it is so unfair, I have to deal with all the aches and pains and insurance problems that he never did. Of course, he died from colon cancer that had metastasized up his spinal column and spread so far that they couldn’t do any treatment realistically.

I have friends from my parish that are 80 and 90 and close to 100 years old, so I really need to shut up about my puny problems. I am in pretty good health and so far Da’s job is covering us both insurance wise, so I really have no business complaining. I wish he would take better care of himself, but ‘if wishes were horses, beggars would ride’, as the song goes.

Today it is raining off and on, and the humidity seems to be broken for now, so it is a lovely time to be here. Next week I get to go to Trinita and work with the volunteers for a week of family development time with campers coming from Philadelphia and the local area the following week. Helping people explore how they can be good, do good, be a power for good in the providence of their daily life and with their families is an excellent way to spend some time. Wish I could do it all the time.

When I visit Ohio I like to go to where I lived as a kid, and often don’t get the chance to do it. I remember Papa telling us stories of his growing up, and how different it was at that time – sometimes I would like to share those stories with him again. Next year in Jerusalem! Or some crazy phrase that is appropriate to this kind of rambling. I am grateful that I get to go to Ohio and share some things with my sister and brother and visit with my grandkids and my friends and their kids and grandkids. Life goes on, we just need to let ourselves be of use to those in need. Be seeing you.

October Thoughts

My eldest brother Mike was born and died in October. His younger daughter got married in October so all of our family would have good memories for the month. I have many good friends born in October, and adding that wedding celebration was brilliant, it really helps us remember the good times!

One of my favorite saint’s feast day is October 15, Teresa of Avila. This year my MCA (Missionary Cenacle Apostolate – the lay branch of the Missionary Cenacle Family, all dedicated to ‘being good, doing good, being a power for good’ as Fr. Judge, a Vincentian priest who founded this family while just trying to listen to the Holy Spirit in the providence of his daily life back in 1909) retreat is October 19-21, and after struggling unsuccessfully to find someone bilingual to run the retreat, I was inspired to choose to do it on Teresa of Avila, with help from my bilingual assistant Custodian and two whose name saint is the same Teresa! She was the first woman declared a doctor of the church, back in 1970, and Dorothy Day loved her, and I found a series of books called 30 days with a Great Spiritual Teacher by Ave Maria Press, one on Teresa called Let Nothing Disturb You and another on Julian of Norwich (she is another favorite, but more on her on another day). After looking at the one on Teresa, I thought, I could do the retreat on her!

In the introduction, one of the first things that touched me was “In describing a mystical experience, Teresa wrote that her mind and eyes wanted to come with her, but they simply could not make the journey. Her senses were simply unable to withstand the presence of God. Only her soul had the stamina to be in the company of the Divine. In truth, these mystics realized what we all long to realize-intimacy with the Sacred. We are born with a yearning for God that we can try to fill with material goods and worldly accomplishments. At the end of the day, however, we are left wanting more.” —Caroline Myss, forward author of Let Nothing Disturb You

Taking the time to work on my relationship with God is always a struggle, but never fails to reward me with greater peace and trust in God. We humans have a tendency to say we trust in God, but feel the need to have control over our lives as much as possible. Taking time to be with God and listen to Her quiet voice is essential for building up that trust. God loves us, but some days it is harder to believe that than others.

These days we have been praying the prayer of Michael the Archangel, my brother’s patron saint. I can feel the support of those prayers, and look forward to spending some time on retreat, listening to the Holy Spirit and getting the strength to do what God guides me to do. Standing up for the rights of those without power, working for peace and justice for all, using active nonviolence to spread the love of God, even to my enemies—these are not easy tasks, but “Mystical experiences and intimacy with the Divine do not translate into lives of ease. Rather, they produce people of truth, strength and courage.” —Caroline Myss, ibid

My brother died at the age of 55, having served in Vietnam 40 years earlier and being exposed to Agent Orange, which is directly related to getting leukemia and lymphoma, which killed him. It never stopped him from becoming a deacon, working as a social worker, raising two wonderful girls and being a loving father and husband. Both of our parents had died before he did, and I like to think of them all up there in heaven, watching out for us and encouraging us to delve into the spiritual and grow in our relationships with God, and I trust that he will help me make this retreat a gift for all who attend, including me. After all, the main guide is the Holy Spirit!

 

 

Hectic Holy Season

This time of year, with Holy Week and Passover celebrated in the same week, is filled with solemn and joyous services, and the fulfillment of long preparations for many to enter the community formally through the sacraments of Initiation in the Catholic Church tonight.

I work for various organizations to pay the rent, and they are all busy in this time of year as well, so I try to get to the celebrations when I can, but have to miss some in order to work. This year I had to work on Holy Thursday, but am off tonight, so I hope to get to the Easter Vigil celebration.

Good Friday was filled with the Pax Christi Metro New York’s Way of the Cross across 42nd Street, which the organization has been doing for 37 consecutive years, and each year the themes and presentations are more powerful than the last. I have been part of it since 1995 or so, and a member of the Witness Committee that plans it for most of that time, so I help set up the truck and guide the people carrying the cross, among other things. It usually wipes me out so I miss the Passion Communion service at my local parish, but I was assigned to read this year, so had to be there, and am so glad! It went well and the pastor, Fr. Sean McGillicuddy, C.Ss.R., was the presider (and played Jesus in the Gospel reading of the Passion) and did a great job, as did my coreader, Christine Clark. It is always powerful, at the service we venerate the cross and do much reflecting on all the aspects of the Passion. Earlier in the week, the parish has a movie night and chose The Passion, the Mel Gibson version, which I had never seen. Our discussion afterwards was good, and fresh in my mind as we read the Passion. Jesus’ celebration of Passover was slightly different from tradition, and the words he used are the same words we use in the celebration of the Eucharist each day. Our roots in Jewish tradition remind us that we are not alone in finding God and listening to how God wants us to live. Jesus’ choice of active resistance and nonviolence brought him to this horrible death, but his witness of service and love, no matter what, fills us with hope and joy. The resurrection reminds us that violence and death do not have the last word.

I hope that you are able to spend some time reflecting on how you can be more peaceful in your daily life, and resist the evils of our present day without using violence of thought, tongue, or body – not only to others but to yourself! Peace begins with how we treat one another, and always starts with ourselves.

Blessed Passover and Happy Easter!