V is for Vague and Vivid

Ethiopia

Last night at dinner I asked my father to tell me the turtle story again. I had been a little surprised that my sister had never heard the story and wanted to make sure that I hadn’t imagined the whole thing.

“Do you remember the story of the turtle eggs when you were a little boy?” I asked.

“What? Oh… I think my father told me to go check the bag in the pantry and there were turtles in it,” he said. Ah — the detail of the pantry. I had forgotten that.

“But,” I persisted, “didn’t some bigger boys give nuts to you and tell you they were turtle eggs?”

“Maybe,” he said vaguely.

“But when we came down that winding road to the Red Sea, I can still see the man’s face,” he said, as if this was a continuation of the turtle story. “You know that road had so many switchbacks — back and forth,” and he drew a zig-zag in the air to show me, “and when we got there, the man had this big smile on face because he was so happy I had arrived and he could go home.”

Switchbacks

This memory crops up quite frequently these days. He remembers vividly the expression on one man’s face at a very specific point in time.

“Where is Mom buried?” he asked, as if something about that memory had reminded him of her. It was the first time he has ever asked me that.

“At the columbarium at the church,” I replied.

Last year for Mother’s Day, I had tried to interest him in bringing flowers to the columbarium. I bought a plant and had Bud drop us off at the cemetery before church so we could pause for a moment with Mom. My father, however, didn’t pause. He just hurried toward the church. I placed the pansies there by myself, feeling a double sadness, and hurried after him.

“I met Elinor when I had that job picking up IV bottles from the nurses’ stations. We got to talking and hit it right off,” he said, continuing last night’s dinner conversation.

I started to ask him to elaborate on it. I wanted to know if he remembered what they talked about (which was hiking).

Arial view of the switchbacks

“But you should have seen that guy’s face,” my father said, changing gears again without notice. “He had the biggest smile because I was there and he could go home.”

I’m never quite sure what I should take from the story.

Is it the switchbacks? My father certainly incorporates switchbacks into many conversation now — not necessarily the story of the switchbacks, but actually switchbacks, where he changes direction so often and so quickly that I can’t always follow.

Or, is it the arrival at a new place and the beginning of a great new adventure?

Or, is it the idea of going home and the great joy that brings?

U is for Untold Stories

I found this picture yesterday and showed it to my father.

“Do you remember this man?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, I don’t think so,” he replied.

“On the back it says, ‘Successful defibrillation and external massage’ — Does that help?” I asked.

He studied the photograph for a few more minutes. “No, I don’t remember any of that,” he finally said.

I imagine that in the life of a physician there are thousands of untold stories. Lives, limbs, trajectories changed in the course of a single decision or moment.

In January 1964, Everett Barrett didn’t die from a heart attack in Ethiopia. CPR and defibrillation saved him. I think my father had something to do with it.

Everett Barrett died two years later stateside. But during 1964-65, he worked for the fire department at the army base in Ethiopia. I can’t help but wonder if he saved any lives, too, during those years.

You know — lives saved because his life was saved.

The gift of life bestowed is a like a pebble thrown in a pond, sometimes with far-reaching ripples.

We never know how far those ripple reach.

 

 

T is for Turtle Eggs

When my father was a little boy, some bigger boys gave him a bag of turtle eggs. They looked remarkably like chestnuts that grew on some of the trees in their town.

“Take these home and keep them in a warm place. Turtles will hatch,” they told him, probably guffawing to themselves at the naiveté and gullibility of this little boy.

He brought them home and showed them to his father.

“You take good care of those,” his father said.

For days, he checked the bag. Nothing seemed to be happening.

Eventually, he forgot about them, caught up in other little boy activities, like baseball and playing with his dog, Mugsy.

A couple of weeks later, his father said, “Have you checked those turtle eggs lately? I thought I heard something in there.”

He ran to where he had stashed the brown paper bag holding the chestnuts. The bag was moving! Scratchy sounds were coming from it!

Cautiously, he opened the bag to see what was inside.

In the bag were some little turtles, their shells about the size of a silver dollar.

How did his father know they were in there?

S is for Siblings (a pictorial essay)

First there was my father —

Ocean Grove, 1930

Actually, before my father, there was Janice Aline, a daughter who lived only a day. Little over a year later, my father was born.

Then his brother, Stewart, came along.


I showed my father the picture today and asked him to identify the person.

“That’s my brother, Stewart. He’s really smart!”

He went on to become a Supreme Court Justice in the state of New Jersey.

Next came Polly — except that wasn’t her name at first. Her given name was an old family name and she changed it to Polly.

Isn’t she cute?
I remember as a little girl thinking she was the most beautiful, most glamorous person in the whole world.

When I found out that she traveled to Yugoslavia in 1960 and worked on a road crew for the summer, she became even more legendary in my eyes.

Stewart, my father, their mother, Polly

 

Family portrait

Back row: Stewart, Polly, my father
Middle row: Penny (Stewart’s wife), my grandmother, my grandfather, my mother
Front row (and laps): my cousin Wendy, my sister Donabeth, my brother Stewart, my brother Peter

Back row: My father, my mother, Polly, Penny, Stewart (my father’s brother)
Middle row: Stewart (my brother), Peter, Donabeth, my grandmother, my grandfather, Wendy, Stewart (my cousin)
Front row: Me and my cousin Jeff

Everyone… my grandparents; my father and mother, his siblings, and their spouses; all my siblings and all my cousins

Prolific

Siblings — summer of 2016

As Brad Paisley sang, “All because two people fell in love.”

 

R is for Red Sox

When my father was in the Emergency Room the other day, I knew he was missing the Red Sox game so I brought it up on my phone. Through the Red Sox website, we couldn’t watch the game, but we could get details of what was happening.

I read it off as best I could. “Okay, Dad. Machado is batting for Baltimore. Sales threw a slider. It went low and inside for a ball.”

At first, he said, “How do you know all that?” and I would show him the tiny words on the screen.

Later in the game. “Okay, next pitch — a swinging strike for Santander,” I said.

“Who’s Santander?” Dad asked.

“Baltimore’s right fielder,” I said.

“Oh, okay,” he said, and closed his eyes while he laid back on the bed.

Still later. “Sales threw a fastball and –”

My father interrupted me. “You’ve got to make it sound exciting! Put some enthusiasm in your voice!”

I told him I would try, but I was tired and didn’t. A radio announcer I am not.

I’m sure he listened to many baseball games on the radio when he was a boy. I know that he and his brother sometimes took the train into the city to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play. Once, when they were riding the train, they saw Mel Ott, a well-known NY Giants player. He was wearing a suit and trying to keep a low profile. When my uncle went over to ask for his autograph, Mel Ott carefully looked this way and that to make sure nobody else would notice, then signed as surreptitiously as possible. My father laughs whenever he tells the story, imitating the expression on Mel Ott’s face and the way he looked around him.

When the Dodgers moved to the west coast, my father had to choose another team and opted for the Red Sox.

His two baseball heroes represent those two teams — Jackie Robinson from the Brooklyn Dodgers and Ted Williams from the Red Sox.

“How’s your father doing?” someone asked me the other day. “He must be happy with the way the Red Sox season has started.”

They ARE doing well. From the Red Sox website:

The Red Sox are just the seventh team in the modern era (since 1900) to win at least 16 of their first 18 games. They are the first to do it since the 1987 Brewers. Of the four previous teams, two won the World Series — the 1984 Tigers and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

“Yes, I think he’s happy,” I replied. “He’s a pretty avid fan.”

“Avid? AVID?” the man said. “I think you mean RABID.”

Avid. Rabid. You get the picture.

He and my mother used to make pilgrimages to Fenway in the summer.

I remember going with them as a child. I don’t remember the baseball game, but I remember waiting afterwards in a long line to eat at a restaurant call Durgin Park.  The line went up a flight of steep narrow stairs. At the top I leaned in to see how much longer we would have to wait and a waitress picked me up to move me out of the way.

My mother and father had eaten there years before. From their scrapbook:

Durgin Park 1954?

Durgin Park menu

One summer my parents took my oldest sons with them to Fenway. The only thing the boys ever told me about that game is how the dugouts emptied for some brawls.

Philip, Sam, Owen, and my mom before the Red Sox game

When my father retired in 1999, someone wrote a song for him called “Amazing Don.” One verse, undoubtedly written by a Yankee fan, addressed his love for the Red Sox —

The cards from his recent party also reflect his love for the team —I could go on and on —

Mom and Luis Tiant

Lego man

Johnny Damon

Scrapbook program

Books (a mere tip of the iceberg)

Not to mention bobbleheads, t-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, pins, you name it.

Somewhere upstairs is the 1967 “Red Sox Impossible Dream” vinyl album. Somewhere in my treasures is a Carl Yastrzemski pin from that same year.

The photo challenge word of the week is “prolific.” This is more an abundance.

And abundance that comes from decades of cheering on a team through thick and thin.

Authentic fandom.

He still fist-pumps when they score a run or make a good play.

Even in the emergency room with an unenthusiastic announcer telling him about it.

Q is for Questions

My father asks questions all the time.

“What does holy mackerel mean?” he frequently asks.

One of his friends explained the origin of the phrase — eating fish during Lent, etc, etc — but the next day he asked the same question. And the next.

“What are heebie-jeebies?” he asks, “and who ever thought of a word like that?”

“If something is ‘pretty good’, does that means it’s both pretty and good? And what about ‘pretty cute’?”

“What do dogs think about?”

To my children who go barefoot in the house — “Why don’t you wear shoes?” “Why don’t you wear socks?” “Aren’t your feet cold?”

To my tattooed son — “Why did you get those tattoos?” “Were you drunk when you got those?”

When we moved from Cheyenne, WY back to NY, our oldest son was just shy of 3. He asked questions ALL THE TIME. We planned to drive through the night to Kansas, and thought Philip would sleep the whole way. However, he talked for hours during that late night care ride.

I remember telling my sister about it when we got to Kansas because I was so tired.

“What did he talk about?” she asked.

“Mostly, he asked questions,” I said.

“Can I touch the moon?” “Can I hold it?” “Can I play with it?” “Where is that car going?” “What’s in that truck?” “Does the moon like me?” “What are you eating?” Where are we going?” “Why are you crying?”

The emotional and physical exhaustion of the preceding days had left me numb, and yet here was this little person I loved asking me questions.

Do you see the parallel?

It’s like deja vu all over again.

Undoubtedly, Philip is asking my father questions here.

 

P is for Presbyterian

Cooperstown Presbyterian Church

Both my mother and father were deeply involved in the Cooperstown Presbyterian Church.

From my mother’s obituary:

Perhaps most central to Elinor’s life was her steadfast devotion to the First Presbyterian Church of Cooperstown, for it was there that she faithfully blended her love of family and God. A member since 1969, Elinor sang in the Chancel Choir, served in church leadership as a Deacon and an Elder, as Treasurer and Clerk of Session, volunteered as a Sunday School Teacher, was a member and/or chair of numerous committees over the years, and participated fully in the women’s association. A generation of young people will remember Elinor as the one who prepared the food for the weekly Thursday school gatherings at the Presbyterian Church.

I was going to say that my father did everything my mother did at the church and then some — except he didn’t sing in the choir, and I’m not sure he taught Sunday School, and he certainly didn’t participate in the women’s association. He didn’t prepare meals either.

But he WAS a  deacon and an elder and the Clerk of Session (I think). My sister, who is much more entrenched in the Presbyterian Church, could tell you what that all means.

I simply knew that he went to meetings there. A lot of them.

And he sold hot dogs at the annual Ice Cream Social.

From an old newspaper clipping on the refrigerator

The birthday cards from the church people often talked about his leadership, like this one:

My most powerful memories about you relate to the leadership you gave when several times over the years we found ourselves between pastors. You helped keep the ship floating and moving forward…

This was my favorite church story:

My most vivid memory … is of the congregational meeting relating to the arrangement of the pews in the sanctuary which were to be reinstalled after being removed for refurbishing. The temporary chairs used while the pews were worked on were arranged in a semicircle, and some church members wanted the pews to be arranged like that. Other members were determined that the pews should be placed in straight rows as they had been in the past. Supporters of both views expressed strong feelings, but you did a masterful job as moderator in keeping order, giving everyone opportunity to express their opinion, and guiding the factions to a compromise whereby the two center sections of pews were replaced in straight lines as before but the two side sections were angled to give an overall sense of a curve.

I can picture my father, patiently listening, patiently giving everyone a chance to speak, gently leading the way to compromise. Attentive listening is one of his super-powers.

Today, I stopped by the church to see the “curved” pew arrangement.

from the back

from the pulpit

The angling is so slight that it’s barely perceptible. If I felt strongly about the curve, I might have felt cheated.

Or not.

Sometimes it’s enough to be heard.

In any event, the church stayed afloat and moved forward, thanks, in part, to my father.