JC’s Confessions #22

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

I have never seen any of The Godfather movies and hope I never do.

I have seen (more) clips (than I care to) enough to know that it is way, way, way beyond my level of tolerance for violence.

As an Italian-American on my mother’s side, I shudder at the stereotyping of being part of the Mafia when that is such a small segment of the Italian-American experience, certainly totally divorced from my family’s life in rural New England.

Because this is the fiftieth anniversary of the first film in the trilogy, there have been pieces in the media galore about the significance of the films, the references that have become part of modern parlance, and, surprisingly, a lot of people claiming that they understood what it was to become an adult because of The Godfather.

I think I managed that last part on my own without the movie, thank you very much.

I know that love and commitment to family are eminently possible without violence and that threatening or injuring or killing someone is not the way to solve problems.

In the movie You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks’s character, in trying to coach Meg Ryan’s character about business, quotes lessons from The Godfather frequently, including “It’s not personal – it’s business.”

And maybe that is the root of the problem for me – and perhaps the reason I would not make it in the business world. To me, everything is personal. If I’m going to watch a movie, it will affect me personally and violence, especially fictionalized violence, is not something I want to let rattle around in my mind.

So, perhaps, I have broken my own JC’s Confessions rule in that I don’t actually feel bad about not having seen The Godfather. Let’s just consider it my own tiny, countercultural protest.

(Cue dramatic music)

memorial

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.

Paco and an Irish rainbow

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.

Review: Encanto

When we went to the UK to visit our family for the holidays, four-year-old granddaughter ABC watched the Disney film Encanto frequently. I was impressed with it but hadn’t realized how popular it had become until after we returned to the US and it seems that I run into commentary on it several times a week, including news that the soundtrack and individual songs from Encanto have been appearing in high positions in the Billboard charts.

For the few of you who may not know, Encanto tells the story of the Madrigal family from Columbia who use their magical gifts to help their community. Granddaughter Mirabel appears not to have been given a magical gift but her strong love for her family and their home powers the story.

Much of the commentary that I’ve seen concentrates on how important it is to have this portrayal of a Latinx family and story, along with inclusion of Spanish in the dialogue and songs. I agree with this point but want to note some other ways that this film feels inclusive to me. As someone whose family is racially diverse, I appreciate that the Madrigals have Indigenous and Black roots, as well as (presumably) European. As someone who wore glasses from a young age, I love that Mirabel wears glasses. I could get all metaphorical about clarity of vision, but I won’t. It’s just nice to see a positive portrayal of a girl who wears glasses in an animated movie.

The biggest point of inclusivity for me is the complexities of the family relationship. The most popular song in the soundtrack, the ensemble piece “We Don’t Talk about Bruno”, reminds me that my own family had an uncle that was seldom mentioned for mysterious reasons. We see Mirabel and her non-magical father struggle with finding their place within the family, which is a familiar issue in many families, for example, when a very sports-oriented family has a member who would rather be singing in the chorus than out on the field with a ball.

We also see the double-edged sword of trying to live up to family expectations. While it’s admirable that members of the family want to use their gifts to serve the family and the community, it’s all too easy to see each only for that one gift and not for the complex being that they are. This leads to feeling that it is only that gift that makes you valuable or loved. The clearest expression of this is “Surface Pressure”, the song that Mirabel’s sister Luisa sings. Luisa’s gift is that she is very strong, so she is much in demand at home and in the village. The song shows how difficult it is to deal with the pressure of those demands and her own worries and insecurities. She sings, “Under the surface/I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.” Ouch. How often in our families do we pigeonhole someone in a specific role, overlooking other attributes and gifts they bring? How often do we take for granted the work that someone does or make it seem that they are only valuable in what they can do, not in who they are as a person?

To me, among Mirabel’s gifts are love, thoughtfulness, insight, curiosity, caring, and truthfulness. None of them are “magical” but the results of them can be miraculous.

They can be for our own families and communities, too, if we honor those gifts and each other as Mirabel does.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/21/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-21st-2022/

trip reflections

Over the past three weeks, I’ve posted frequently about the trip spouse B, daughter T, and I took to London to visit daughter E, her spouse L, our granddaughters ABC and JG, and L’s parents, with whom they live.

Here at Top of JC’s Mind, I always try to be truthful, so I must say that the best word to describe the trip as a whole is complicated.

It featured: L’s bout with Omicron that began several days before we arrived; delayed COVID test results that kept B and T in Newark overnight while I flew alone to London; bad colds for B and me; flares of chronic health conditions among several of us; a couple of bad backs; booster shot side effects; a lot of restless nights without adequate sleep; teething; upset tummies; a couple of strained backs; the news of the death of a friend back home; a badly swollen nose from JG throwing her head back into the person holding her, as toddlers are wont to do; a dearth of alone time for the introverts among us; the inadvisability of going to church for Christmas, Sundays, and Epiphany; JG’s reluctance to let us hold her if her mom was in the building; and a dead battery in our van after we flew back into Newark.

Despite all that there are many thing for which I am grateful:

That we were able to go at all, despite Omicron running rampant on both sides of the pond, and that the UK didn’t impose restrictions on private gatherings as they had done earlier in the pandemic. We appreciated the high level of compliance with masking and distancing and avoided crowds. I credit that, along with being triple vaxed with Pfizer/BioNTech and testing, for keeping us COVID-free.

Our Airbnb in E’s neighborhood, only a couple of blocks from their house. Being so close meant we didn’t need to go on public transport to visit. It also gave us the opportunity to have sleepovers, including having E, JG, and ABC overnight on Christmas Eve, just as L was able to finish up his COVID isolation period. It was fun to have Christmas stockings and breakfast with them at our place before going over to their house for Christmas dinner and presents. Four-year-old ABC was also thrilled to have some solo sleepovers with her Nana, Grandpa, and Auntie T, including our last night in town. ABC even got to help with making some Christmas cookies in our kitchen, reminding us of her days helping Grandpa in our kitchen back home in New York when she and E lived with us for over two years before E’s spousal visa came through.

Getting to have a lot of family meals together. Most were cooked at home, but we also were able to do some by delivery, including some yummy London fish and chips.

Walks in the neighborhood, in the parks, and to ABC’s school. She was on break most of the time we were there, but did have three days of school during our last week there. E and T even got to have a special sisters outing to a botanic garden. It was strange, though, to see some flowers still blooming, including roses. London was having an oddly warm spell. We did see quite a lot of holly and ivy, though, bringing to mind the traditional British Christmas carols.

Television and Internet. While we couldn’t go to church in person for fear of Omicron, we were able to watch Lessons and Carols live on Christmas Eve. I was able to watch recordings of liturgies from my local parishes back home on my laptop. We were also able to enjoy some children’s programming with ABC and JG. I especially like Bluey, an Australian series which is part of the CBeebies (BBC’s children’s television channel) line-up. ABC was also watching Frozen II and Encanto quite frequently, both of which were new to us.

The chance to renew bonds with ABC, who can remember us from when she lived with us. The opportunity to re-introduce ourselves to JG, who we met for the first time when she came to the States last August, just after she turned one. We are hoping that she will be able to realize who we are now when we videochat so that we aren’t starting from scratch again as strangers when next we meet, but it’s difficult to know if that is possible. A few months between visits is a significant chunk of a lifetime to a toddler.

Seeing E. Even though we were both tired and stressed, I appreciated the snatches of conversation we were able to have. I remember what it was like to be responsible for two little girls under five, with a lot of that time being solo. I sincerely wish I could be there more to help but that isn’t in the cards right now. The ocean is a big barrier, except for my love, sympathy, and empathy.

E will always have my heart.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/11/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-11th-2022/

One-Liner Wednesday: from a friend

Christine’s message to her family and friends is to love one another and keep each other close.

from the obituary of my friend who I posted about yesterday

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays and/or Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/05/one-liner-wednesday-jusjojan-the-5th-2022-by-george-ive-got-it/

One-Liner Wednesday: being loved

We are not loved because we are so beautiful and good. We are beautiful and good because we are loved. —Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Joy (video interview, 2014)

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/10/27/one-liner-wednesday-easily-amused/

One-Liner Wednesday: Paco tribute

Because I announced my father’s death in this One-Liner Wednesday post, I’m linking the promised tribute to him with thanks to him and to all my friends and readers who have been sending out prayers and good thoughts on our behalf over the years.

Please join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/10/13/one-liner-wednesday-aaaand/

tribute to Paco

My 96-year-old father, known here as Paco, died in mid-September, but I have been struggling to write about him. A good share of that is that the writing/analytical/organizational part of my brain has been too busy with all the phone calling and notes and paperwork that follow a death, which are by turns taxing and emotional and fraught. I’ve also been trying to find peace after so many months of complex medical and care situations which I found both exhausting and traumatic. I’ve also taken a week to attend a reunion residency with the Boiler House Poets Collective at MASS MoCA, which has been helpful both in reconnecting with family history as we are from the North Adams MA area and reconnecting with myself as a poet after so many months of sneaking in poetry time only intermittently.

But in this post, I will try to tell you more about Paco and our family.

People have asked me how my Irish-American father came to be known as Paco, which sounds more Spanish. My firstborn daughter E was the first grandchild on both sides of the family. As she was learning to talk, she couldn’t manage to say “Grandpa” and – after a few instances of calling him “Bucco” – settled on Paco as his name. This became his name with all the other grandchildren and often for other family members. It was natural for me to use it here on the blog.

It was a revelation for me seeing Paco interact with his grandchildren. Because my younger sister and I are only two years apart, I didn’t remember my father as a dad to young children. Unlike so many men of his generation, he reveled in playing with very young children and singing to them. One of the great blessings of our family life is that Nana and Paco retired near us when E was three and before T was born. Having them be so close by all those years was wonderful with walks and outings and school events and concerts, theater, and dance recitals, games and carousel rides and countless volleys of ping pong in the basement. Nana and Paco gave us so much love, care, and support for so many years; it was natural that we would provide the same to them as they grew older and developed health problems.

Paco had served in the US Navy as a SeaBee in World War II and Korea. The SeaBees were the Construction Battalion – CBs, get it? – and Paco was drafted before he could finish high school. Most of the SeaBees were older men, already established in various trades, who took Paco under their wing and taught him what they knew. The skills he developed there in electrical work set the stage for his career. Paco didn’t talk much about his service when we were growing up but, in his later years, he got some SeaBee caps which he would wear out in public. I was always amazed at how many people would comment, thank him for his service, and share their own stories of service by themselves or family members. Those tributes continued into his last days. One of the first things Hospice did after admitting him was to bring a certificate and a memorial quilt square to him. We are also applying for a service medallion to be added to his memorial in the mausoleum.

Paco worked for 43 years for New England Power Company, the last 23 as Superintendent of the Upper Deerfield River in southern Vermont/western Massachusetts. I wrote the poem “Hydro Superintendent” about him for his 90th birthday. We lived in a house that was owned by the company and often visited the powerplants and reservoirs. One of his biggest accomplishments as superintendent was overseeing the construction of Bear Swamp, a pumped storage plant built inside a mountain. Paco knew every detail of that project, which brought in contractors from as far away as Japan and Switzerland. It was so much fun walking through a giant tunnel to get to the huge powerhouse with its two turbines that could generate electricity and then reverse to pump water back to the upper reservoir. I started my interest in renewable electricity and energy storage technology young, thanks to Paco.

One of the things I admired about Paco was his work ethic. He always worked hard to get the job done right but he was also part of the team, even when he was the leader. He would help the crews do emergency work rather than just ordering them to come in. He hired the first Black and the first woman into his stations which had previously been staffed entirely by white males. (Point of information: Rural New England was not very racially diverse at the time. Some areas still are not diverse now, decades later.) He was always compassionate and understanding when employees encountered personal or family difficulties. He was also not one to “toot his own horn.” I found out how well-regarded he was by his staff through others, not from him.

We admired Paco even more when we discovered he had accomplished so much with undiagnosed dyslexia. When his youngest granddaughter S was diagnosed with an inherited form of dyslexia, Paco discovered at age 80 why he had always secretly struggled with reading and writing. S and her family launched the Paco Project to raise funds for Learning Ally to help others with print or visual disabilities access the world of books. We are proud to direct donations to Learning Ally in memory of Paco.

Paco was also proud to finally become a high school graduate. I applied for his diploma through Operation Recognition, a program which awards diplomas to veterans who left school before completing their course of study. In 2008, the same year that eldest granddaughter E graduated from high school, Paco received his diploma from Drury High School in North Adams, Massachusetts, the school that he and Nana, as well as I and my sisters, had attended.

Paco’s ancestors came to the United States from Ireland but he had never visited. Nana was too claustrophobic to consider flying, but after her death in spring 2019, my two sisters took Paco to Ireland to visit.

Paco and an Irish rainbow

We were blest that all four of his grandchildren got to see Paco over the summer. We were especially grateful that granddaughter E with spouse L and great-granddaughters ABC and JG were able to visit from London UK. Because of the pandemic, we had not been able to see each other, but in August, just before the final and more precipitous portion of Paco’s decline, they were able to make the trip.

four generations with Paco, Joanne, granddaughter E, and great-grands JG and ABC

There were a few days during Paco’s last week where he was very agitated but we were fortunate to have some calmer moments. T was the only one of the grandchildren nearby enough for one final visit, which wound up being the day before he died. It was one of the most heartbreakingly tender encounters I have ever seen. T sang Irish songs to Paco and held his hands, which were still a bit restless from a medication side effect. She talked to him and I know that he could hear her because he was able to respond a bit. I admit that I couldn’t help but cry and that I am crying now as I try – and fail – to find the words to convey how special that last hour between them was.

It also happened that all three of Paco’s daughters got to spend time with him, both alone and in various pairings, on the day of his death. It was not clear that this would be his final day, so it was not that it had been planned, but I’m grateful that it turned out that way. I’m also grateful that in his last few days, I was finally able to sing to my father, something that my sisters had been doing but that I struggled to do. I sang both verses of “Over the River and through the Woods” to get to Paco’s favorite lines, “Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done? Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!” (Paco loved all kinds of pie.) I sang the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” because it is comforting to me and several beautiful Irish hymn tunes. Occasionally, I would get too choked up to continue singing but I usually managed to get through. On that last day, Paco could not respond but Hospice told us that the sense of hearing tends to remain and can even sharpen as the other senses are shutting down. My younger sister was alone with Paco when he died but I arrived soon after for my very last good-bye.

I have been so moved by the many people who have reached out to me during Paco’s decline and since his death. There have been so many kind words, both written and spoken – remembrances, prayers, thoughts, stories, expressions of gratitude for a long life well-lived. I was very touched when a friend that I made through Facebook but whom I have never met in person added my father to her Kaddish prayer on Yom Kippur. It has been the love I first learned from my parents but now experience through so many family and friends that has kept me going through all of this, even during the most difficult times. I thank all of you.

Last week, I went to the hair salon for a haircut with Diane, who has been my stylist since 1983. I told her about Paco’s death and she gave me a hug and told me that she had something to show me. It was her new puppy, who was sweetly asleep in his crate. She told me his name was Leo.

Leo was my father’s name.

a momentous visit

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.

You probably can’t see the bunny, but – trust me – it’s there.

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.

L and ABC enjoyed rides in the carousel chariot
JG loves being on the swings!
JG also enjoys being on the move!

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.

an update and a plan

I have been posting less than usual over the last couple of months as we have been dealing with health difficulties with my father, known here as Paco. He had a couple of falls in June, resulting in some cracked bones, which have been healing well while he has been in a rehab program. Unfortunately, he also suffers from dementia, which has worsened, and from a number of other health conditions, which are not unexpected in a 96-year-old but which have necessitated remaining in a nursing home rather than being able to move back to the assisted living floor where he lived previously.

It has taken a lot of time with in-person visiting and inordinate amounts of time dealing with paperwork and red tape. My sisters have been coming into town to help, but I am still not finding time to write as much as I would like.

On Monday, I’m happy to report that the UK contingent of our family – our daughter E, her spouse L, and their two children 4-year-old ABC and just turned 1-year-old JG – arrived from London for a two week visit. It is our first opportunity to meet JG in person. She is adjusting to our actually being flesh-and-blood people rather than images on a screen. It’s amazing that she is able to deal with being a different place with different people after being in lockdown so much of her life, especially when you consider it took two large airports, a plane, and the longest car ride of her life to get here. Also, five hours worth of jetlag. It’s also amazing how much ABC remembers from when she lived with us, given that this is her first time back here since she moved to the UK in October 2019.

Because of the delta variant’s prevalence, we haven’t ventured much from the house over these last days and probably won’t be taking the children to many indoor spaces, given that they are too young to have been vaccinated. We do plan a visit to Paco later this week. When the weather is better, we will also be able to go to the parks and take rides on the carousels for which Broome County is known.

My younger sister is here visiting and helping with Paco and my older sister and her spouse will arrive next week for a few days. My plan is to carve out a bit of time for some posts which will update topics about which I frequently post; I’m hoping to be brief, which is always a challenge for me!

Let’s see if I manage to follow through with this plan…

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