Six years ago, come December, I lost the very first person who ever loved me. She busted my butt when I really needed it; baked the best peanut butter cookies; made me curl my hair on sponge rollers every. single. night.; fixed 3 square meals every day; kept a clean house for her family; gave me a great little sister to argue with; worked short hours at the school cafeteria so she could still be home when her kids were home; always kissed me good night; was fun loving and great entertainment; married a hard-working man who provided for his family; put up with my sass; was my Girl Scout Leader; gave me untold opportunities to know, love and respect her own awesome parents: and was the best friend I EVER had. I miss her voice. I miss her hugs. I miss her love. I miss her teasing. I miss her smile. But I'm truly humbled by how my own emotional pain is nothing new in the world we shared together. I know Mama missed her own mother. Grandma missed her own mother, and so on. Back, and back. It's how the world turns. From one generation to the next, it's simply the way of it. Someday, I hope to feel better about this reality of mortality. I don't see it being anytime soon but am still hopeful. For now, I continue to miss my beloved Mama. Heaven is her eternal home and I'll join her there, one great morning. ~God Bless
Ding-Dong! “Stand clear of the closing doors, please” blasted the announcer's voice across the station. Jonah had heard this everyday since he could remember. “3 stops till Kingston” he thought, carrying a backpack full of books that he dreaded carrying for hours on the commute to and back from school. Jonah kicked his feet back and forth, his feet grazing the ground just slightly. He stared at the creases on his shoes who's brand he couldn't recall. They were some off brands anyways, no reason to remember which ones. The subway screeched to a halt, the faces outside the car that were once blurred stare back at Jonah. People start to push and shove the minute the doors open. Running up the stairs to leave the station, a mirage of conversations, mumblings and people talking flood Jonah's senses. He can't really make out what they're saying, he doesn't really try. “Jonah! How was school?” Jonah's finally made it to his destination. A small deli run by an older Korean man and his daughter. The sign outside reads “Ray's Delicatessen” but most people here call it “Ray's”, “Mr. Park's”, “the Park/Park” or “the Deli”. For Jonah, he calls it “home”. “Fine Mr. Park! Same as always!” replied Jonah Mr. Park shook his head and chuckled as he continued to tend to other customers, “As long as you're not getting into trouble” It's become a routine, Mr. Park asks how he is and Jonah replies with fine no matter what. Jonah tries to not stress him out, he always hears Hannah, Mr. Park's daughter, complain about her forehead wrinkles, crows feet and smile lines. Jonah doesn't see a problem but still tries to avoid making them worse Jonah slips behind the checkout counter, he sits on the blue crate right under the cash register and starts his homework on his knees like usual. History, English, then Science and Math, hardest to easiest. Jonah loves closing up shop and definitely not just because he gets to eat some of the unsold bagels and sausages. “Ai *tsk* Jonah, you know you mustn't sit here” exclames Mr. Park. Jonah doesn't move, Mr. Park doesn't really care. Time passes, business has been slow these days but it only means more time for Mr. Park and Jonah to talk. The deli was not just a place to get a quick eat for Jonah after school, it was his place of refuge, one of love and community. He had somewhere to be and all Mr. Park asked for in return were English lessons and to use some of Jonah's beginner-level novels to practice his reading skills. Jonah knew Mr. Park stopped needing those lessons a long time ago and for those textbooks, Mr. Park still reads them. Even though he completed all of them, cover to cover, hundreds of times, it still gives those literary works a second life. And Jonah would never mind when Mr. Park read them outloud to him either, even when he pretended to hate it. Bed-time stories were for ‘babies' and not 8 and a half year-olds. Still, “Maybe these books aren't so bad” thought Jonah. For without them, their friendship would be lost in translation.
A good friend of mine has a very warped and funny sense of humor. One of his favorite comments is: “Opinions are like a@@holes. Everyone has one.” Every time he says this, while I do agree with him, I also laugh with him. Keeping that in mind, here is one of my opinions. While many will agree with me, I also realize there will be just many who won't. As my friend says, you're entitled to yours. I don't often read magazines; I just don't take the time. I do, however, read books to relax, write stories, and dabble around with photography. Truthfully, I only read two magazines. One of them I do enjoy is The Week; I like this magazine because it contains a bit of news from every state, there is a science section, important national news and so much more. It is just about the most interesting magazines on the market. I probably should have written this article years ago, but at the time, I was angry and put the magazine away, as I kept thinking, “How dare he?” Then through the years, I'd forgotten about it. Now, looking back to that issue of March 27, 2015, one of their columns was about clothes designing company called Dolce & Gabbana. It was that article that angered me beyond words. One of the owners, Domenico Dolce was quoted during an interview as saying, “We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one.” He went on to describe children born through IVF as “children of chemistry, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalogue.” Apparently, Mr. Dolce does not believe in adoption or in in-vitro fertilization. Actually, according to his statement, he doesn't even believe in gay marriages. It's a shame when you think about it. There are so many wonderful, intelligent, gay people who have made their mark on the world and became pillars of society. I have met and made friends with many people who are gay but rather than go into all of them, I prefer to tell you the response to Mr. Dolce's comment made by Elton John. Elton John has two children with his husband, David Furnish. Each child had a surrogate mother who conceived them by in-vitro fertilization. Mr. John's response was: “How dare you refer to my beautiful children as pathetic. Your archaic thinking an out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce & Gabbana ever again.” Ironically these Italian designers who happened to make this atrocious comment are gay, but they consider themselves traditional believing that while they should and can live together, they should not marry nor have children. That's something I just don't understand. If you have a partner with whom you are in love, why shouldn't you get married? Why shouldn't you have children, whether it's by in-vitro or adoption. And let's for a moment jump off the Rainbow train. Whether gay or not, what happens to couples (men and women) who desperately want a child to increase their family but for whatever reason, can't conceive? You mean to say they shouldn't be allowed alternative methods of having children? Since that article, Mr. Dolce has apologized to the gay community. Yet, I can't help but wonder why? Did he apologize out of sincerity? Or did he apologize because his sales were in decline? Hmm. Makes you wonder. Sorry, even if I could afford the items Dolce & Gabbana sell, I surely would never purchase any of them. I'll stick to Walmart and Target!
Busy, busy place our little fibro home. Teenage children crowding: two minute noodles, friends, music: loud! And me, the middle-aged dad, knowing less about life than ever. This learning curve about me is steep and getting steeper. ‘How are the children?' my on-the-phone wife asks the voice at the other end. Wonder who she's talking to? ‘Where will they stay?' she asks. Ah! This is about old mate who's on the way out with cancer. His wife and kids need help. Something clicks! inside me. ‘They'll stay with us,' I almost yell. ‘All with us, the mother, all of them—forever!' Where did that come from? I nearly lost it right there. The day wears on. They're coming to stay. Great. Back at my screen in a dusty, cobwebbed office, something's not right. The heart's pounding, booming out of the chest like in a rugby game. This is no ordinary palpitation. Had those for years. This is like running hard: thumping, thumping, thumping but not out of breath. Walking in the yard should fix it. Nope! Still going hammer and tongs. Lying down, pressing on the eyeballs—the Vagus nerve trick—which works on palpitations. But no dice. Finally, it goes away of its own accord. Days pass and it's all good. The children come to stay. Meanwhile, we're sorting the logic of the click! and the pounding. It has to be something to do with when Mum got sick. She and Dad went away and me and the brothers went to a hostel. I was six. It's an emotional trigger event. That's all this is. Back at work. Talking to young adults about life and faith. Taking a lost boy for a long walk at night. He needs to let some anger out. Meanwhile, under my own skin: ships sinking, spaces filling with a hurrying, flooding ocean. What the hell? It's a new day. I'm caught out. Can't stop it. Here it comes: a gigantic black crate seeming to drop out of the sky. A caged monster crashing around, flames shooting out the cracks. And me the little boy, terrified. I'm supposed to flip the latch, to let it out. It goes away like a truck passing on a highway. Maybe it's medication and lock-up time. ‘It's imagination,' I say. 'You've been helping one too many traumatised kids.' But I know imagination. This is not imagination. It's real. And there's my wife and lover praying with and for me—and both of us hoping for a way ahead, that this won't be some dead end street. Not now, we have enough on our plate. Days drag on. ‘This is embarrassing bullshit,' I murmur. ‘I'll fix it myself.' ‘Whatever you do,' a friend says, ‘don't try to fix it yourself.' ‘So,' my prayer to God voice says, ‘What do I do now?' Maybe there's someone out there who could help, the idea returns to me. I laugh, thinking of all the disappointed people I know: stories of quacks and healers. Maybe you're not ready yet. Don't lose your nerve. ‘God did not give us a spirit of fear,' I say, quoting an old verse, ‘but a Spirit of power, of love and a sound mind.'* So, here we are, walking the dog down to a rippling brown river and wondering. Is there such a thing as a prayer or a question that's before its time? Or things that need to be allowed to have their day? We stop. Under a cold grey sky. The dog looks at me. What the? Did I just hear a murmur of dissent from my false-self? That middle aged—well educated—voice: offended at the suggestion that there's something on offer that I'm missing out on: terrified of the chaos this might unleash, or, if truth be told, the freedom. We reach the river, water rippling over stones and the fresh, sweet smell of a sandbar. On the haunches now, head bowed. The dog licks my hand. Before we try to sail this ship on the next Big Life Journey, perhaps we need to allow things in the harbour to float out to sea: half-formed dreams, faces running with tears, premonitions and prayers. Grievings of the Holy Spirit, longing to have a voice in the space, time and matter that is me? We make it back to the house. The un-pulling is heavier. Remember, don't lose your nerve. Trust. Pray. So tired. Have to sleep. Everyone's out, thank goodness. Here comes the lying on the floor part, paralysed. And a flashback dialogue with a fourteen year old girl, of which I'm speaking both sides—seeming to gather information about the six year old me in a trauma hell-hostel. Like a video replay. ‘Father in Heaven,' I pray. ‘What do I do now?' Relax. Lie here, wait and let it play. You're not crazy. This is real. ‘Trust in me,' the words seem to be spoken directly to me. Days and weeks pass with more monster in the cage moments, flashbacks: waiting, thinking and praying. I talk with a friend about the monster in the cage. ‘I remember that,' she says. ‘I was sitting on a huge box: all these tentacles coming out.' Oh. She's one of the sanest people I know. Maybe there is hope. ‘I had to choose to open the lid,' she says. I knew she would say that. ‘So,' she continues, ‘You're ready to open it are you?' ‘Yes.' * 2 Timothy 1:7
On July 4th, who wouldn't be excited to celebrate festivities honoring our land of the free? A tumultuous day in Emerald Isle, North Carolina changed all that, ingraining a painful memory that cannot be erased, but is vital when one asks about an event that made you “stronger”. In other words, this day defined me in more ways than one, as well as opened my eyes to those around me and see that not all help is in the forms we think it to be. The sweltering heat made my mouth dry and my throat itch, but we continued to trek along the narrow, sandy pathway between the dunes to the beach. I would much rather be at the beach house with my mother, we would have been perfectly content sitting by the pool at the house, maybe reading and drinking a cool glass of lemonade. Wisps of loose hair from my ponytail began whipping my face in the seemingly increasing strength of the winds. Aunt Suzanne commented on how this weather is likely due to the approaching tropical storm expected in a few days. The waves, almost as if agreeing with her, concocted an exceptionally large wave that came crashing down on my cousins who attempted to ride it into the shore on their boogie boards. After attempting a short nap by covering my head in my towel, and getting mediocre results, I decided to ride some of the waves with a boogie board. I was the only cousin who hasn't gone out yet, and they have all just returned to eat and rest from the rough current that had depleted their energy. I went out by myself, but not too far, always staying in sight of the beach should the waves pick up their attack. The sun was beginning its descent beyond the horizon, showering small shadows every which way as the orange and red hues gave off a cozy light. I follow my cousins out as far as I could, but in comparison to the rest of them, I'm rather small. I went as far as my legs could go without lifting my feet from the bottom unless I had to leap over a wave. I saw a large wave coming, looking larger than the rest and decided maybe it was time to call it quits for the day. In my attempt to flee, I rode a wave in but failed. The wave and current took me down farther along the stretch of beach. I resurfaced, but then realized that more waves were coming…and I can't touch the ground. I kept pushing forward to the beach, but panic slowly started to seep in. Almost as if a switch had been turned on, the waves kept coming, but at a more powerful impact and the current was rougher than before, pulling me back into the depths of the ocean with newfound vigor. I called out for help, but everyone at our little beach camp was turned away in a deep conversation, as well as being too far away for my pleas to be heard. The beach I was on was practically deserted with no beachgoers, and no lifeguards either making it all the more dangerous. I still have the boogie board attached to my wrist and am desperately struggling against the treacherous current trying to make my way back to shore. My feet dig into the too-soft sand beneath me, to get some form of footing. After another wave crashes over me as soon as my head resurfaces, I realize the only way I'll get out of this is if I fight my way out of the current and back to the beach. The pain and fear inside me reside and are replaced by the distinct survival instinct in which everything else around me is tuned out until I am safely in knee-deep water. I don't stop though, because in my mind I could still be swept away if I give up at this moment, and so I carry on until I collapse at the edge of the water, visibly out of breath. When I come back breathing heavily, I explain as best as I can what happened. Much to my dismay, a shocking majority of my cousins and aunts move on quite quickly from the event. Maybe I expected them to be a bit more sympathetic, considering they almost lost me. I start crying after the whole event finally settles in my head, which in turn makes my mother get teary as well. She tells me that they only had their heads turned for a second, but so much happened in that time frame. We start on our way home and I turn around for one last look at the ocean for the day, seagulls soaring over the ocean waves as they crash against each other, creating a calm lullaby leading one to believe the waves aren't as dangerous as they seem. Who would have thought that the day we as a nation proclaimed our freedom, it could be taken away from me so suddenly? I learned the lesson that to find your inner strength, there are times when you can rely on those around you, but eventually, you will need to fight for yourself and that at times only you can be the one to save yourself. Sometimes I think that God may have had a part in my survival, halting the waves and current just for a moment to allow myself to flee. There isn't evidence or any way I can prove it, but that evening, my mind couldn't help but wonder if He did help me out, and if He did, I am forever grateful to God.
Gardening was something that I never really had an interest in. I would rather be reading or watching a movie or avoiding anything that would make me get dirty. It just wasn't my thing at the time. Now that I'm older, I'm starting to appreciate the things I never appreciated as a kid. Gardening is one of them. I didn't know much about gardening when I started, other than what my parents had told me. They were the gardeners of the family. They would always be planting flowers and grass and whatever else they could grow. So, our yard was always beautiful. I had been reading up about people who had grown their food and I have to admit, reading those stories sparked my quest in starting my garden. At the beginning of last year, with my father's help, I decided to grow some of my favorite fruits and vegetables. I had strawberries, cucumbers, and tomatoes. I was beyond excited. I had never done anything like this before. It started well. I was watering them, feeding them. I was doing everything I could to help them grow. Unfortunately, my gardening attempt wasn't exactly a successful one. Aside from bad weather and other issues, some of the plants did not make it but in that time, I had suffered probably the most devastating loss of all. My father had passed away. He was the one that helped me bring my garden to life. He helped me prepare the soil, dig the holes and mix the plant food. He and I were always close, and gardening was just another hobby we enjoyed together even if we only got to do it for a few weeks. I tried my best to tend to the garden -- what was left of it. Some of them managed to linger on into the Summer, but eventually, there was nothing left. But I wasn't going to give up so easily. Despite everything that happened, I was determined to continue with my newfound hobby. Even if my gardening buddy wasn't with me anymore. I am happy to say that I've had better success this year than I had last year. My mom even gave me some flower seeds to add some color. And they certainly did. The strawberries grew this time. I even managed to eat a handful of them. The tomatoes have been excellent. Let me tell you about tomatoes. Never underrestmite them. I did and they are completely out of control. They're still good though, and most importantly they are still producing the goods. That's all that matters. One of the most surprising things I'm currently growing is zucchini. I didn't even know I was growing one. At first, I thought it was a pumpkin because I had thrown pumpkin seeds in the flower bed. They never grew, but I thought this was them. One morning, I'm looking at the mysterious plant and discover it's not a pumpkin but a zucchini! I don't know much about zucchinis, but I gladly welcome them to my garden. I wish my dad was here to see it. To see how well everything has grown. I know he would be proud. I know I am. And I hope someday, maybe, I can do this with my kid. Gardening has become one of my favorite things and I find it to be quite thrilling. To me, it's one of the best feelings in the world, and you can't beat that.
My little sister was given up for adoption when she was born in 1992. She is my mother's eighth and last child. To think I have been trying all that I can for the past 15 years or so to find an unknown person is sometimes so crazy to me. She could totally hate me, but I am going for it. Through the whole process, I just wanted to know that she was okay. I wanted to know that she had a good life and a good family. I always focused my search on finding her parents, because it was never my place to tell her she was adopted. I never wanted to hurt anyone. For many years, I felt like a failure. All this technology at my fingertips, and I still couldn't find her. I even applied to be on a TV show. I was in contact with the show for a little while but ultimately, they couldn't find her. “Where did I go wrong?” I thought. It wasn't until 2017 that I realized all that I had learned from trying to find her. Starting this journey opened a whole new world for me. My love of genealogy. I am sure it was always there, but it was flourished because of her. I have used all this knowledge to help so many people over the years. Some with great success and some with no solution at all. I decided to start my little side quest and Genealogy Girl was born! Since then, I have been able to help even more with their genealogy, finding family members, hunting graves, and returning photos/documents from estate sales/vintage stores to the original families/blood lines. It has been an amazing experience so far! For me, she is more than my blood sister. She became my inspiration for the amazing things that I do now to help others. I decided to buy a DNA kit from Ancestry.com. It took about eight weeks to get the results in which felt like forever. When I finally got the email that my results were in, I shrieked in excitement! I had about 3,000 matches. I just knew that one of those had to be my sister. I was so disappointed when there were no sibling matches. I was devastated. I just knew that I would never find her. I didn't even go through my matches for weeks. When I finally did, I found so many new connections. I was able to build my family tree so much more. I had contemplated buying more DNA kit from other sites, but it just didn't feel right. I slowed down on looking for her. I felt like that was a sign for me to take a break because it would happen when it happened. My half-brother decided to research his DNA and medical traits using a DNA kit from 23andMe.com in 2019. He and I have the same mother so I figured his DNA would pick up on any sibling matches. Unfortunately, there were matches for siblings. Since he and I are not full blood siblings, I explained that sometimes sibling matches can come up as a first cousin. It comes down to how the DNA matches according to the centimorgans in the DNA. Honestly, it is super scientific and I'm more artsy. So basically, I needed him to keep an eye out for sibling and first cousin. Fast forward to January 1, 2022, I still had not found my sister. I had the day off from work for the holiday, so I was being lazy lounging in bed. It was about 6:15p.m. when I got a message from my cousin on my mother's side about a DNA match from her account on 23andMe.com. She messaged me that someone was trying to find their birth mother and she figured that I could help. When I read the words “She was born in 1992 in Florida.” I lost my breath for a moment. I immediately began to cry. I couldn't find my breath or my voice. I texted my husband who was in the other room and he came into the bedroom and said, “Are you serious?” We were both in shock. Fifteen years or so of researching, joining groups on social media, registered with multiple adoption reunion groups, interviewed for a TV show, DNA testing and I still couldn't find her. She found me. Our first texts to each other were very guarded. I didn't know what she knew or didn't know, and I wasn't sure how much of my information was 100% accurate. Within a few hours, we were sharing pictures and a list of our favorites. We met at an airport in Pensacola, FL where she picked me and my daughter up for a trip to the beach. Meeting her and her family has been so rewarding. I cannot believe how similar we are in the most unusual ways. About six months later, we are so close. We talk multiple times a week and cannot wait to share things with each other. We are not afraid to have the hard conversations, but we are always transparent. Over the years I have read so many articles and blogs about the emotional toll that finding an adopted sibling can take on a person's mental health. There are so many things that can happen or go wrong. I was prepared for anything. I was prepared to hear the words, “I don't want anything to do with you." I was also prepared to cry if I heard those answers. It has been an emotional roller coaster for sure, but I have been waiting to get on this ride for a long time.
Thomas Brennan's family grew and as teens became young adults, they accepted many jobs to help support the family. Yet, Thomas gave his sons one requirement, “Serve your country.” James served in the Civil War, Harold, WWI. There were many other sons in the Brennan Family who served but this is about Harold, my father-in-law. As I said previously, Harold served in World War 1 as a Private in the 308th Infantry. Yes, like his siblings and relatives before him, enlisted. He was proud to serve. His nightmare was about to begin. He and his battalion fought bravely following the orders given to their leader, Major Charles Whittlesey. They carried two forms of communication: radio and pigeons. They were headed to the Argonne Forest to push the German army back and regain control for France. They were flanked by the French soldiers on one side and the English on the other – or so they thought. The Argonne battle ensued on October 2, 1918. The Germans thought the Americans would never fight for something that didn't belong to them and pushed on. They fought hard; our American troops fought harder. The Germans sent their best snipers. They weren't good enough. Then they were gassed. While hundreds of American troops died, others forged on. The Germans sent in their “storm troopers” with flame throwers to either discourage or kill the American soldiers. The Americans persisted. The American troops suffered horrific confrontation with the enemy. They were also hungry, thirsty, and were running out of ammunition. They radioed their command post but received no answer. They tried again. Same result. A scout went send out only to find the radioman KIA, the lines cut, and the radio box destroyed. They soon realized – they were alone – alone in a foreign land with the enemy surrounding them. They had one hope left. Cher Ami! A baby pigeon with truly little experience in “home travel,” but they had to try. After attaching a brief message to her leg, they kissed her beak and let her fly. They watched as the bullets from the German rifles soared in the air strategically aiming at the little bird. Finally, they lost sight of her. Some of the solders prayed while other began to lose hope. Major Whittlesey took a headcount. About 194 soldiers were still standing. The others were either killed, captured, or missing. He took inventory of the remaining weapons. Approximately fourteen rifles were in working order, but they only had about six bullets left. As Major Whittlesey was about the sit down with his men and report his findings, he realized everything was quiet. Too quiet. Suddenly, the major heard what sounded like vehicles. Vehicles? The Germans wouldn't approach with trucks and or tanks, would they? Then he heard his name. “Major! Major Whittlesey!” The voice was American. Then Major stood and saw his commanding officer, General Alexander heading towards them with other men, jeeps, and a transport truck. The battle for the forest was over. The Germans, underestimating the Americans, retreated. Harold married his fiancé in 1819 and soon welcomed their first child, Harold Jr. Not long after, his health began to wane. He coughed, wheezed, and often struggled for breath. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He was sent to a facility for six months to treat him. Home again, he was ordered not to dine or interact with his wife and son. Close contact was forbidden for another six months. Once the doctors felt he was regaining his health, his normal activities resume but so did the nightmares. For six days, he had no idea if he would live or die in the heavily vegetated forest in France. He sat, slept, ate, and breathed in the damp cold atmosphere with dead bodies strewn around him. And yet, he still insisted that his sons serve the country that he loved. While I never met Harold, he passed away due to a massive heart attack before I met my husband, I will always admire the bravery he and his fellow soldiers demonstrated in France. Truly, they are all heroes.
Through the years, my sons teased me about my good posture and how, while they were growing, I wouldn't tolerate slouching. “Mom's fault,” I'd say with a smile. Although no genius, as my sons often point out, they are also just as quick to comment on how much I do know. They call me a walking encyclopedia of nonsensical trivia. Once again, I shrug and say, Mom's fault.” While my mom was never what was considered a strict disciplinarian, when it came to schoolwork, she was tough. I remember as soon as I could talk, she'd drill me every me every Saturday morning. Using two pages at a time of the dictionary, she would read each word, emphasizing on its pronunciation, encouraging me to try and spell it correctly. Back then, luckily, the dictionaries were small. Mom kept track of the words I misspelled in order for me to study them for the following Saturday. By the time I reached Kindergarten, I found it easy to read whole sentences. Soon, my “home education” expanded adding Math to my list of things to learn. After my spelling and reading lessons, Mom gave me wo sheets of paper with arithmetic problems to solve. Mom never confined her idea of teaching to just schoolwork. She believed in a healthy mind and healthy body. While I'd be pouring over homework, if Mom saw me slouching, she'd quietly walk behind me and gently t ouch my back. With one finger. Without one word spoken, I would immediately straighten to a more proper position. For about five minutes a day, three times each week, I would have to stand with my back against the wall. “Touch your heels to the wall. Now, your butt! Head up and back; shoulders back! Stomach in!” I know, I know. She sounded like a drill sergeant, but it kept my posture intact and my spine straight. Most of my friends learned to cook while their moms stood at their sides verbally instructing their every move. Mom's method differed completely. Handing me a recipe, she'd back away. Her reason was simple. Anyone can mimic; anyone can follow step-by-step instructions as each is given. It's more important to read and comprehend. As she often said, “Following a receipt teaches you to learn to follow any instructions.” However, she remained in the kitchen with me – just in case. Mom believed in teaching by example, not by using a bunch of words. Too often, my friends heard their moms say. “Do as I say, not as I do.” Never once did I hear that phrase from my mom. I also never heard the more familiar, “Because I said so.” Mom would often take me for long walks in the park, weather permitting. At times, we'd go for a train ride to the local zoo or museum. Once a month from June to September, mom and dad would pack a lunch and we would head to the nearby lake for a picnic. In addition to schoolwork, mom taught me to appreciate the beauty of a flower, the wonder of a rainbow, and the compassion needed for those less fortunate (like the WWII Veteran who sat legless on the street corner begging for a few cents to help him get by. Even tough money was tight, we never passed him by without Mom dropping a few cents in his little tin cup. She also taught me that although life is not perfect, we must strive for that goal and not be disappointed if we fail. Mom taught me the appreciation of demanding work. “After all,” she said, “the harder you work the more you appreciate the end result. If things came too easily, we would take those things for granted.” Yes, mom taught me many things: reading, spelling, love, and life. Now, here I am in my seventies. Mom passed away a number of years ago but even at my age, I am in good health. I still sit properly, and my back is straight. While I never went to college (as I said money was tight), my knowledge and education about what matters is exemplary. I am not afraid to tackle new projects and while I strive to succeed, I don't sulk if I fail. I just change my attitude and try again. My sons now, are grown with families of their own and emulate Mom's parenting as much as possible. I insisted on rearing my children the way Mom reared me, with compassion, understanding right from wrong, a thirst of knowledge, and fun in doing everything. I have been a good mother and teacher to my sons (they told me to say that), and I can see what wonderful husbands and fathers they are in every way (their wives tole me to say that!). Mom would be so proud of them. The reason for our successes in maintaining such happy homes, I feel is simple. It's Mom's Fault.
As the pandemic's shroud fell over the U.S. in mid-March 2020, my wife just fortuitously enough happened to have started a new exercise program online – something called “Peloton”. With the “stay at home” orders and much more coming into effect, and a lot of our work/school immediately going virtual, working out at home all of a sudden became a real family activity. The pandemic accelerated our entire family participating in these Peloton online workouts, with all of us regularly doing yoga – driving a significant interest in health & wellness from our 11 year old boy/girl twins. We exercised so frequently that my children started clamoring to purchase the Peloton Bike – with its rather massive cost, my wife suggested that the children put together a Powerpoint presentation/business case, outlining the ROI of purchasing such an item. Unbeknownst to them, we had already purchased one – but their presentation sealed the deal! The skill of performing online research, putting together slides and (most terrifyingly for my daughter) having to present to her father made for a great experience for all. Much of our kids' research was conducted on laptops that they had to purchase as virtual schooling started. In the early days of the pandemic, I decided that the family would need a non-stop stream of entertainment, and moreover found that there was a treasure trove of items online, so quickly became my family's “Arts & Culture” Department. I scoured the Net for activities that the family could partake in, while exposing them to the performing arts. We started with a screening of the original Broadway musical “CATS” (Andrew Lloyd Webber version) which my kids weren't too fond of. I then found a performance of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, as my kids had never seen/heard a classical music concert before. Our daughter is fond of singing, so we enrolled her in a virtual Met Opera camp - and wound up watching 1 or 2 Met Opera performances. In-general, I did anything to expose the kids to various forms of the arts, while also being somewhat entertaining and rather different from the usual “NetFlix/movie night” that many fell into. This worked for quite some time – though not without consternation from my kids, who began to tire of the random series of events I'd have planned for us to experience (all of which I would then donate to online – as these artists would be posting their work online gratis since all live performances were cancelled). My wife played along to my whole shtick and served as a cheerleader. We also realized that technology had changed the paradigm for summer camps– we had no need to only look at Dallas-based camps for our kids, my wife told me. And that's all she needed to say. Beyond the Met Opera camp (which was based out of NYC), our son participated in a basketball camp with the NBA's Orlando Magic, having assistant coaches in Florida berate him over Zoom as he did pushups in our driveway at 6am! My daughter learned all types of arts & crafts from curio store vendors in San Francisco. My niece started a virtual cooking class from her home in New Jersey that our kids participated in. The highlight for me personally was when my wife & I joined a group of folks on Facebook Live to follow a Parisian baker – on Bastille Day – as she (and we) made corn brioche. As all this was occurring, I remained locked-down in our closet – literally! My days of travelling around the U.S. for work had stopped, and our master bath closet was the only place I could work where I wouldn't disrupt my virtual schooling kids, or my physician wife (who was now big into telemed in the home office). I realized the power of the Internet when I posted a picture on LinkedIn of working from my closet (using our ironing table as a desk and my sock drawer as my laptop area) which elicited over 10,000 views. Plato famously stated that “Necessity is the mother of invention” – and since we had to stay indoors, we worked to dramatically reinvent ourselves – with technology. From virtual exercising to arts & culture to global experiences to working from the closet – the pandemic for us has led to a greater familial happiness and togetherness that we didn't have pre-COVID. To underline this, our daughter told us her birthday (in Apr 2020) was the “best birthday ever”. How did we accomplish this, you ask, in the midst of a global pandemic and pre-vaccine availability? With technology! Sure, my wife & I had decorated the house – but we also coordinated 3 Zoom meetings with family, that totaled nearly 200 attendees from 5 countries. She also spent her birthday on rotating FaceTime/Houseparty calls with a series of friends, getting 1:1 time with each. So much has been written about the negative impacts of technology (especially over the past 12-18 months) – but as you can see from our family's experiences, there are a myriad of ways that technology can bring happiness, even in such an uncertain time.
When my son reached his 17th birthday, he was diagnosed with ulcerated colitis. By the time he was 19, he was rushed to the hospital with severe anemia. His colitis began to cause bleeding ulcers. His hemoglobin count was down to five when it should have been 13. Two pints of blood later and a seven day stay in the hospital, l he was released with a hemoglobin count of 11. At the beginning of 2011, the colitis took control, and the decision was made. My son would have a colostomy. He wasn't happy. After all, he was only 45 years old. A colostomy bag was the last thing he wanted. Yet, on June 1st of that year, that's what happened. He had a full ileostomy. However, that wasn't the end of the problems - only the beginning. For the next three years he was in and out of the hospital with one procedure, or surgery, or infection after another. Finally, his health began to stabilize, and he seemed to be getting better but still hated that colostomy bag. In December of 2011, my mom had an accident which forced her to reassess her living conditions. She realized that she could no longer live alone, and in January of 2012, she packed her things and moved in with me. After we cleared out her house, we put it on the market. Mom was recovering nicely from her accident but still needed the use of a walker to get around. My son's house is about 3 hours away from mine which enabled us to visit often It didn't matter that I am his mother and my mother his grandmother. He was mortified every time the colostomy bag began to fill. He would leave the room and hide in his bedroom until the sound and odor dissipated - which often was about 30 minutes While we were busy socializing with his wife and children, we were unaware of the colostomy bag. Unfortunately, he was, and it made him extremely uncomfortable. Early in 2013 a friend began doing research on colostomy bags and found a doctor who specialized in a different kind of procedure. it's called the Barnett Continent Intestinal Reservoir Koch Pouch – or B.C.I.R. At that time there was only one doctor in Florida who could do this surgery. My son made the appointment, and it was determined that surgery would be scheduled for August of 2013. The procedure is a reconstruction of the small intestine using about two feet at the end to create a small internal pouch. The stoma is no wider than a #2 pencil which enables the pouch to get emptied a few times a day using a catheter. No noise, no smell, no mess! My son was thrilled. His stay in the hospital was about seven days but he insisted during that time we bring his grandmother for a visit. “Mom, I want grandma to see that I'm OK. After all I've been through and all her prayers, she deserved to spend some time with me, and I really want to see her.” I loaded mom's walker in the car and help her climb in the front seat. The hospital was only two hours from my house, and mom and I passed that time easily since she had many questions about his surgery. Once in the hospital, we pulled a chair closer to his bed and while holding his hand, grandmother and grandson spent the next hour gloriously talking about health and family. The nurse came in a few minutes later and reminded my son he needed to get out of bed and walk. Lying in bed wasn't good for anyone so I encouraged him to follow the nurse's orders. He was still hooked up to an IV, the urinal bag, and a heart monitor. Anytime he left the bed, the pole with all the bags went with him. Looking at the pole my son spoke up. “Hey Grandma, since I have to walk for exercise why don't you come with me? I have my pole; you have your walker. we could race up and down the hallway.” My mom laughed. “I don't know about racing, but I'll take a walk with you.” For the next 15 minutes grandma and grandson walked the halls of the hospital, chatting and enjoying each other's company. Once back in his room, he lay in bed, my mom sat in the chair, and they talked and laughed about how they must have looked with him pushing his pole and mom pushing her walker. Our visit lasted another 30 minutes and my son looked as though he was about to fall asleep. I suggested we leave since mom also looked tired and I had to make sure she had the strength to withstand the ride down the elevator and the walk to the car. We still had a two-hour drive home. We left the hospital and walked slowly, stopping periodically for mom to regain her strength and her breath. After all, mom was 92 years old, and her stamina wasn't what it used to be. As soon as we got in the car, she perked up and said, “Can we stop at McDonald's? I'd love a cheeseburger!” That's mom! My son was released a few days later and the first thing mom wanted to do is visit him at his home. Mom may be gone now, and my son is healed, but I'll never forget that day in the hospital when grandson and grandmother had their Walker Derby. It definitely was a sight to behold and one I'll cherish forever.
The sun was high up in the sky, shining with all its warm glory. I was sitting with my legs crossed on the floor of my room right under the air conditioner, reading. This amount of heat was not a unique sight during the month of June in Delhi. An ideal summer. What else would a just-turned teenager be doing in her summer break? Here I was, enjoying the last of my summer vacation, unaware that my life was about to be changed, entirely. Before long, the sun had started moving to the west and I decided that this was a good time to go cycling with my sister. My sister is younger than me by four years but we are each other's best friends. While I do have some really close friends from school, none have been with me as long as her. After about three quarters of an hour cycling around the neighborhood, I tediously dragged her back to the house. Usually we would have stayed out longer, but not today. Today papa would be returning early and I had to make some serious plans with him. Of course, I couldn't tell this to my sister because then it wouldn't remain a surprise when it was actually her birthday. As anticipated, our dad came back early. It seemed that he was just as excited as me which was a little rude since it showed that he liked my younger sister better. But I let it slide this time. He took off his shoes and was getting freshened up; with me waiting outside his door as a person who really wanted to use the washroom would. As soon as he was done changing, I took him to his room and began flooding him with ideas for what we could do on my sister's birthday. Only he (politely) shut me down immediately. Huh! Had he already made the plans without even including me? I thought. In a still excited tone he said “Calm down, we'll talk about this later. I need to tell you guys something. Let's go out in the living room.” He had to tell us something? But what? Curiously, I followed him. My mom was busy preparing the dinner and my sister staring at the television. My dad went ahead and retrieved some papers from his office bag. He went into the kitchen with me still following him at his tail. He asked my mom to join us outside to which she replied “I am not done with the dinner yet. Can this wait?” Apparently, it couldn't. So, there we were, the entire family sitting in the living room. My dad handed over the papers to my mom and she read. Now me and my sister were both baffled. We tried peeking over our mother's shoulder but before we could get a good look, my mom let out a loud gasp. What was happening? Our parents rejoiced while we just stared at them. After about a minute of this, our dad told us. “I have an interview at our bank's headquarters in Kolkata. They believe that I have been performing really well and now that I have cleared promotional exams, they really suggest I should give the interview.” Okay, so they were just excited about his promotion. I was expecting something more eventful but this could work too. My dad continued “and if I get selected after the interview phase, we could potentially be transferred to Hong Kong.” Okay, what!? Now it was me and my sister's turn to freak out. We could live in Hong Kong? We who had never even set foot outside of our country? This was surreal. I didn't even know that papa's bank had branches in places besides India. My sister and I hugged our dad so hard that we almost knocked him over. The rest of the day (which was only a couple of hours) was spent as we would on a festival. Soon enough, it was time for our dad's interview. We think he had prepared really well for it but wished him lots of luck nevertheless. He returned after two days and informed us that he thought he did well too. We had gotten our hopes up really high and it was not futile. He received the letter days later informing him that he had been selected to work at the Hong Kong branch for his bank and that we had to leave in a month. I don't think I had ever been so sad and excited all at the same time. On one hand, I was getting the opportunity of living outside of India and gaining so many new experiences. On the other hand, however, I had to leave behind so much and so quickly that it made my heart ache. Although I would have my family when moving to a completely new place, I would be leaving behind my two best friends from school (quite possibly the best people I have ever met so far). Throughout my childhood, I had moved from city to city and had to build my whole social life from scratch every time that happened. The thought of going through that one more time overpowered the dopamine rush from hearing such good news. I went through some serious brooding and heartfelt goodbyes after a crazy last month but it wasn't all bad. I constantly reminded myself that I could keep in touch with friends here and make new friends in Hong Kong and that everything will be fine. Turns it out, it was true. To gain something means to lose something else. It just depends on how you look at it.
I love my husband's family. When my husband and I first started dating, his family treated me as though I were already one of them. My husband became a widower the year before and I'd been single for much longer than that. Second marriages aren't always easy but when you have a family of in-laws that open their arms and accept you immediately, it makes life a lot simpler. While a few of his brothers were on the quiet side and others were more extroverted, they all were friendly and loving. The only exception was his sisters. None of them were introverted in the slightest way. When I say we were one big happy family, it's said with the absolute truth. Through the years, as each sibling's health weakened, communication became more important. The problem was that while they enjoyed speaking to each other, my husband is not a telephone person. In fact, he really hates speaking on the phone and avoids it as much as possible. Time past and now there are four of them left which includes my husband. While in my own mind, he should make more of an effort to call his sisters and brother, in his mind, he will when he has time. My husband is 80 and retired. I insist he can make time. He reminds me that he's too busy doing the gardening and general maintenance on the house. We don't live in a run-down, ramschackled house. It's 20 years old and in very good condition. He can take 20 minutes out and call his siblings. Unfortunately, he doesn't. I do. His remaining brother calls at least three times a week and leaves messages such as: “Hey, wanted to say hello and check in. Call back.” “It's me again. Haven't heard from you. Hope everything's ok. Call back.” “Uh, what's going on? Is something wrong? Call back.” “Come on, really? What's your problem? Call me back today! Damn it.” I give my husband the messages. He ignores them. No, he isn't angry with his brother. Their relationship is fine. It's my husband's problem with phones. The other problem is that his brother is an invalid, living in a nursing home, and has nothing to do. My husband keeps himself busy with yard work, and other things around the house. He never was one to sit still. There lies a good portion of the problem. His brother doesn't understand why Rich won't call him back immediately or why he doesn't answer the phone in the first place. Rich says his brother should find a hobby to occupy his time. Today, I found another messages on my husband's phone. I said, “Don't shoot the messenger but please listed to your brother's message.” He did. Then he grabbed the phone and said, “That's it! I'm going to straighten this out once and for all!” I tried reminding him that his brother lived over a thousand miles away, has no one to visit him, is easily bored. He's just looking to have someone to talk to. My husband remined me that he has things to do. One of his sisters called but is still trying to get used to her new cell phone. She kept disconnecting herself. She'd call and lose the connection. I'd call her back and she'd lose the connection. This went on for fifteen minutes and then I just didn't return her calls. I might try again tomorrow. I saw no point in telling this to my husband since there really wasn't anything to say. After that bit of thunder-rolling atmosphere involving my brother-in-law, I received a text from my other sister-in-law stating she was out of the hospital and staying with her daughter. I walked out the back door and said, “Jane called.” Before I could relay the message, he looked at me with daggers coming out of his eyes. I interrupted him. “Hey, just a quick message,” I began. “She's fine, out of the hospital, and staying with her daughter.” “Oh, ok” he said and calmed down. I know tonight, once dinner is done, he'll call his sister. Maybe I can even get him to call his other sister. At least, they'll be quieter conversations than the one he had earlier. Oh boy! It seems the older we get, the less patience we have. There are times when I could smack Alexander Bell on the head and say, “Why did you ever invent such a troublesome instrument?” There are so many times it comes in so handy but then there are other times!! As I walked away toward the house, my first thought was, “I'm not getting paid enough for this.” Then I realized, “Hey, wait! I'm not getting paid at all!”
Because I was eight years old and the only girl in the neighborhood at that time, my ten-year old brother always let me tag along with him and his friends. When the boys played baseball, my brother would say to me, “Hey Sis, you're so good in the field, go over to that spot and wait for a fly.” That spot was not just in “out” field, it was in “left-out” field. But, at the time, I was too young to realize what was happening and way too enthralled with the idea of being part of my brother's team. At the same time, my brother, Frank, although making sure I didn't get in harm's way or the way of the game, every now and then, asked his friends to hit a ball in my direction so I could “field” it. Naturally, that play never counted but it sure made me feel important and like I was someone incredibly special. Despite being only 27-months older than I was, Frank always found a way to do just that – make me feel special. However, there was one day in particular that, to this day, brings a warm feeling to my heart. It was the day we climbed the Iron Man. In a section of the park near our house, sits a statue. I didn't know it at the time, but the statue was and still is a memorial commemorating the battle between the U.S.S. Monitor and the Merrimack, which was fought in 1862. The Monitor was only six months old at the time of its sinking and the street on which we lived was named after the massive and historic ship. The statue is huge and made of iron. It depicts a man in a semi-sitting position holding desperately onto a rope that stiffly hangs just below the ship's deck on which he sits. This was a favorite place for the boys as they would climb the statue and sit for hours looking at everyone who walked through the park. From that height, a child felt you could see for miles. On one of my “tag along” days, Frank and the other boys decided to climb the statue. I stood at base looking up helplessly. I, too, wanted to climb the big iron man, but was too small to reach. Finally, my brother stretched his hand down. “Come on, Sis, grab hold. I'll help you up.” As I took his hand, he explained where I should place my little feet and what part of the statue I should grab to hoist myself while he pulled me up. Within seconds I was sitting in the lap of this great iron man. I was on top of the world. I looked around and as my heart fluttered with excitement, saw the wonders around me that the others had seen from such a great height for so much longer than I had. As the boys laughed and joked among themselves, I was quite content to sit in silent awe. Eventually, it was time for dinner. One by one, the boys climbed down. I was the last to begin the descent, trying carefully to place my feet around the iron man's wide arm. My legs were just a bit too short. I couldn't get down. My brother realized my plight and ran to help. “Hey, Sis, turn around and kneel on the spool. Wrap yours legs around the rope. Then hold on to his arm and let yourself slide down. Once you get low enough, let your feet drop and then let go. I'll catch you,” he said. While I trusted my brother with my life, I didn't trust my life with my little hands and legs. Frank assured me I'd be okay. He stood directly beneath the stiff iron arm. I knelt at the edge and did what my brother suggested, but with one added thing. I closed my eyes. If I was going to fall and kill myself, I didn't want to watch. Suddenly, I felt Frank's gentle hands grab me. “You're down, Sis. Safe and sound. Let's go home.” I opened my eyes, gratefully and happily, as Frank gently put me on the ground. He grabbed my hand to walk the short distance from the center of the park, across the street to home. It didn't matter to him that his friends stayed and watched. After all, he was the big brother taking care of his little sister. As we approached the parks exit, I turned to give the big iron man one last look for the night. As I did, I realized I'd learned some particularly important things from my experience. Although for a while I felt like I was on top of the world, I didn't need a statue to keep me there. My brother's love and protection did that better than artificial things could ever do. I didn't need to climb a statue to see the beauty and the wonders of the world. They were right before me – at my own eye level, in my mind and heart. As we grew, I married and moved away, my brother enlisted in the Army and was sent to Viet Nam. Although he returned after his Tour of Duty, he did not return whole. There was something lacking in his spirit. Years later, we would find out that he contracted the cancer that would consume him before his 51st birthday. Several decades have passed since then, and although Frank is no longer a physical part of my life, I think of him daily. When I recall that day when I sat atop a statue, I smile and realize: my brother was my Iron Man.
When I was younger, I would wake up before the rest of my family and run down the dirt road that winded in front of my family farm to a lavender field. I walked, I sat, and I walked back. Dawn broke early halfway across the world. I woke to a bright pre-summer sky at 6 o'clock in the morning. Looking back, it was a sun that was harsher than New York's — hotter and less forgiving. It was freer in the Chinese countryside, no midday traffic droning down concrete streets or towering skyscrapers stopping me from hopping towards an endless sky. The meadow was one and a half miles away. On the very last morning before I had to leave for America, my legs ran me to my cousin's room instead of out the door at the break of dawn. I made a beeline for her window and threw her curtains apart, the light attacking every last inch of her room with an intense morning glow. “Jin-Yi! Get up! Let's go somewhere!” I shouted, jumping onto her bed. Her eyes flew open, about to burst with curiosity. “Where?” “Let's go!” was all the information I gave up before pulling her out of bed and pushing her towards the doorway. I had her chasing me down the stairs and out the door in less than ten minutes. And if she had not been fully awake before, the blinding hello of the endless wheat fields and eccentric sky forced her into full consciousness. A slight draft sneaked past us and I breathed in the fresh air as it pressed against my skin. Jin-Yi gaped at the sunkissed tint of the morning. Her eyes bulged as she stepped past the security of the house, as if soaking in the scene of a world she had never before seen. I broke into a sprint and a moment later, she followed. The road under us clapped to the beat of our clumsy race, a round of applause encouraging us as we ran. By the time we were doubled over, panting, we ran into our family cows. We watched them while trying to catch our breath. They were slowly gnawing at the grass, eating early breakfasts without a care in the world. I made eye contact with one, and she held my stare while finishing a mouthful of grass. She eventually grew bored of me and started strolling in the direction of the lavender field. Jin-Yi and I walked alongside her. “Let's call her Olivia,” Jin-Yi suggested. “Olivia?” It was a foreign name for a Chinese cow. “Yes,” she responded. “An American name for an American girl.” She smiled at me before launching into another short sprint. As the three of us traveled, we tried to stick together. Olivia helped herself as we went along, munching on the edible blanket of grass at her feet. Twice, there were irresistibly tasty patches and she would stop to revel in the taste. Although she had invaded our party of two, we couldn't find it in our hearts to leave her behind so we waited for her to finish, even though we knew she would be fine. Calm flatness was all that surrounded us. No man-made structures disturbed the crisp horizon-like border between the ground and the sky. Time trickled by like water leaking out of a broken faucet unnoticed. After we had walked far enough, the grass grew wilder, taller and darker. Having journeyed the path more times than I could remember, I charged into the grass in front of Olivia and threw my arms out to my side, drawing a cross with my body to protect the visible sea of lavender behind me. “You can't walk into the lavender field, Olivia. Go back.” Olivia stared me down with blank eyes, chewing slowly. She turned and walked away, her tail swaying side-to-side behind her, as if mocking me. I turned to my cousin, “You can't let her in the field. She'll eat the lavenders. Remember that.” She nodded her understanding. With an elated smile, I shouted “Then let's go!” before barreling towards the meadow. I buried myself in the middle of the lavenders, collapsing onto the ground and letting the flowers tickle my face as I lay on my back. A laugh bubbled in my throat and escaped to the same effect as a bird song in a serene forest. My cousin danced around me, throwing flowers in the air. Clouds had begun to form, blocking out the sun so that all I saw as I stared up were fluffy white clusters being strung across the sky. Bathing in the warm breeze, I let out a sigh and let the scent of fresh petals hug me. That same day, I packed my bags, and got into my parents' car, squishing my face against the window and trying to melt into the disappearing countryside on our way to the airport — a journey West. There was a simple freedom in those excursions that I took while the world was still sleeping, prancing down a blank road, seemingly leading nowhere. I never forgot about that lavender field, or any of the walks there. That purple heaven and the path lying before it belongs to Jin-Yi now. She wakes up at 6, she walks with Olivia where I walked alone. She sits, and she walks back.