My granddaughters after a rare snowfall in London, UK – excited 5-year-old ABC who remembers snow from living with us in upstate NY when she was little and 2-year-old JG who had never experienced snow.
Yesterday, B and I went to the tree farm to buy our Christmas tree and wreath. Today, along with daughter T, we decorated the tree.
I love our Christmas ornament collection. There are ornaments that belonged to our parents. Ones we have bought on our travels over the years. Ones we received as gifts. Home-made ones by my grandmother, B’s mom, B as a child, our children. Handcrafted ones made by artists on four continents, including my friend Yvonne Lucia. Ornaments made of cloth, yarn, wood, birch bark, wax, corn husks, glass, paper, teasels, metal, ceramic, plastic, even eggshell. The angel on top of the tree is one I made from a kit with the help of a friend shortly after B and I married. The latch-hooked tree skirt featuring candy canes was made by my mother.
If our home suffered a disaster and our ornament collection was lost, it would be impossible to re-create.
Still, during the years when I was caring for my parents and in the immediate aftermath of their passing, as much as I cherish these ornaments, I couldn’t being myself to unwrap them, touch them, place them on the tree. Even when others had done so, I could only manage a few glances at them.
Dealing with grief and loss is an individual and unpredictable endeavor. Last Christmas, our first since the death of my father, known here as Paco, we traveled to visit daughter E and her family in London, so we didn’t have our usual Christmas decorations. I really wasn’t sure how much of the usual Christmas routine I would be able to resume this year, so I am grateful that I felt up to participating in some decorating.
Granted, Christmas this year will be quieter than usual. It will be just B, T, and I celebrating at home. I will be going to church on my own. There will be stockings and some presents to open. (I admit my Christmas enthusiasm has not yet extended to shopping.) We will have a nice dinner and dessert although we haven’t settled on the menu yet. We have decided not to make our usual number of cookies, most years dozens of cookies in at least a half dozen varieties. It just doesn’t make sense for three people.
I think one of the factors in my feeling some Christmas spirit this year was singing Lessons and Carols with the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton last weekend. Given that I spent so many years doing liturgy planning and music in Catholic churches, I’m not accustomed to singing Christmas music publicly during Advent, but I think this year doing so boosted my anticipation for Christmas and helped me to feel up to helping with decorating.
If I’m lucky, it will carry me through finishing the cards next week.
If not, I will try to remember to take the advice that I offer to others who are dealing with loss: Be gentle with yourself.
Maybe the fragrance of the Canaan fir, the rainbow-hued lights, the meaningful ornaments will help lift my spirit if it flags.
Christmas trees are beautiful, even through misty eyes.
On September 17th, I returned to my hometown, Monroe, Massachusetts, for their bicentennial celebration.
The day began with a presentation from State Representative Paul Mark of a framed copy of the restoration of the original town charter. In his remarks, he noted that, unlike most Massachusetts charters, Monroe’s does not have any mention of an English king. The town was incorporated from parts of other towns and named for President James Monroe, who was president of the United States at the time.
When I was growing up there in the 1960s-70s, the town had about 200 residents. In the 2020 census, there were 118 residents, making it the smallest town by population on the mainland of Massachusetts.
The festivities centered around the Town Community Center, which was the school back in my day. (Also, in the days of my father and his siblings, when it was built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.) The building still houses the town offices and library. What had been the classroom for grades 1-4 when I attended is now a community meeting room where many of the indoor activities were housed. The rest of the building is now used as offices by the power company that is the successor to New England Power, for which my father worked for over forty years.
I was able to make some contributions to the memory board and books. I sent some poems and was surprised to find one of them on display with a vintage newspaper photo of me when I graduated from high school.
Many of us were feeling nostalgic about the post office. There were two postal employees there to hand-cancel envelopes with a bicentennial commemorative postmark, even though the Monroe Bridge post office closed years ago to be replaced by this:
Not nearly as distinctive looking as this mail slot which was salvaged from the old post office and is now in the Monroe Historical Society’s collection.
For an explanation of why it was the Monroe Bridge post office and why I often refer to my hometown as Monroe Bridge, you can read my poem “Monroe Bridge Mail” published by Wilderness House Literary Review here. (It’s the final poem in a set of five.)
I spent quite a lot of time in the Historical Society, looking at the artifacts and photos. It was nice to see that the murals that had been painted by a WPA artist for our classroom had been moved there:
There was memorabilia from the Town’s sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) which I remembered as a very exciting time when I was in grammar school.
It was fun to get to reminisce with people who had been in town when my family lived there. Some are still residents or folks who have stayed local, while a few, like me, had travelled from further afield. I especially appreciated the time that Lucy spent with me, pointing out family connections among the memorabilia on display or in the Historical Society. I was touched by all the kind words about my parents and the expressions of sympathy on their passing. The celebration was just a few days after the first anniversary of my father’s death; he and my mother were among the founding members of the Monroe Historical Society.
There was Bicentennial swag available! One of my purchases was the Bicentennial History Book. I was honored that my poem “Playground” was chosen to be on the back cover. It reads:
Our WPA-built school housed two classrooms, eight grades, two teachers, twenty-some students, old textbooks, reams of assignments designed to keep us quiet at our desks.
Morning and afternoon recess and the remainder of lunch hour, we jumped off swings, attempted running up the two-story slide, sent the spinning merry-go-round swaying to crash with a satisfying clang into the metal pole from which it hung.
Dodge ball, monkey-in-the-middle, a dozen variations of tag, where the tap of a classmate’s hand thawed you from your frozen state or freed you from jungle-gym-jail.
Jump rope chants “Not last night, but the night before, a lemon and a pickle came a-knockin’ at my door.”
Upper-grade boys against girls in Wiffle ball or kick ball. Despite our skirts, the girls, already becoming young women, usually won. *****
Of course, as promised, there was cake!
It was a great celebration for a little town! Even though I’ve lived out-of-state for forty years now, a part of me is still at home there.
And even if you have never visited, there are now new signs to welcome you. This is the one you will see if you cross the state line from Whitingham, Vermont into Monroe.
On Saturday, September 17, 2022, I went back to my hometown, Monroe, Massachusetts, for their bicentennial celebration. There will eventually be a proper post about the fun and meaningful day I had there but I wanted to give a little shout-out today.
These welcome signs are new. This is the one at the Massachusetts/Vermont state line about half a mile from where our house was back in the day.
When we were visiting in London last Christmas, daughter E gave us a calendar featuring photos of granddaughters ABC and JG. Most often, the photos were taken in that month the prior year, so turning the page for August brought a four generation photo with Paco from their visit last year.
The timing of that visit was a blessing, existing in the tiny window of their being able to get travel permission from the US and UK and before Paco’s final steep decline that led to his death in September.
I’ve been struggling this summer with the memories from last year, many of which have been difficult.
It’s good to have this photo with smiles that I can feel in my heart, even if my eyes fill with tears.
Spouse B and I returned yesterday from a weekend celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary at Geneva on the Lake. We had never been there before but had received a gift certificate for the inn as an expression of gratitude from my sisters after our father’s death for the years of caretaking for Nana and Paco as the “local daughter.”
Geneva on the Lake is located in the Finger Lakes region of central New York State, on the north end of Seneca Lake, about a two-and-a-quarter hour scenic drive from our home, featuring views of farms, vineyards, forested hills, and the entire western side of the lake.
After delays in our getaway due to pandemic surges, weather conditions, and our trips to the UK to visit family, we decided to go for the weekend of our 40th wedding anniversary. The gift certificate allowed us to splurge on the Loft Suite in the original 1910 portion of the villa, directly overlooking the gardens and Seneca Lake. In this photo, our suite is located on the third floor above the central doors, where you see three half-moon windows and three rectangular windows above.
Here you can see the windows from the inside and why it is called the Loft Suite:
All the furniture in the suite, including in the adjoining bedroom, is Stickley, which is a venerable upstate New York mainstay, still headquartered in Manlius, near Syracuse. I especially enjoyed the loft space for reading and looking out at the lake.
There was also a full kitchen and a small dining table, although we didn’t have much use for them as we ate breakfasts and dinners at the Inn. Our first evening there was warm, so we ate under the canopy on the terrace but the other meals were in the Lancellotti dining rooms. Because we like to eat (unfashionably) early, we were able to sit near the windows and enjoy our food and the view in relative – and unmasked – quiet.
When staff asked if we were there celebrating, we told them it was our 40th anniversary. They would offer congratulations, followed on a couple of occasions by the question, “What’s your secret?” Like the college reunion question about what I’d been doing for the last forty years, I didn’t have a ready answer. If I had been able to think quickly enough, I might have echoed Paco’s line about taking it one day at a time, although I don’t think that is the answer.
Like my answer to most questions, it’s complicated. First, I don’t think there is a secret to being married for forty years. It helps to find the right person when you are young and to manage not to develop a grave illness that threatens longevity. Of course, there needs to be love and respect between the spouses, but that is not a secret.
I think, for B and me, an important factor is that we met and became friends early in high school. Because we experienced adolescence together, we managed to influence, complement, and support each other as we grew into adulthood. I don’t think I would be the same person that I am now without B’s love, encouragement, and commitment over the years.
B and I share our rural roots and were both raised by long-married parents; my parents, known here as Nana and Paco, celebrated their 65th anniversary not long before her death in 2019. We both are of a serious temperament with wide-ranging interests and the inclination to dig deeply into topics. However, our central interests differ. I spend much more time on the arts, especially music, writing, and poetry, and on spiritual/philosophical issues, which influence my analysis on politics and public policy. B is much more involved with technology and quantitative/analytical issues with additional interests in history and science fiction/fantasy. We are both liberal-artsy enough, though, to be able to understand and approach different topics and problems from multiple vectors. This helps when we have to make decisions, whether it’s nuts and blots plans for our home or complex care-giving situations. We have faced a greater than average number of medical problems across our families’generations. Many marriages succumb to these kinds of stressors, but B and I have been able to weather them with our ability to think and talk things through and our commitment to dedicate ourselves to doing the best we are able. Our mantra has been “no regrets” and, while we certainly do have instances where outcomes were not what we had hoped, we are content that we were able to give comfort and care to the best of our abilities.
Sunday was also Father’s Day, our first without Paco and B’s first as being part of the eldest generation in the family. I admit that our anniversary was a good distraction for me to keep me from dwelling too much on being without my father on Father’s Day for the first time. I hope that B will be granted a similarly long stint as a grandparent and, if ABC and/or JG choose, the opportunity to become a great-grandfather someday. B loves being a grandpa, although the distance factor does present complications. We are hoping, though, that when B retires, we may be able to spend some longer periods of time in the UK.
We returned home from Geneva in time to celebrate Father’s Day and our anniversary with daughter T, who had chosen cards for the occasion. When we decorate envelopes for hand-delivered greeting cards, we often draw a personalized “stamp” in the corner. On our anniversary card, T had drawn a shining ruby. As I don’t often wear jewelry, I had neglected to look up that the 40th anniversary is commemorated with rubies.
I had, however, worn two significant pieces of jewelry for the weekend.
The ring is a family birthstone ring with topaz for B, rose zircon for me, the diamond that was originally in my engagement ring for E, and alexandrite for T. The necklace is by Wedgwood and was B’s wedding gift to me.
In the photo, you can also see my gold wedding band, which I always wear. It’s a simple gold band and has been resized once but still bears its original inscription of our name and wedding date on the inside.
Daughter T and I have been preparing memorials to honor Nana and Paco (my parents) and brought them to the building in the memorial park where their cremains are inurned a couple of days ago.
The memorial for Nana is one of her favorite bud vases filled with lily-of-the-valley, which was her birth flower. She always loved them and we would pick bouquets of them every year to bring to her for Mother’s Day and her birthday. Shortly after we bought our home in the late ’80s, we dug some pips from spouse B’s and my childhood yards and transplanted them. As lily-of-the-valley spread aggressively, we now have a large patch in our backyard and they always bloom in mid-May. The flowers in Nana’s vase now have to be artificial as fresh flowers aren’t allowed but it means there will always be a reminder of May near her grave.
Paco’s memorial was created by granddaughter T. She took an empty Irish whiskey bottle and filled it with a rainbow of origami birds. Paco was not a big drinker but he was Irish and Nana used to always make him a Blarney cake which featured Irish whiskey around St. Patrick’s Day and his birthday in March. T meticulously folded 320 tiny origami birds to fill the bottle with the colors of the rainbow. It reminds me of this photo of Paco’s trip of a lifetime to Ireland, inserted into the brief window after Nana’s death but before the pandemic descended.
It was also the first time for Trinity to visit since the placement of a service medallion for Paco, a bronze replica of a triangularly folded US flag with the inscription “Veteran U.S. Navy”. Paco had served as a Navy SeaBee (Construction Battalion) in both the Second World War and the Korean Conflict. He didn’t talk about his service that much when we were young, but in retirement he often wore a SeaBees cap when he was out and about. It was touching that folks would thank him for his service all those decades later.
Yesterday would have been Paco’s 97th birthday. With spring arriving, the bulk of the estate work done, and our memorials placed, I’m beginning to feel a bit more settled and at peace than I have for a long time. Nana and Paco are eternally reunited and remembered with love, flowers, and a rainbow.
While my blogging has been haphazard for months due to my father’s declining health, I wanted to share a post about the recent visit of our daughter E, her spouse L, and their daughters, four-year-old ABC and one-year-old JG. As people who check in here at TJCM periodically may recall, they live in London UK and the pandemic left us unable to visit each other. This meant that when they arrived in the US, it was our first chance to meet JG in person.
All the adults are fully vaccinated, but the children are too young to qualify. While our area of upstate New York is not a COVID hot zone, the transmission rate is still high enough due to the delta variant that we were very cautious about taking the girls to indoor public spaces. While I had scaled back my expectations for the visit a lot, I hadn’t scaled them back quite as much as I should have. For example, I had hoped to see a few more friends than we were able to. Unfortunately, Paco, my 96-year-old father, had more health challenges appear and his unit at the nursing home had to go into lockdown due to a couple of COVID cases among vaccinated staff.
In a way, though, it was nice to have them in our home, doing normal, everyday things like we had when E and ABC lived with us for over two years while waiting for E’s spousal visa to be accomplished.
B, with an assist from ABC, got to bake yummy treats for breakfast.
Everyone enjoyed watching the birds at the birdfeeders. ABC especially liked the tufted titmouse and goldfinches, while others were partial to the cardinals.
We enjoyed watching other wildlife, too. ABC even spotted some deer near the back fence. We also spent a lot of time watching the bunnies eating various leaves and flowers in the lawn.
One thing that they don’t have at home in London is rocking chairs. JG especially loved the one that was her size!
JG was an early walker so we missed her being a babe-in-arms, but Auntie T did get a taste of what that phase was like when JG got so tired she actually fell asleep in her arms.
L took the girls on walks. Here is ABC at the 1 mile – or is it 1 smile? – mark on the Rail Trail. Our area, like many others in the US, has re-purposed places where there used to be railroad tracks into recreational trails.
We also got to visit the parks and carousels. Broome County has six vintage carousels and it was very nostalgic to revisit them with ABC and introduce them to JG. ABC made friends everywhere she went.
We got to enjoy a lot of playtime with the girls. ABC, at four, has a great imagination and enjoys making elaborate scenarios. She is also quite operatic! Besides singing songs that she knows, often from Frozen I and II, she likes to make up songs while she is playing. With both her parents being accomplished singers and instrumentalists, she appears to come by music naturally. She is learning to play the piano, so we got to experience her lessons with her daddy.
ABC is also a beginning reader, so sometimes she would read to us and other times we would read to her. It was an honor to be chosen as the final bedtime story reader. Of course, she also requested a bedtime song before going to sleep.
The most important event of the trip, though, was the one visit we were able to make with Paco in the outdoor courtyard of the nursing home. ABC was being her charming self, singing and dancing and clapping for Paco.
The most precious photo is this one of the four generations.
Paco’s health has declined so much in the weeks since we had this visit that he has now been admitted to hospice care. I will be forever grateful that Paco had the opportunity to meet his second great-granddaughter who won’t remember that day and to see his first granddaughter E and first great-granddaughter ABC who certainly will.
The above inadvertently artsy shot with sunbeams is of roses growing in our back yard. This rose is a daughter of a rosebush that grew near my mother’s childhood home in Hoosac Tunnel, Massachsuetts. You can read more of the backstory in this post which itself includes a personal essay from before I started blogging.
This rosebush is the subject of the one poem that appears in both my chapbook and collection manuscripts, which I can’t share here because it is currently unpublished. It tells the story of the revival of this daughter bush from near death and ends during my mother’s final illness.
We have just passed the second anniversary of her death. The rose bush apparently liked the snowy winter and slowly unfolding spring this year and has more blossoms than I have ever seen. It has also grown very tall, as you can see in the photo below. For reference, I’m 5′ 1.5″ (1.56 meters), so the rose bush is probably close to seven feet (2.1 meters) high.
Because this is an heirloom close-to-wild rose rather than a hybrid, it has a very strong scent. With so many blossoms this year, the smell is heavenly.