Members read and review their stories and poetry. Most of our readings inspire in-depth conversations on the topic at hand. All members are encouraged to bring something to read at each meeting. One reason the group remains small is that we want to ensure that everyone has time to read her work—be it a chapter from a book in progress, a poem, or an essay. And we do keep it lively! We meet monthly at 12 noon on the third Monday. Each month, a different member serves as hostess, supplying cookies, cake, or other goodies, and all accouterments for tea.
Each month we plan to feature a story or poem written by a member of our Chapter on this page, enabling the wider WCFH membership to share in our joy of writing and reading. It is our own WCoFH Literary Magazine. We hope all visitors to our page enjoy our offerings. The dates for the 2017-2018 season are: 10/16, 11/20, 12/11, 1/22, 2/12, 3/19, 4/16, and 5/21.
Chairs: Louise Naples (Chair), Mary Grasso (Co-Chair)
Our own First Vice President, Louise Naples and Past President, Helen Griffen at the 911 Tribute Center
Learn more about the Algonquin Round Table restaurant
Outside CH awaiting our limo
In honor of the one hundredth anniversary of the Women’s Club of Forest Hills, all members of the Writers’ Chapter went to the Algonquin Hotel on 44th Street in NYC to celebrate at a venue sacred to writers of the 20th century. We enjoyed a talk on the history of the room and its illustrious habitués.
Writers’ Chapter members after a sumptuous lunch at Bella Napoli Restaurant on Madison Avenue. Then onto a private tour of the Pierpoint Morgan Library and Museum. A lovely end-of-year outing. (May 2015)
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY-OF-THE-MONTH FEBRUARY 2017
DEEP WATER LUNCH
By: Joan Barnes
Come with me while I take you out for lunch on a submarine under the waters of Long Island Sound.
I might never have had the opportunity to take you on this trip if my daughter had not married a navy man. Joel was not only a navy man, but a graduate of Annapolis, and the captain of a submarine, the U.S.S. Hartford. This boat (a sub is always called a “boat”, never a “ship”) was the latest in a long line of “Hartfords”, the very first one having been a sailing ship captained by Admiral Farragut of Civil War fame. It was on the bridge of this “Hartford”, back in the nineteenth century where the admiral uttered his famous words, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” The biography of this intrepid mariner was on the reading list of every subsequent captain of a “Hartford”.
As Captain, Joel was allowed to take family members and prominent people on a V.I.P. cruise. He invited his wife, my son and me. This was a trip I was not going to miss. We drove first to Groton, Connecticut, and found our way past much security to the sub base there. My daughter was driving her husband’s car which had all sorts of military insignia on it, prompting the Marines on guard to give us very smart salutes.
Pants and low shoes were the required dress code for women visitors. Climbing down the hatch in a skirt with an eagle-eyed sailor waiting at the bottom of the ladder might not have been the best idea. To reach the submarine we had to walk out on a pier, and take a left turn over a short gangway to the submarine’s open hatch. I felt as if I were walking on the back of a huge black whale. I gingerly started my climb down a straight metal ladder into the boat and got out of the way quickly for the next person who was coming down right behind me.
Everything was metal down below and all painted navy gray. Joel was there to tell us we were in the control room. He pointed out two young men sitting at a console. One was the helmsman, and the other the planesman. They controlled the boat the way a pilot controls an aircraft, with rudder and diving planes. They keep the boat on an even keel. Sailors wearing ear phones were in the radio room. Borrowing the earphones, we listened to what sounded like bacon frying only to find out it was a recording of the sound of a school of feeding shrimp.
If you are claustrophobic, don’t go into a submarine. There is no room anywhere and there are no windows. You know you are surrounded by metal and you can’t get out once the hatch has closed. The alleyways are narrow. Two people cannot walk abreast. If someone wants to pass you, you have to turn sideways to give them the room they need. But I, personally, was too excited to feel claustrophobic.
Joel ushered us into his cabin, small and very neat. The desk he was working on would be turned up against the wall at night and his bunk would drop down. Among the many phones on his desk was one bright red one – would this be the one a President would ring if there were a national emergency? Joel wouldn’t say.
The “Hartford” was a Los Angeles Class, fast attack, nuclear submarine, and carried 100 officers and men. The only place we were not allowed to visit on the boat was the nuclear engine room. I asked Joel how long the sub could stay under water at one time. He answered that it all depended on how much food they could pack away. Most tours were for three months, but he knew of tours that had lasted six months. The cooks were left at the end of a tour that long with only boxes of spaghetti from all the stores that had been laid on at the beginning of the tour. The morale of the crew is also a factor on how long a sub might stay submerged. As far as fuel is concerned, the boat can stay down for years.
Only men who have undergone many physical and psychiatric tests are allowed to sail as submariners.
The boat got ready to sail to our destination, a part of Long Island Sound deep enough for the sub to submerge. Once under water, we would go to the Officers’ Mess and have our lunch.
The lines holding the boat to the dock were dropped off, the nuclear engines came to life, the anchors were raised and we set off on our way. We sailed on the surface of the Thames River and under a few bridges. My son, Leslie, was harnessed and fastened to a rail as he was given the privilege of standing on the Bridge with Joel. The Bridge is a narrow small area situated on the top of the sub. Leslie thought to himself as he was harnessed in, “I can’t believe I am standing on the Bridge of a One Billion Dollar nuclear attack submarine”. He remembers waving to the men on the fishing boats and pleasure boats that we passed on our way to Long Island Sound.
Once we sailed to an area deep enough for the sub to descend, the order was given to submerge. I listened carefully as Joel issued orders. To my surprise the captain does say “Dive, Dive, Dive” three times. I thought they only said that in the movies.
My daughter and I went to Joel’s cabin where we could watch the process via closed circuit T.V. The camera focused on the periscope and as we slowly descended into the water, we could watch the periscope go down and down until it disappeared and we knew we were completely submerged. There is very little motion in a sub once it is under water. It’s a different story if the sub is on the surface and the water is rough. The men get seasick very quickly as a sub can roll in the waves.
We were free then to roam the sub, and we did. We saw where the men ate; we visited the small galley and marveled that so many meals could be produced from this one small area. We said Hello to sailors sitting in a lounge. I noticed there was a VCR and stacks of videos that were available to the men to watch in their spare time.
We saw where the men slept, rows and rows of bunks on top of one another. There is very little privacy on board. We saw where the torpedoes were stored. If there was any extra space between the torpedoes, some sailor would have made a sleeping place for himself.
Time for lunch and Joel directed us to the Officers’ Mess, quite an elegant room with wood paneling, framed prints of sailing ships on the walls, a highly polished dining room table, and comfortable chairs. Joel pointed out where he sat, at the head of the table. Even if an Admiral were on the boat, Joel would always sit at the head of the table, as he had the responsibility for the boat and he took precedence over everyone.
Lunch was simple, hot dogs and beans, a salad and ice cream for dessert. The boat barely moved while we ate, but the noise of the nuclear engine did drift in. Hard to believe we were sitting together, eating, and yet were well beneath the surface of the ocean. Although our lunch that day was rather mundane, rumor has it that the best food in the navy is on the submarines. Serving the men good food is one thing the Navy can do to keep the submariners happy, closeted as they are for so many weeks under water.
So far, there are no women sailing as submariners. The time may come when the Navy will allow both sexes to serve, but not right now.
After lunch we were told we were going to surface. We gathered in the control room, held on to metal poles that extended from floor to ceiling, and were warned we must be very quiet. Orders were given, received and acknowledged. I was holding my breath, afraid to utter a sound. All of a sudden, there was a loud whooshing sound as if we were going up a very fast elevator and suddenly we were told we were on the surface. “Wow! That was great!” I remember saying. “How often do you surface like this?” I asked the executive officer who was standing beside me. His laconic reply was “Oh, as many times as we submerge, Ma’am”.
We sailed back to the sub base in Groton and tied up at the pier. Now came the difficult task of getting out of the sub. Again, I had to climb that darn ladder that went straight up. There is never anyone at the top to help you out, you just have to keep on going and pull yourself out. The ladder actually seemed to lean back, as if you were climbing up the side of a ship. However, one final effort and I was out of the hatch and standing on the sub and looking for the gangplank to dry land.
It had been an exciting adventure and I have always felt grateful that I was given the opportunity to experience a few hours, and a lunch, in a sub under the waters of Long Island Sound. For a little while I was part of an elite company of sailors who serve our country under the sea.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY-OF-THE-MONTH JANUARY 2017
THE OLD CEMETERY
By: Louise Naples
The house I live in is located in a very historical place, Woodhaven. It was part of the Napier estate, one among many in the vicinity. The earliest settlers, mostly Dutch families such as the Suydams, Lotts, Wyckoffs, Ditmars, Snedickers, Elderts, Burnetts, and the Vanderveers began settling the area in the late seventeenth century. They owned vast tracks of farmland, which over the decades and centuries changed hands, and changed hands again, until finally they were broken up into housing lots, in the grid now endemic to Queens County. The Napier land, formerly Ditmars, had passed to the Snedickers, and then to the Vanderveers in the 19th century. The last owner sub-divided the family acres into home sites. The deed to my own house still reads Napier Estate. My street, 97th St. is called Napier Avenue on historical maps.
Among the earliest of these Dutch settlers to colonial Woodhaven was Dow Jansen Ditmars, who established a farm east of Woodhaven Boulevard and south of Jamaica Avenue, in about 1678. What may be his or his son’s tombstone can still be seen in the old Wyckoff-Snedicker Cemetery at 96th Street and Jamaica Avenue, behind the imposing, grey stone Neo Gothic style St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, which was built in 1927.
Before tombstones became commercially available, (In the early 1700s there were no stone-cutters listed in the area census) the grave was marked by a rude fieldstone marked “D.D. A 71” , that is Dow Ditmars, year 1771. A similar stone marked “G.D.A. 22” is that of another unknown Ditmars. Other than these ancient monuments, there are no other traces of the Ditmars family in Woodhaven today.
This charming, secluded cemetery is a hidden historical treasure. In the eighteenth century the whole of Woodhaven was almost totally uninhabited. The only residents were the Dutch families, whose farms and houses were widely scattered across the land. Most of these farming families had ties to the Dutch Reformed Church in East New York, and buried their dead in that churchyard; but about 1785, the Wyckoffs and the Snedickers each deeded a plot, totaling 85 x 266 feet on the border line along their respective farms and established a local burying ground. Between 1793 and 1892, over two hundred local residents were buried there, including 136 members of the Wyckoff and Snedicker families. Though the cemetery is badly neglected today, it is one of the few surviving relics of Woodhaven’s earliest days and marks the resting place of its oldest inhabitants.
A recent visit with Pat Schoff, writer and researcher of Revolutionary era cemeteries, on a warm and sunny fall day was enlightening. We started in the old church, which was in the throes of renovations as it changed congregations. The stone interior with its intricately carved wooden panels, high gothic stained glass windows, throwing brilliant afternoon sunlight into the vaulted space, are a wonder to behold. The high scaffolding and scattered tools were indications of the work in progress. The church was granted a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. It is probably the finest example of English Gothic architecture on Long Island. Its bell tower is a full Carillion, which peeled out its music on Sunday mornings, to the enjoyment of the wide neighborhood.
A helpful worker showed us the access into the cemetery, behind the church and manse and its connecting social hall. A huge bramble-covered rectangle, shaded by many old trees, sheltered scores of old and damaged headstones. The inscriptions of most have weathered off completely, but on a few, it was possible to make out the names and some dates of the dearly departed. I was seeking DDA 71, but could not find it. There are photos of it in old Woodhaven histories; perhaps it has been stolen. Scattered old brown glass bottles, and newer plastic ones told of nefarious visitors, who showed little respect, though there was no graffiti about. We covered the entire cemetery, trying not to trip on the roots and fallen branches, with the brambles clinging to our clothing at every opportunity.
As we walked, I noticed that the headstones we could read indicated that the families were buried in their own dedicated sections. Some stones were marked with only initials. Those for babies and small children had smaller scale markers.
Along one back wall of the social hall was an orderly stack of pieces of stone, covered with slabs of wood, as though someone was trying to protect the remaining pieces of fallen headstones. There was only one imposing, tall and relatively modern monument, marked Elderts on the site. It was reported in the Leader-Observer, a local newspaper, that there was a Napier family burial in the 96th St. Cemetery around 1958, assuredly the final one.
The names of several regional BMT subway stops carry the names of some of these elders: Elderts Lane, Van Siclen Avenue, New Lots Avenue; and Ditmars is commemorated by a named street in Astoria, and of course Suydam Street in Brooklyn. Seems if you own enough land, you can name the streets after yourself.
I had always known there was a hidden cemetery a block from my house, but never managed to find it. There is a legal right of way access to it behind the buildings on 96th street, beginning on Jamaica Avenue, and Pat and I walked down its long length. It terminated in what could only be described as raw habitat, probably illegal, which blocked the official entrance to the cemetery. Now it is accessible only via
St. Matthew’s Church, now registered as the legal owner of the burial ground.
From time to time, local civic groups organize cleanup expeditions to the yard, and it surely looked to me that another was in order.
May its inhabitants rest in peace.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY-OF-THE-MONTH – DECEMBER 2016
MY IRISH CHRISTMAS
By: Anne Walters
In October, my mother would begin her preparations for Christmas. She would pick up her ingredients to bake the rich fruitcake and we all had to help her. Two weeks later, the cake was mixed and baked in the oven for five hours. The aroma going all through the house gave us that special Christmas spirit that stayed with us for the four weeks of Advent.
Three weeks later, the fruitcake was decorated with marzipan icing and across the top ‘Happy Christmas ‘ with a little ornament of “Santa Claus;” and around the sides of the cake was a fancy paper band. It was displayed on a cake stand on the sideboard in the dining room until Christmas Day.
The following week, the plum pudding was prepared, and the ingredients mixed and set up for boiling for five hours. As soon as it was cooked and cooled, it was put into a bowl, covered with wax paper and hung up until we were ready to devour it. Before it is brought to the table on Christmas Day, a glass of brandy was poured over it and a little holly for decoration.
On Christmas Eve, two fresh-killed turkey’s were delivered by the local farmer, as was the custom for many households. My mother would prepare her potato stuffing with fresh spices mixed in, to give it a special taste. The turkeys are then set for the oven.
I would accompany my mother on her shopping trip to the store for the many special Christmas items she required, and her planning would be complete for the festive occasion. My sister and I would pick the holly and I can still recall those bright red berries.
We would put a sprig of holly on each picture in our dining room, and we would put fancy streamers and balloons tied around the ceiling. Then we decorated the Christmas tree with my mother’s family ornaments, and we would always add two new items.
As was the custom, I would put a large red candle secured in a brass bowl on the window to guide the traveler’s on their journey. That represented the Holy Family on their way to Bethlehem.
On Christmas Eve, my parents always received a special invitation from the Mother Superior of the Presentation Order to attend the Midnight Mass in their private chapel. It was just so beautiful to hear the nuns’ choir and it had a certain atmosphere in that chapel. Afterwards, the nuns would greet us wish us the Blessings of the Season.
Finally, Christmas Day arrived and it was all hustle and bustle around our house. It was time for dinner and the special china was set on the table. The silver vegetable bowls gleamed, and turkey was dressed with little socks, which my mother insisted on doing. The meal was so delicious and we always complimented my mother, as she was a great cook and hostess.
After the dinner, my mother would play the piano, classical music and carols , as she loved to sing. The neighbors would visit and join in the singing. Afterwards, we would discuss our gifts and play some of our games with our friends. Billy, who lived across the street always received the new edition of ” Curly Wee and Gussie Goose ” the same book from his sister every year. The result was that we could not stand to hear about it anymore.
All our neighbors were just like our family and we were always with each other for special occasions.We never wanted Christmas Day to end, and it was an honor for us to celebrate Jesus birth.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY-OF-THE-MONTH NOVEMBER 2016
By: A. Patricia Gainor
SUBWAY TALE #1
He swaggered into the subway car, a man of modest height, fair complexion, probably in his late thirties, and sat down opposite me. His demeanor suggested he was quite pleased with himself. Perhaps it was his outfit: a huge dazzling yellow baseball cap, the kind that covers the tops of the ears; a denim jacket, the front emblazoned with a design of large, gold lightening bolts; his sneakers, brilliant yellow like his hat. He was, as they say, “a picture”.
At the next stop a man entered, elegantly dressed in a blazer and slacks. He sat down next to me and comfortably crossed his legs in the somewhat empty car. I did notice his beautiful shoes, but the man across the aisle saw something he liked more.
“Hey”, he called. “I like your socks. Those are great socks!”
Every eye in the car was directed at those socks, and they were beautiful, a handsome geometric pattern, undoubtedly silk, very expensive.
“I’d like to get socks like them”, his admirer continued. “Where’d you get them?”
“Bergdorfs”, was the reply.
“Say what?” came back.
“Oh”, with a shrug. “I’ll have to get me some of those”.
Like all true New Yorkers, no one reacted visibly, just eyes down, each busy again with his thoughts, perhaps some with a twinkle in their eyes.
SUBWAY TALE #2
When the tall, handsome woman limped into the train, I could judge by the lack of body motion that no one was about to relinquish a seat, even though she was leaning heavily on her cane. So, I did, but as I stood, the man next to me jumped up, motioning for me to sit again, and gallantly offered his place. She thanked him and then thanked me, giving me a chance to converse with a stranger, always interesting.
I admired her cane, a vivid hot pink acrylic, a gift from her daughters, she said, when she fell while running, that the operation to repair her knee was not as successful as hoped, and since her sick days were exhausted, she was assigned a desk job while she continued to heal. Sitting most of the day did little to help her knee, so she continued with physical therapy and walked when she could, including walking home from the subway station.
Alarm bells rang in my head.
“Does someone meet you at night so you need not walk alone in the dark?, “ I asked. “A woman with a cane can be a perfect target for a mugger”.
She broke into a huge smile, patted my arm as if I were a dimwit, and said, grinning, “Honey, I’m a cop! And my cane can make a perfect weapon.”
What could I say to that?
SUBWAY TALE #3
Lunch with the ladies, always a treat. As I entered the subway car on my way into Manhattan, anticipating a lovely day, my mood was very cheerful. Having spied my reflection in the train window, I allowed myself a bit of vanity. Not bad for a woman of a certain age, I thought.
Once seated, I noticed the young woman sitting very close to me, munching on a bag of chips
“I hope that’s not her breakfast choice”, I mentally remarked, and then watched with surprise as she crumpled the bag and surreptitiously slid it through her legs to the floor. Will I never learn?
“Young lady”, I said quietly. “You dropped your chip bag.”
Looking down at her feet and then back at me, she blatantly lied, “That’s not mine.”
“But I saw you drop it”, I replied, foolishly.
With a raised, indignant voice, she again denied the bag and told me to “mind my own damn business!”
Necks were craning, ears alert, the subway’s entertainment du jour was underway.
Disregarding the obvious warning signals, ever the “teacher”, I was determined and spoke.
“Everyone is encouraged not to litter. Surely your mother taught you that.”
She exploded! “Don’t you talk about my mother, you old bag. Just shut your big, damn mouth”, expletives deleted.
At that point I wished for a way to disappear, any way to end this error of mine. All of a sudden, in front of me and facing the young, angry woman was a big, burly, handsome man who spoke forcefully to her.
“Don’t you speak to this woman like that. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”
My hero; I was rescued. Could anyone wish for a better Sir Galahad? The young woman bolted from her seat and rapidly exited the car. I, red with embarrassment, offered my thanks to the man , only to hear this reply.
“She should never have spoken to you like that. We need to respect old people”
Ah, yes, a little humble pie for dessert before lunch.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY-OF-THE-MONTH OCTOBER 2016
THE HOT BISCUIT DINNER
By: Louise Naples
In Ticonderoga NY, on Montcalm Street, which is the main street in this old revolutionary era town, and set back from the road, is a wooden “A” frame structure with a generous front porch. It is the Hot Biscuit Diner.
Upon entering, you get the feeling that it is very old, though it has only been there for a little over twenty years. The place is adorned with cast iron farming and kitchen gadgets and small appliances of all kinds, antique glass bottles, colorful enamel pitchers; and on the walls are many antique tin advertisement signs such as Pepsi-Cola (five cents) Aunt Jamima Pancake syrup, and Ivory Soap. There is a sign over the counter wall that says “Unattended children will be served an espresso, and given a puppy.”
The large high-ceiling space is divided in two by a low partition. On the right side is an array of tables to seat from two to six people. The tables are all covered with red and white checkered tablecloths, and at the end of each is a cluster of the usual diner condiments: salt, pepper, sugar, maple syrup, jams, individually wrapped butter pats and mug of small half-and-half thingies. This area is clearly for the tourists, who flock to this diner in droves from the many camp sites in the area; a place to get a really robust breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
On the left side of the partition is a generous row of booths that accommodate six, if a few of them are children. They offer the same condiment clusters. And just across from the booths is a long counter with eight high chrome stools with red naugahide seats. This is for the town regulars.
As we sat in a booth, we watched as the town folks came in, greeted each other and the wait staff who were harried but quite friendly. The town women look no-nonsense, and the menfolk, dressed in jeans and untucked shirts, look uniformly tired as they hooked their boots onto the rungs at the bottom of the stools. Their comfort in the place is apparent as they unfold their newspapers, go around the counter to help themselves to coffee, and order “the usual” with no further explanation. They exchanged gossip, share the cross-word puzzle answers, and talk about the doings in town. The lone woman in the kitchen cooks up all the orders from an impressively extensive menu. Patience is required.
But what really makes this diner so special is the item for which it is named – their famous hot biscuits, baked to order. They are culinary works of art, almost five inches in diameter, and two inches high. When you slice them open the aroma wafts up in such a way that you groan with anticipated joy. Some people order the house special, The Saw Mill, two biscuits smothered in a creamy meat gravy. I prefer butter, which melts into the core, and sometimes jam. It is pure heaven and all the reason you need to go.
No summer at Lake George would be complete without visiting a time or two at the Hot Biscuit Diner.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF-THE-MONTH – SEPTEMBER 2016
By: Peggy Offenberger
The world gushes past
Outside my window.
It is midsummer
And the morning sun,
Plump and buttery
Invents a new day.
I watch the
Congregations of folks,
Hustle toward their morning bout
With the dense underground prairie
Where the iron monster lives.
Commuters, they mutter and grunt
And preach about the scalding heat,
Hung motionless against their skin.
And I, in the cool
Of my retirement
Listen to the blue bird sing.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – AUG 2016
By: Patricia Gainor
Our neighbors across the street were ruled by an angry, often raging man. Theirs was a sad, neglected-looking house, as were the children of the family, Joanie, close in age to me, and two older brothers. On the occasions that Joanie came out to play with the neighborhood group, she was often invited by my mother to stay for lunch, or join in cookies and milk time. Though she was welcome in our home, I was expressly forbidden to enter hers. The idea held no particular appeal to me until her dog had a litter.
“Come see the puppies,” she invited. “You can help me name them”.
Not forgetting the law laid down by my parents, I demurred more than once, till she mentioned that the puppies were in the cellar, next to the boiler for warmth.
“Maybe your mother will let you take one”, was the final persuader. A quick rationalization by an eager youngster, “Cellar is not house”, and down the cellar steps we went.
We snuggled the puppies, romped with them on the cellar floor, held them in our laps, a thorough delight. I left with the hope of one day bringing a puppy home, but what I brought home instead was a head full of fleas.
My mother quickly banished me to the bathroom while she made a rapid trip to the drug store. For days she lathered a noxious liquid on my scalp and into my hair, and later, with tears creeping down her face through this repulsive task, she combed and squeezed, combed and squeezed. Watching the misery on her face was worse than any punishment she could devise. It was almost a week before she declared me free of vermin and sent me back to school to be further checked by the school nurse. Word got out and I had to suffer the taunts and jokes of my second grade classmates who had great fun at my expense.
Did I learn my lesson? Did I then always follow the dictates of my parents? Yes, and, no. A child’s world is filled with lists headed, “Thou Shalt Not”, yet every day offers exciting possibilities. My choices, therefore, were not “Should I” but “Shall I”? Most often I didn’t, but some adventures were irresistible. So, of course I climbed the sewer cones jutting up in the air awaiting the completion of the road that would cover them; of course, I scaled the neighbor’s apple tree often for the sheer pleasure of accomplishment and filched pears from another; of course I raced with my new bike along the narrow, make- shift roads bisecting the marshes, risking disaster if I should slip and crash down the slope to the creek below. Success was heady because of the danger.
It was hard to resist the pull of the forbidden, and I failed many times, enduring punishments that followed. I was determined to try too many things. But, in all the years of my youth and my failure as a most obedient child, I never again entered that neighbor’s cellar nor the house.
That lesson was too unpleasant to ignore!
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – JULY 2016
FEEDING THE HOMELESS
By: Joan M Barnes
Some time ago I was visiting my daughter, Jennifer, in Houston, Texas. Jennifer has two daughters herself; Jane, 18 and Meredith, 15. Jane is always home as she goes to High School on line. School for her is only a couple of hours a day. She has lots of free time for dance, running errands for her working parents and school-age sister and to do volunteer work. One of the volunteer jobs she has is helping out every Wednesday morning on a soup kitchen at a local church.
I was planning on staying ten days. I would be with Jane a lot since she was home. In an effort to keep me amused while everyone else was out of the house, Jane asked me if I would like to volunteer with her on the day she fed the homeless.
“Sure”, I said.
Wednesday morning came. I don’t like to rush, but Jane overslept. We had to be at the church by 7:00AM. Were we going or not? She said yes, we were, and I had ten minutes to get ready. I managed to wash my face, take my pills, brush my hair and get in the car. I was only breathing a little heavily!
I remarked to Jane that the weather felt humid. Did this humidity presage a storm or really hot weather? She said “No, it just means you are in Houston”.
Jane drove us to the Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. We parked and walked in. Jane led me to the kitchen. There were already volunteers working away. Jane introduced me to everyone and then gave me a black hair net to wear, plastic gloves and an apron. I looked a real sight. (Show picture). I think I’ve finally found my style.
A pleasant English woman named June, about my age, showed me how to cut day-old bread into smaller pieces and throw them into a large metal bowl. That kept me busy for awhile. Someone asked me if I knew how to make grits. Don’t forget we are in the South. I said I was sorry I didn’t, that I lived in New York. I felt like saying, “Make them, I don’t even eat them” but thought that might be impolite. Jane volunteered to make them. She brought two big pots of water to a boil, threw in a measured amount of grits, let them cook to a thin consistency, took the pots off the stove where the grits thickened and then she added in a large glob of margarine. Her grits were fine. I don’t know how many pans she filled with them but they all went.
I could see men lining up waiting for 8 o’clock when the kitchen opened. Outside the kitchen I could see that there was a Spanish-style courtyard with a walkway or cloister built around it. The patio in the center was tiled and open to the elements. Birds would flutter in and peck around for food. Trees grew inside this courtyard, some in the ground, others in big pots. The whole look reminded me of a monastery. Chairs and tables were set up outside. If it rained, there was plenty of room in the walkway for shelter.
We all began to put the food out on long tables under the walkway. Glass dishes piled high with peanut butter and jelly were placed near the bowl of cut up bread. A large metal grille door was opened and the people were let in, but before anyone could pick up a tray and start walking down the line, the minister said a prayer and then we all bowed our heads and said “The Lord’s Prayer”. When people came in, they would pick up a tray, cutlery, and napkins. The first dish they could have was a beef and bean stew. The men passed Jane next who was offering two dishes, a choice of spaghetti and meat balls or a pasta pesto. Then came the girl serving dollops of grits; dessert next which consisted of day-old pies, cakes and cookies donated by local bakeries. I was last on line – the juice lady. I had big boxes of juice with a little spigot and would fill up a foam container half way – no seconds until 9:15. At times I had a young man named Arnold helping me. He would open the sleeves of cups for me and put up another heavy box of juice when I ran out.
I had no idea how many people were waiting. Turned out we fed 400 that morning in an hour and a half. The person in charge would let 50 in at a time, and then another fifty, etc. This way we did get a two-minute break to organize ourselves.
Most of the time I was too busy to pay much attention to whom we were serving. I barely had a chance to look up. I do know 90% were black men. I did see a few women and a few white men and women, even a couple of young people, young enough to be runaways, but I never knew if that is what they were. Everyone seemed to be in clean clothes and were all polite. I got lots of “Thank you, ma’am”, “Appreciate it”. Some of the men were young enough to ogle buxom 18-year old Jane in a T-shirt that said “Panama Life Guard”. They told her she could rescue them anytime. A few men I thought were probably a little mentally challenged. Two were in wheelchairs and some on crutches. It’s a sad thought that Palmer Episcopal has this food line five days a week, 52 weeks a year and many other churches in Houston do the same. I rather got the feeling that not everyone was homeless as we think of that kind of situation, but more that this food helped them stretch out what few dollars they had. The food was nutritious and filling and hot. If they ate this big breakfast and then took some bread with peanut butter and jelly for lunch, they might not have to worry too much about dinner.
I asked Jane about security. I did see one young man in a uniform. Jane said there were two undercover men also. We had no problems. Jane did tell me that the other day a young guy came in, demanded two helpings of everything which they would not give him, so he put the tray down and stormed out.
Our line was finally over. I could take off my attractive black net hair covering, my plastic gloves and my apron and call it a day. The person in charge thanked me for coming. Volunteers come when they can. Some days there are not enough people, some days more appear than are needed.
It was an interesting experience. You don’t realize how many people need help until you see it for yourself. How difficult it must be for someone who is poor and black and perhaps a little mentally challenged and not well educated. Their lives are stunted in so many ways. If a good food kitchen like the one at Palmer can help get them through another day, more power to them. Their lives are not easy.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – JUNE 2016
MRS. GRAHAM’S GIFT
By Mary M. Grasso
While the rest of my junior-high friends were smitten with drugstore brands like Evening in Paris and Tweed, I always wore Blue Grass. And why not: I had access to an endless supply of the scent in all its manifestations—perfume, soap, even dusting powder that came with a huge soft puff. Blue Grass was already a well-established brand by the time I began wearing it; it had been introduced by Elizabeth Arden in 1938, ten years before I was born. She personally named it after the Kentucky ground cover as well as in tribute to her own beloved thoroughbreds. Widely celebrated as a pioneering and savvy entrepreneur, in fact Elizabeth Arden had been born a country girl and she loved horses as much as she loved the cosmetics business.
For as long as I could remember, Blue Grass products were staples around our apartment, along with various other Arden offerings like Venetian Orange Cream, which my mother swore by. She claimed that it saved her skin, despite the fact that she never went in the sun and it seemed her skin hardly needed saving. I couldn’t stand Orange Cream, with its goppy texture and burnt-orange coloring, to say nothing of its pungent smell, but I was young and not in need of a face cream, anyway. To me it was an old-lady’s product.
This happy abundance of upscale beauty products was a gift in the truest sense of the word. Elizabeth Arden, whose real name was Florence Nightingale Graham, owned an apartment in the Fifth Avenue building where we lived, my father being the superintendent. Always generous with tips to the building’s staff, Mrs. Graham (as we knew her) rounded out her Christmas and Easter gifts with baskets of cosmetics featuring, among other things, the entire Blue Grass line. These would arrive at our door a few days in advance of the holiday for my father to distribute. I suppose it was easier for Mrs. Graham to send an unspecified number of baskets than to try to match one to each employee—like all the tenants in the building, she had multiple dwellings and numerous people staffing them—so invariably my father would have many baskets left over, which he passed along to the live-in help of the other tenants. Those cooks and maids were certainly well taken care of by their own employers, but this was too good a gift to refuse. Still, no matter how many baskets he dispatched, we always seemed to have more lurking in the hall closet, begging to be taken out and enjoyed before the next round arrived.
When I turned 14 I was allowed to open one basket and pick what I liked. My mother took the Orange Cream and the lipstick, as well as the mascara and nail polish, and I chose all the Blue Grass. Misty toilet water, bath salts, purse-size atomizers…I considered myself quite the lady in those days, heady with the notion that overnight I had graduated to the League of Sophisticated Women. That September I started at a boarding school where wearing any sort of perfume was strictly forbidden, and in my new-found wisdom I saw this as a blessing: I would not have wanted to lord over the other girls how much more grown-up I was, with my grown-up choice of scent.
Thanksgiving rolled around. I was home again, and at school I had made new girl friends who lived nearby named Patty and Liz. They came over to play records and practice dance steps, and it was then that I introduced them to Blue Grass. We spent that afternoon spritzing and smoothing lotion onto our skin until the entire apartment smelled like a perfume factory. At Christmas—when another shipment of baskets was piled high in our living room, waiting to be distributed—I splurged, with my parents’ approval, and offered them the pickings of an entire basket. They were thrilled. And so it went, as school chums and home pals, over spring breaks and holidays, during long hot summers, Patty, Liz and I shared the dual happiness of teenage camaraderie and of having our own signature scent: Blue Grass.
But with the possible exception of boarding-school friendships, nothing lasts forever. Mrs. Graham died in 1966 and her apartment was sold; after the last closet stash ran out, if my friends and I wanted to keep on using Blue Grass, we would have to buy it. With the fickleness of teen-age girls we were soon trying all sorts of other perfumes, Ambush and Chantilly, White Shoulders, Arpege…for a while I even dabbled in Chanel No. 5, although it broke my budget. New scents came along, Charlie and Obsession, Beautiful, Poison, and although Blue Grass was still available, it faded into a nostalgic dream as I grew out of adolescence and into adulthood.
Elizabeth Arden’s Orange Cream is still sold, and it is still orange and gloppy, but it’s now called Eight-Hour Cream and it has a cult following among makeup artists. Blue Grass was re-formulated twice over the years, most recently in the 1990’s. On impulse I bought an Elizabeth Arden gift box last year—the sort of combo-pack heavily advertised during the Christmas season, with perfume, dusting powder and lotion—and took it to the annual holiday lunch that Patty, Liz and I have shared all these years. I thought their eyes would light up when they saw it, and that we could once again break open the cellophane and have fun picking what we each wanted. Instead, both of them frowned.
“What?” I asked. “Don’t you remember how nice it was? How we used to love it? It’s Blue Grass, for heaven’s sake!”
“What I remember is how nice you were to share it with us,” Patty finally admitted.
Liz nodded. “Even back then, it smelled like old-lady perfume,” she said. “But I was very grateful to get it.”
For a brief moment I stared at them, and then all three of us burst out laughing.
“For old times’ sake,” I declared as we cut open the box. I took the atomizer and spritzed quickly over each of our heads. “And to Mrs. Graham: thank you for all the years of happiness that began with a gift of scent.”
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH MAY 2016
MY ROOM WITH A VIEW
By: Louise Naples
In the early afternoon, I was wheeled into room 1131, following hip replacement surgery; and since I was the first patient to arrive, I asked to be placed at the window. The orderlies complied and maneuvered my bed into place. I was extremely drowsy and fell back to sleep, vaguely aware of my husband’s concerned presence.
When I next awoke, I turned my eyes towards the large wall-to-wall window to my right. It appeared to be dusk, the city lights just coming on. There I beheld the sight of the Empire State Building, aglow in a soft gold color, a combination of its own illumination and the setting sun. In the distance, the distinctive array of illuminated spikes defined the Chrystler Building, and in the foreground the brilliant gold elongated dome of the Met Life Building. Room 1131 – bed No. 2.
I gazed around the room and noted that I had acquired a roommate; a black woman about my own age, who gave me a cheery greeting. Food trays came but I was not yet hungry; however my solicitous spouse had gone out to get himself some real food at a local diner on 17th and 3rd. I lay back upon some generous pillows, and assessed my condition. What could I feel? An alternating caressing sensation about my lower legs, courtesy of leg pumps to help avoid the formation of blood clots. The machine that powered them hummed and swished softly, rhythmically. I could wiggle my toes, and knew that the anesthesia had substantially worn off. It was what I did not feel that was astonishing, no pain in my hip, nor side, nor back, my companions for the last year or so. I was totally pain free, which meant that the medications they administered were doing their job. A nurse came in and gently pinched my toes; “Can you feel that?” she asked. She smiled at my affirmative nod. The room was calm and quiet and the staff attentive and pleasant.
As the call of nature signaled, I rang for the nurse to use the bathroom. She came in, removed the pumps which were attached by Velcro tabs, and rolled a walker up to the side of my bed, let down the side, and helped me to a sitting position. With her help, I slid my legs over the side and was soon standing on my own two feet. I was amazed! Just seven hours after surgery I was walking to the bathroom under my own steam with the nurse close behind me. She helped me into position, then closed the door for my privacy, instructing me to pull the call string when I was finished.
Back in the room, it was a major operation to get back into bed, much more difficult than getting out. I had to scoot myself with my arms as far back onto the bed as I could manage, until the knee joint was fully engaged on the bed, then I was able to slide my operated leg up and over. Whew! I was taught the trick of using a folded top sheet, coiled into a thick rope as a lasso to hoist my leg up. Of course, it took a number of tries to get that lasso engaged under my foot, which generated lots of laughter from my roommate. Until it was her turn….
Soon, the parade of nurses began. The first came in rolling a small cart to draw my blood. A short time later, another came in rolling a tall stand with equipment to take temperature and blood pressure; then another woman came in to tidy the room. Then the most senior nurse rolled in her portable computer-controlled pharmacy to dispense our medications. Each of these women had to negotiate their carts around our beds, hip chairs, bed stands, monitoring equipment, bedside tables, walkers, visitors chairs, and piles of cables coiled on the floor at the foot of each of our beds. And the curtains – color, hospital calm – which ran along tracks in the ceiling. My roommate Ora started laughing at the hijinks, and so did I. We became instant friends. We kept the curtains wide open so we could see and converse with each other, and she could also enjoy the view.
My husband left at about nine and so did her two lovely daughters. The floor became quiet, and I enjoyed a very peaceful first night.
For the next days the routines set in, with various nursing teams taking their shifts. Ora and I were visited by physical therapists several times a day as well as occupational therapists, resident physicians, social workers, nurse home-care coordinators, durable medical equipment salespeople, and our own surgeons. In three days they prepared us to return home fully able to ambulate, climb stairs, and with our trusty hip kits, to manage our personal needs. They were also sending us home with the leg pumps to be used for twenty-eight days.
I was taken for daily walks around the nurses’ station block, in hallways that were unbelievably cluttered with all manner of medical machines, delivery carts, and other pedestrians, ambulating first by using a walker, then progressing to forearm crutches There was an eight-step staircase that we used for practice, using one crutch and a handrail for support. The requirement was that all patients have a therapist in tow while walking. This understandably limited the amount of time we could spend out and about the floor. I began to understand the new philosophy of getting patients home in three days time instead of nine. Much more and frequent mobility was possible at home, as well as the much reduced potential hospital-borne infections.
If the general daily activity had been busy, on the final morning it was positively manic. Our family members came to take us home; we had our final visits with physical therapists, our crutches, hip kits, and walkers were delivered and placed all over the crowded room. The nurses came in stages for vital signs, medicines, and blood draws as well as to issue us our final prescriptions to be filled at home. Breakfasts were delivered, our surgeons came to sign us out, the occupational therapists came to show us how to dress, the aids with wheel chariots arrived to take us down to our cars. All packed into our little room. Then to top it all off, a short man with a very tall ladder came in and announced he was going to change the curtains. By this time Ora and I were convulsed in laughter. How did we get into this Marx Brothers movie!
Before I left, I took a lingering gaze out the window. On the morrow the Empire State Building would be all lit up in green for St. Patricks’ Day. I would have liked to see that, but I was eager to get home and take control of my life once again. If you ever have to go to the Hospital for Joint Diseases on 17th and 2nd, ask for room 1131, my room with a view. But be aware, there is a price to be paid for that view; the tab for my three- day stay was $127,559.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH APRIL 2016
MUSIC IS MORE THAN A SOUND
By: Ella McMahon
I was not going to give up my newly acquired routine simply
because I chose the warmest summer in years to start my exercise
regimen. To contend with the soaring mid day temperatures, I got
up very early and “hit” the cool empty streets at dawn.
With the sun low on the horizon, the air crisp and the morning dew
intensifying the color of every leaf and flower; and of course with
music playing from my phone, my feet had no choice but to do more
of a dance than a speed walk.
With no one to notice my undignified behavior, I started humming along with the music.
And then my phone rang.
It was my groggy and overly concerned husband. He addressed me
by name, even pronounced the second syllable. A sure sign that he
was really annoyed.
I can’t understand you he said. Just last night we discussed how
dangerous your new habit is.
The streets are empty, it’s barely daylight and I am sure that you are
also totally engrossed in music and completely oblivious to your
You do realize that this is exactly how vice goes undercover to
realize a criminal action?
Is the irony of putting yourself in jeopardy for the sake of your health
is totally lost on you?
He may have realized that he needed to tone his rhetoric down.
El, May I remind you that we have a perfectly good treadmill in
a safe and comfortable climate controlled basement.
I have heard enough! I will be careful, but I need to continue..
I will be home in half an hour.
Then, please promise me that you will eliminate the distraction of
the ear phones..
As promised, I shut my phone and continued on.
The joy and ease of the previous half hour disappeared instantly.
Without music I was painfully aware of every step I took and every
muscle I moved.
Was it the music that kept me distracted and unaware of the exercise effort? Of course, but it did much more than that.
It transported me to another place and time.
Singing along with Bobby Darin, Neal Diamond and the Stones, I was twenty again.
Listening to a Harlem Nocturne and Dinah Washington, I was
a bride again.
But music is a lot more than just a visceral response. Research
in Neuroscience indicates that rhythmic structured sounds like music have an enormous effect on our brain’s ability to prime, time and execute movement as well as creating an increase in the production of serotonin, a feel good hormone.
It reminded me that twenty years ago my mother in law suffered
a series of strokes. The only way we could reach her was with music. We discovered it accidentally. Shortly after she was diagnosed with stroke related memory loss and aphasia, the Nursing home invited my husband and myself to attend the annual Christmas party. We were amazed, my mother in law was joyfully singing along, remembering the lyrics to every song.
We both knew at that instant what was required from us.
In the following weeks and months we would find and learn music from the 1940’s and the 1950’s,
record it and bring it along with us on each one of our visits.
My mother in law would always ask us to play for her “When my
old wedding ring was new”, tear up and tell us that her husband’s favorite song was “Stardust”.
John will put on The Andrew Sisters
or Johnny Mercer and her mood will change in an instant.
She repeatedly told us how much she loved our music sessions.
I know that it helped her. But it helped us just as much.
As soon as I will get home I have a lot to say to John, right after
I tell him never to ask me to stop playing my music.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH MARCH 2016
MY DOG DAISY
By: Shelly Papernik
My dog Daisy was really my daughter’s dog. I had always loved dogs, and always wanted one, but my husband was not an animal person, and I never wanted to inflict a dog on him – or vice versa. I figured it would be one of the things I’d have to do without. Then it was September, and my daughter, who was nine, announced that she wanted a dog for Hanuka. The surprising part was that my husband was immediately for it, no convincing necessary. His little girl wanted a dog. His little girl would get a dog. I don’t know who was more overjoyed, my daughter or me.
I immediately began doing research. I took out books from the library listing the various breeds and their traits. Some shed too much. Some disposed one to allergies. Some were not good with kids. Some were hard to train. After hours of poring over the delightful photos and aspects of dogs I found the perfect dog for us. It was the poodle. Not a full sized poodle. I decided we needed a dog small enough for me to pick up and put in the bathtub if necessary. A toy poodle would be just right. It had short hair that didn’t shed much, was the least allergenic, was good with kids, and very smart, easy to train.
The North Shore Animal Shelter, had ads in the papers. In October they listed poodles. Oh, good. We’ll go to Roslyn, not too far, and bring home a nice poodle from the shelter. This suited our sense of kindness to animals. So many dogs needed homes, it seemed not right to buy a dog when we could rescue one from a life in a cage. We went in October even thought Hanuka wasn’t until December because you never knew if it would snow and make driving difficult. After all, we wouldn’t want to disappoint our daughter. Also, because I was so excited about getting a dog, I couldn’t wait.
The first thing we learned was that there was no poodle. Either the poodle had been taken, or as I began to suspect, there never had been a poodle, or perhaps one time long long ago there had been a poodle. But in any case, there was no poodle today. This put a bit of a damper on everything. Listlessly we drifted into a room in which a lot of small dogs and puppies were stacked in cages along one wall. We looked at them. Dogs of all shapes, sizes and colors. Some sleeping, some yipping.
A pretty black dog with long silky fur and patches of white and tan caught my eye. She was spunky, one of the yippy ones. Her tail stood up and curled over her back, the long tail hair floating down like a flag. “How about this one?” I said to my gang. The caretaker opened the cage and put her on the table in the middle of the room for our inspection.
My daughter wanted a dog. I wanted a dog. Who knew how long my husband’s uncharacteristic lapse of judgement would continue? And when he would suddenly wake up to remember that he didn’t actually like dogs, possibly disliked them, in fact. That the last thing in his life he wanted or needed was a dog? Who knew whether we would ever find the time or opportunity to visit North Shore Animal Shelter again? This was a very sweet and attractive looking dog, only twelve weeks old, a puppy. She looked bright and fun. I really wanted that dog.
“This looks like a nice dog,” I said. I could see that the children were all interested.
We took it. We trooped into the office to sign the papers. The caretaker put the puppy down in the middle of the floor. The puppy began shaking with fear.
“Is this the way the puppies usually are?” I asked naively. “She’s shaking so much. She seems scared.” The woman at the desk took one look at us, happy, expectant, well groomed. Anyone could see we were a thoroughly nice family.
“Oh yes,” she lied. “It’s quite normal.”
They gave us a cardboard box to take her home. My daughter thought about it and named her Daisy. I never knew why since she had very little white. However, Daisy it was. Most children, at the prospect of having a dog promise that they will walk the dog and care for it. My dughter was no exception. She and her younger brother both promised to walk Daisy. We all knew that my husband and oldest son would not. This was fine with me. I knew that this was a promise they wouldn’t always be able to keep, they would sometimes walk her and sometimes not, depending on their schedule and the weather and how they felt. I knew that I would be the one to walk and care for this dog, and I was okay with it.
Her long black fur shed all over the light beige carpet. She was a mix, part sheltie, they thought, which are usually smart, and part terrier which are usually stubborn. I found out later that shaking with fear is not normal, that many puppies are not fearful at all, and will come to you willingly and with curiosity. The barking continued throughout her life. She barked at everything. The entire neighborhood was safe because no matter who she saw going into who’s house, she’d bark her head off. And if we had company she’d do the same. When I later asked my vet about it and told him, “I yell at her when she barks, but it doesn’t seem to help,” he looked distressed and said, “Oh no, you must never yell at Daisy. She’s such a sensitive dog.” He added, “You can train her not to bark, but then she won’t be a watchdog. You can’t have it both ways.” So we decided to put up with the barking. After all, a good watchdog was a valuable asset. So was my vet who seemed to care about the mental and physical health of my dog more than any of our pediatricians about our children.
She barked at people, the good and the bad. Though at first this embarrassed me, later I began to think of it as a positive characteristic. Since she was such a sensitive dog and since she did not like to be touched by strangers, the barking was a good warning sign to leave her alone. Most people were quick to understand when I explained that Daisy was not going to be a “friendly” dog, and they would ignore her, letting her calm down. However one man decided that he was going to be the one to, in one miracle lesson, change Daisy’s personality from that shivering little lump of fear we took home to the trusting, fearless, friendly dog he fantasized. After two minutes of saying “Nice dog,” and other magical incantations, he approached her with his hand stretched out to pat her, at which point Daisy growled, took a defensive stance and started barking her head off. The man quickly pulled back and started blaming her for being “vicious”, then stalked off. Just as he wasn’t about to achieve a magical personality change in Daisy, I wasn’t about to achieve any change in him by pointing out that he was warned that she wasn’t “friendly”, and that he had brought on the barking by his own puffed up sense of himself and his ignorance of dogs, so I held my tongue. With most people there was no need to say anything at all. One look at the barking dog, and they all knew she was saying “Keep your distance.” And they did. After the initial barking she would lie down and go to sleep, so I never had to worry. She was by no means vicious. She just wanted to be left alone.
She was hard to housetrain. It took two years, but once she got it she was very reliable. After all the research I had done she turned out to be opposite in almost every trait I had thought I wanted, except one. She was very very smart. I was able to teach her a lot of things, and some things she taught herself. She could sit, stay, roll over, get up on hind legs, fetch, fetch her leash from where it hung in another room, (and in fact, she would get the leash without being told and bring it to me when she wanted to go out.) She also never never chewed anything except the many rawhide bones we bought her which she loved. I hadn’t known that dogs liked to chew stuff, so it wasn’t on my list of things to avoid. Shoes, socks, toys, furniture, my guitar which I left on the floor. All were safe.
Daisy never overate. I thought that all dogs overate if they had food available, but as I saw how thin she stayed I assumed she was an unusual dog and I left food in her bowl all the time. When years later I got my cats I left food for them all the time too, thinking erroneously that cats knew when to say enough and never overate. When they blew up like butterballs and my new vet gently pointed out that they weighed much more than they should and would soon develop all the obesity problems that people develop, I began regulating their food till their weight became more normal. Before one actually owns a pet one can have strange ideas that are not always accurate.
Daisy also taught herself to know the boundaries of our property. When I went out to garden she would follow me all around, without a leash, and never go into the street or the neighbor’s yard. One of my neighbors had a cat at the time, Nicky. Nicky was a tease. He would lie down langorously just where the neighbor’s property joined ours, and he would do that funny thing that cats like to do, stretch out all four paws, front paws frontwards, rear paws behind. Then he’d look back over his shoulder at Daisy who would by now be prancing around, studying him intensely, looking ready to race over and get Nicky. Daisy was an incredibly fast runner. But even without a fence to separate them, she never once ran after Nicky in the neighbor’s yard. Of course I don’t know what would have happened if Nicky had ventured into our yard. But then Nicky was a very smart outdoor cat who knew how to survive.
It was one of my happiest days when my daughter asked for a dog. Daisy lived for eighteen and a half years. But though I walked and fed her and we had a special relationship, my daughter was the only one who’s patting she enjoyed. The boys walked and played with her. They loved her and she loved them back. The odd thing was that even though my husband never walked her or tried to pat her, she treated him like the king of the pack. She waited faithfully by the door for him every evening till he came home from work, and if, joy of joys, he decided to join us for our walk, it was as if the sun had come out for Daisy. It made her so happy. It made me slightly peeved. Who feeds and cares for you? I wanted to ask her. However I tried to be goodnatured about it. After all, I couldn’t complain. I had a dog.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – FEBRUARY 2016
A CAREFREE CHILDHOOD
By: Patricia Gainor
Growing up in the 1940’s in the Northeast Bronx was for me and the neighborhood children a time of great freedom and fun. Unaware of, or sheltered from the fears of the war years, we spent every waking hour of good weather out-of-doors, playing, exploring, fighting, and learning. In summer we had the beach down the block on the Long Island Sound for swimming and water games and planned athletics. For the rest of the year we had the backyards, sidewalks and streets for roller skating, jumping rope, all kinds of games. And for adventure, we had the marshlands.
Because gas was rationed and cars were scarce, the streets and roads became our playgrounds. While the bigger kids played Stickball or Stoopball, even Baseball, and Basketball, once someone’s Dad nailed a hoop to the telephone pole, we youngsters with lesser skills had our own games: I Declare War, Kickball, Boxball, Ringalevio, and Potsie, our local name for Hop Scotch. A piece of chalk and a ball were the tools for almost any game, but the most desired was the glorious, pink rubber Spaldeen, a rarity during the war years. When that ball rolled through the curbside opening into the sewer below, there was panic. Someone would race to my house for the ultimate retriever, a wire mesh French Fryer pot which my mother handed over along with a long piece of twine. With the twine tied to the handle, the pot would be lowered through the opening and swung under the grate as the ball bobbled in the water. Back and forth it would be swung until the ball was scooped up and the game resumed. My mother earned the name, “The Good Fairy”, and that pot never saw a potato.
In winter we had backyards for Snowmen and snow forts, and the hills for sledding. The best one was at the top of my street. Kids came from all over with sleds, garbage can covers, or cardboard. Some just came, hoping for a chance to fly down that hill if someone shared, and share we did. My Flexible Flyer could hold a sandwich of three, the biggest youngster on the bottom to steer. The goal was to hang on till the hill flattened out, but most times bodies went sprawling well before that. Up we’d get, trudge up the hill to try again and again. Occasionally there would be tears, but few, because the heckling and names like “baby” and “sissy” stopped the fussing rather quickly. You learned fast on the hill with the bigger kids. The most daring did belly flops to increase their speed. Clutch your sled, run fast to the crest of the hill, throw down your sled and plop on top. The key was to synchronize or you’d smash your face on the sled or, worse, on the icy hill, while your sled sped down, riderless, an ignominious result.
Few left before the shine from the streetlights signaled dinnertime. We’d be covered in snow, more snow stuffed in our boots, our mittens clumped with ice. Once home, the mittens spread to dry on the radiators, snowsuits and galoshes hung to dry for the next time, we hungrily ate our dinner and headed for an early bedtime. If the hill still had snow, we’d be out again the next day. When the snowfall was heavy, the flakes layered on top of the reeds in the marshland, looking like a roof of snow, treacherous to the unwary. My young cousin thought the roof was solid and stepped out onto it and plunged down a hole to the bottom. Lots of screaming and yelling brought his Dad running, and he rolled down the hill, flattening the reeds as he went till he reached little Tim and carried him to safety. Another lesson learned for all of us that day.
The marshlands around our neighborhood appealed to the more daring, or the more disobedient of our group. We skated on the creek in the winter, caught tadpoles in the summer, climbed the Weeping Willow and swung over the creek practicing our Tarzan calls, crashed through the tall grasses scattering the rabbits and muskrats, causing the pheasants to fly up in alarm, and occasionally, disturbing a long black snake. It fled and we fled. We cut the tops, or punks, of cattails in late summer, drying them for a few days, and then, with purloined matches, tried to smoke them, pretending they were cigars. The blackberry and raspberry bushes offered delicious fruit that we willingly plucked, hoping to avoid the poison ivy close by, but we suffered annually with nasty, itchy blisters. The Blackeyed Susans that spread across the marshes in Spring filled vases in many houses, but were not as hardy as the Cornflowers that grew along the edges of those fields. We raced each other across the narrow, temporary roads that bisected the fields and anchored the existing parallel streets. Today, the streets are wide, running next to the Clearview Expressway, which swallowed up the marshes that we played in so happily.
The Depression years were a reality, and money was short in our house and a large part of the neighborhood. Hand-me-downs were welcomed; everyone we knew shared. Yet our lives were full and happy with the fun we created and the freedom we enjoyed. No angels, we, though. Streetlights were fair game for a strong arm and a snowball; the ice truck was raided for chunks the minute the driver made his delivery; matches, though forbidden, held a special allure until young fingers suffered a burn. A particular thrill, totally forbidden, was to grab hold of the rear fender of the bus while on your roller skates, and sail down the major road to the next stop. The penalty was severe. Fists fights were few, but proved a suitable way to solve a dispute since no adults were present. But, the watchful eyes of those we called the “busybodies” saw, or listened to the tattle tales, much more than we knew. They shared the stories with the parents, and the guilty were reprimanded or punished. Those “nosies” proved to be the neighborhood safety net, totally unappreciated by all of us at the time
When the war ended in 1945, some of us piled into my cousin’s car, my brothers and I in the rumble seat, blowing party horns, wearing folded newspaper hats, yelling for all we were worth, not quite sure why. Prosperity began to move forward. Spaldeens and bubble gum returned to the candy store counters, and we had money to buy such treasures. Bread rose in price, but we had sugar and tasty meat again. How I hated Spam! The Saturday matinee price surged from 12cents to 15cents, but a candy bar could be bought for a nickel.
For my ninth birthday, my Dad bought me a used bicycle for the astronomical price of $20.00. My boundaries spread out further, but the rules governing my behavior also increased. The carefree days of childhood were ending. I was growing up.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – JANUARY 2016
A CHILD’S MEMORY OF WINTERS IN CANADA
By: Joan Barnes
I came into this world in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada the end of May, 1930. My Mother often told me the story of how she had to struggle to the hospital when she knew I was on the way. There had been a late spring snowstorm in Edmonton. Blowing snow had drifted to such an extent against the front of the house that she could not push open the front door. She was able to push the back door open, climb a fence to get to the main street, and wait for a street car to take her to the hospital. Those pioneer women were tough.
Edmonton is called “The Gateway to the North”. My first memory of something special that winter offered us in Canada’s North West was the night my Mother took me outside to see the Northern Lights. I have no idea how old I was, probably four or five. I remember looking up at the sky. There were others too, all looking up. I could see these wavering green lights like a pale green curtain blowing in the evening breeze. We all stood silently in the cold night air and watched and then my Mother said it was too cold to be outside without a coat on and she took my hand and walked me back inside the house. I’m glad I have that one memory as I never saw the Northern Lights live again.
Winter is never the difficult season when you are a child that it can be when you are older and you worry about falling on slippery sidewalks or being annoyed that you have to brush all the snow off the car or have to shovel the walk. Back then, we were carefree and winter meant snow balls, snow forts, sliding on sleds or cardboard boxes down the hills, skating on home made skating rinks in backyards.
We would have weeks of below freezing temperatures. I remember our fathers would flood the back yards and make small skating rinks. I’m sure the surface was bumpy and rough, but we would gamely skate around the ice. No wonder Canadian boys and girls are good at hockey. They learned to play on terrible ice.
At certain times during the winter, the snow would have a density that enabled it to be cut into shapes. The temperature had to be cold enough so that the snow did not melt. I can’t remember using a knife to cut blocks of snow. Perhaps we sawed them with the cusp of our hands. However we did it, I remember piling up blocks of snow into a fort and cozily sitting inside the fort to wait for some unsuspecting passer by and then pelting the poor person with snow. It would just be flyaway snow, not hard snowballs as that took a different kind of snow, the kind that had somewhat melted and would stick together.
Boys were better at making hard packed snowballs than girls, but we all had fun. There was many a snowball fight to and from school. The worst punishment was to have someone rub your face in the snow.
Our mothers knew how to dress us to survive in the really cold weather. It was never too cold for us not to go outside and play. We wore baggy snowsuits that you could hardly move in, but they kept us warm. No one wore gloves. We all wore mittens and the mittens stayed put because they were joined together by a long knitted or crocheted cord that was pulled through our jackets. If we took off a mitten, we never lost it. It just dangled at the end of our hands.
There was one weakness to this system. There would be a bare space from the end of the mitten to the beginning of our snowsuit. That place on our wrists always got red and cold. Can you remember that one spot?
We all had sleds or toboggans. If not we made do with thick cardboard boxes opened up flat and used those to slide on. I lived near High Park in Toronto and there were great hills there. The hills ran down into Grenadier Pond, so named for some witless British Grenadiers who tried to follow a band of Indians and ended up drowning. We always said there was quicksand at the bottom of the pond that sucked the Grenadiers in. More likely it was their heavy uniforms that dragged them down into the mud.
By the time we came in for supper at night, our cheeks would be rosy red, our wrists chapped from the cold and our eyes tearing from the wind. Our mittens would be thick with snow and covered with little balls of ice. We would be ravenous for supper and then after supper we would throw ourselves on the floor in front of the radio to listen to Fibber McGee and Molly or Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
There were no “snow days” back then. It was a matter of pride that you went to school no matter what kind of weather. Most people lived near where they worked or where they went to school so you just walked as usual, only now it took longer as each step was through deep snow. If we could not manage the sidewalks we trudged in the ruts the few cars made.
Coal was used to heat the houses. Early in the mornings my father and grandfather would shovel out the ashes from the furnace and shovel fresh coal in. The ashes were put to good use. They were spread on the icy sidewalks and steps to keep you from falling on the ice.
Hoar frost. Now that’s a story we all know. I fell victim to its seduction one time. I saw a metal pole covered in it near my house. I stuck out my tongue to try what looked to be a delectable mouthful of white frost. Oh, No. My tongue stuck to the metal. I must have screamed. I can vaguely remember my mother coming out of the house probably shouting, “Get some hot water”, but by this time my own body heat had melted the frost and my tongue escaped with little injury. It’s a lesson, though, that none of us forget.
What about hanging clothes out on the clothesline in the winter and having them freeze as solid as a piece of wood? Does anyone remember that? I remember helping my mother bring these stiff clothes in. I would try to fold the sheets, but Mother said No, put them down the basement and let them dry there. It was all we could do to hang the frozen sheets on a basement line.
Meals were always very hearty in the winter. Mother would make homemade bread and homemade soups; tomato soups, barley soups, pea soups. They were so satisfying on a cold winter day. There would be jars of peaches or pears for dessert that had been put away in the fall.
We thought nothing of winter. Everyone was in the same boat. None of our friends or relatives went down south for the winter. No one could afford it back then. We made winter as pleasant as we could. There would be popcorn popped in an old-fashioned popper over the stove. Once in awhile Mother would make fudge. When the boiling brown sugar and vanilla and milk would reach the right temperature and form little balls, she would put it outside in the snow to cool before beating it to a creamy consistency, cutting it into squares and letting us eat it. Half would have walnuts as Mother liked them, and half would be plain.
Icicles were often hanging from the eaves of the houses or the roof of the porches. Fragile as they were, we admired their pristine clear beauty and would try to gently pluck one to hold as a lollipop and lick the cold end. Frost would decorate the bedroom and bathroom windows at night. I often traced the fern-like shapes as they grew and spread over the whole window.
Most of us remember making “angels in the snow”. There had to have been a fall of fresh snow, a perfect bed on which to fall over backwards and then brush our arms up and down in the snow to make the “wings”.
Heavy handmade quilts would be spread on our beds at night. They were so heavy I can remember struggling just to turn over, but they did keep us warm. We needed that warmth as the bathroom would be freezing before the furnace had a chance to spread warmth throughout the house.
I wonder if children nowadays will have pleasant winter memories as I do. Perhaps a “snow day” to them is a real treat. Perhaps a week in Nassau or Antigua is what gets them through the cold weather. Every season has its joys and hardships. I used to like winter more than I do now. Now I say to myself, thank goodness it only comes once a year, but I still don’t go down to Florida.
WRITERS CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – DECEMBER 2015
TWO CHRISTMAS TREES
By: Louise Naples
It was December 15th, 1971 a balmy 82 degrees; we were wearing tee shirts, shorts, and sandals. Our daughters, aged 3 and 5 years old, were beside themselves with seasonal excitement. They knew Christmas was coming, and had spent leisurely afternoons making paper chains, and macaroni and glitter decorations and together we had hand painted many wooden ornaments. Today, we were on our quest to find a Christmas tree in Caracas. We sought out nurseries and garden centers such as they were in Venezuela, but those were few and far between since the lovely sub-tropical temperatures gifted the country with year round fragrant brilliance in its many flowering trees and shrubs. Venezuela was one huge garden.
Larisa and Nikita were getting anxious about the tree. We could not find a fir of any style or size in any place we visited. In desperation, Ernest, my husband, thought of visiting a plant store.
Again, we were disappointed. We looked bleakly at each other over the heads of our children while he pointed out a huge six foot tropical plant in the corner. It had abundant large dark green leaves, strong limbs that would support our strings of tree lights that we had the foresight to bring with us from home. He asked the girls if they though that would do, explaining that, in Venezuela, many things were different from what we were used to at home. The five year old looked at it critically with her hands on her hips, and declared it only acceptable.
We lugged it home and placed it in front of our living room terrace windows. We carefully placed the strings of lights on its willing limbs, tied the ornaments on with wide red ribbons, and the kids strung their paper chains with great care. Larisa said, “Well, I guess if we love it enough, it will become a Christmas tree.” And it did, for our two Christmases in Caracas.
In December of 1975, we did have snow, lots of it. But this was Iran, not at all a Christmas country. The quest for a tree here would prove a challenge once again. I went with my friend Greta Mogle in search of places that might sell trees. Lo and behold, since there was a very large American and British presence in Tehran at that time, some smart entrepreneur managed to procure a fine supply of pine trees to sell to the many Christian foreigners in town. Though Greta was Jewish, she was enthusiastic about helping me find a tree. We selected a lovely tree, and tied it up on top of her car, and drove it home to our house in Shemiran, a northern suburb of the city, at the foothills of the Darban mountains.
We propped it in a bucket of water out on our side outdoor landing, and our next excursion was to locate a Christmas tree stand. We toured the bazaars, and shops, and came up empty. As the King of Siam once said, “It was a puzzlement”. My husband Ernest and I thought long and hard about how to set up this tree, as the holiday was upon us, and we had invited many people for a tree-trimming party. Greta’s family with two daughters, our Persian landlords downstairs, and their three boys, and other assorted friends, South Africans, and Indians. There would be lots of children.
A crazy decision was made after several glasses of wine; to suspend the tree from the ceiling, with its base just low enough to hang into a full bucket of water. It was a tricky installation, with picture wire looped among the branches, wound tightly together, and strung through steel loops we screwed high up into the walls and ceiling. It actually worked.
On party day, the guest began arriving, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, all to decorate our Christmas tree. The children, who could not give a fig about religions, eagerly dove into work at the craft table we set up to make decorations. Construction paper strips, glue jars, cardboard wreaths, wooden cutouts, paint jars, macaroni, glitter in many colors. The adults brought interesting items from the bazaar to hang on the tree. Miniature brass buckets, carved wooden spoons, embroidered tea coasters, tiny figurines. Others donated foods for our buffet.
It was a most unusual tree, swinging as it did while being adorned, the water in the bucket sloshing about making puddles on the floor. But the wires held as the children eagerly placed their creations in its boughs. When the decorating was completed, the tree was cheered by all participants. A fine and memorable tree it certainly was.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – NOVEMBER 2015
HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES
By: Joan Barnes
For years my son has had season tickets to the New York Rangers games. His four daughters have all grown up going to hockey games with him and understand the sport pretty well. The other night my son offered two tickets to his oldest daughter, Teagan, 20, but she could not find anyone to go with her on short notice. I was standing by when I heard her complain to her father that she was going to have to go to the game on her own. “I’ll go”, I said, thinking it would be a pleasant diversion to a night of T.V. watching. “O.K., Nana”, she answered. “Are you sure you want to go? Do you know how the game is played?”
I was insulted. I was born in Canada where every Saturday night was hockey night in Canada. I can remember my father and his father, sitting, first in front of the radio, and then in front of the T.V. listening to and then watching the Stanley Cup games. My Mother would get so nervous she would have to go into the kitchen, set up the iron, and do some ironing just to relax.
But I had not been to a professional hockey game in Madison Square Gardens for a long time, perhaps only once before. However, I was looking forward to it as my granddaughter said she would do the driving. We drove into the city and found a parking spot on the street around 37th and started walking down to 34th to the Gardens. Everyone seemed to be walking in that direction. I could barely keep up. New Yorkers really do seem to walk fast. Teagan is tall and has long legs and I had to stretch my own not to be left behind.
Many of the young men and women who were walking around us were sporting Ranger jerseys with the names of famous players emblazoned on the back – Messier, Richter, etc.
We hurried into the Gardens and up innumerable escalators to our section. The seats were pretty good and as we got settled in I looked around to see what was going on. Seats were filling quickly, mostly with men between the ages of 18 and 40, a few girlfriends, but not many older women such as I.
There was a lot to see. Lights seemed to be flashing everywhere; brightly lit neon signs telling us not to get too close to the boards as pucks can ricochet. I saw four jerseys that had been hung up in the rafters – numbers lifted up, never to be used by another Ranger hockey player. I recognized all the names – Messier, Richter, who was the little baby-faced goalie, Giacomin, and Gilbert, legends of Ranger history.
The game started on time. I vividly remembered that hollow echoing sound of the skates on the ice and swish of the puck, not to mention the bruising sounds of bodies against the boards. Hockey is a fast game and the action swirled from one end of the rink to the other. Suddenly the Rangers scored a goal and the crowd went wild. I found myself the only one who was sitting down. I jumped up quickly and sang along with the rest of the crowd, once I figured out what they were singing, “Go-oh-oh-al, Go-oh-oh-al. Then we all shouted “Goal, Goal, Goal” and punched our fists into the air. As we sat down another chant began, “Let’s go Rangers, Let’s go Rangers”. The big organ kept up with the crowd, playing louder and louder until the rafters reverberated with the sound.
Ah, but wait, Atlanta scored. Dead silence, not even a sportsmanlike clapping for the opposing team. The organ quietly played “When Johnny comes Marching Home Again”, or some such southern ballad. We sat in glum silence until the Rangers scored again. This time I, too, jumped up with the crowd and shouted as loud as the rest of them.
Vendors came and went, selling hot dogs, popcorn, beer, sodas, candy floss, and Dr. Seuss hats in Ranger colors. Teagan ordered a hot dog for herself and popcorn for me.
The gondola above us had a series of never-ending electronic signs pulsing away with upcoming games, scores from teams playing in the West, times of the goal, who assisted, etc. The different segments were constantly bombarding us with news of one kind or the other.
Every once in awhile I would hear a faint whistle – faint to me but loud to the crowd as all at once they would shout in unison, ”Potvin Sucks”. Not a very nice chant, I must say, but I had to laugh. Years ago the Islanders won a series of Stanley Cups to the envy of the Rangers. The one player the Rangers hated more than any other was the Islander captain, Potvin, as he led the Islanders to victory four years in a row. Even to this day, 28 years later, the Rangers still deride Potvin in no uncertain terms. But, to quote the Times, “The big difference now is that people yell it with a smile on their face as opposed to the hatred that once was”.
The game was getting exciting. The score was 4-4 at the end so we would have to go into overtime. I hate that as I always think the other team is going to win. Teagan was really into the game and said her heart was pounding as the action all seemed to be in the Ranger net. And then Atlanta scored and the game was over. Teagan was depressed. I wasn’t. I still had the fun of driving home with my granddaughter, discussing the game, talking about what we both had coming up, what she was buying her friends and family for Christmas. To me, being with my granddaughter was more exciting and more fun than the hockey game.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – OCTOBER 2015
By Mary Grasso
On Wednesday night an elderly man pulled his van into our driveway, turned off the engine and slouched back in his seat. I watched him from the window, partly in fascination but mostly in fear. Had he mistaken an address? Was he a burglar? Not being resourceful or brave enough to think of anything so simple as going and asking this fellow why he was there—and oh, by the way, would he please move the van—I did what came naturally: I called the police.
“You’re having a tag sale on Saturday?” the desk clerk said.
“Yes.” How did he know this?
“That’s probably why he’s there… Yup! I have that license plate listed right here. Miller. He’s a regular at these things. He’ll be parking by your house for the next few days. But he can’t park on the street overnight—village rules.”
Too astonished to remember how cowardly I was, I hung up and went outside to bang on the window of the van.
“Are you here for the tag sale?” I demanded, startling the occupant, who, I now saw, was actually two teenaged boys devouring a Happy Meal.
“Yes, Ma’am.” The driver rolled down his window and smiled at me with greasy lips. “We’re holding Mr. Miller’s place on line. He wants to be first.”
“Who is Mr. Miller?”
“Oh, he has a shop in Brooklyn. He hired us to keep his spot.”
“So you’ll be here until Saturday??”
“Not us, but someone will. We work in shifts. Haven’t you ever been to a tag sale? We do this all the time.”
I had never been to a tag sale. As far as I knew, none of my friends had ever been to a tag sale. I had never even thought about a tag sale until we decided to move and found we had too much stuff to take with us. I had called Amy, a professional organizer recommended by our realtor, and a week ago Amy had shown up with cleaning supplies, a Rolodex and a box of small white stickers and set about furiously arranging everything. Now my house had been converted into a sort of private store. I went back inside to reflect upon the tables and countertops overwhelmed with the detritus of my suburban life and sighed heavily. What had I done?
Thursday morning the van was back out on the street and the teenagers had been replaced by a heavily muscled man. I saw him standing at the end of the driveway, marking up slips of paper and handing them around to a small crowd. I raised the dining room window.
“What’s going on now?” I called. “Are you Mr. Miller?”
“No, Lady, but I’ll be here today. The kids come back tonight. Don’t worry, it’s all under control.
Perhaps it is, I thought, but what does that mean? I called Amy.
“Some person, some Mr. Miller—“
“AH! I forgot to tell you about that,” she gasped. “I’m sorry. He’ll be there until we open. There might be a few more people—“
“A few more people? He’s handing out slips right now. Are those numbers for them to line up by?”
“Exactly! It means we’re going to do very well. It’s a good sign, don’t you think?”
I didn’t know what to think. No—I did know: I thought this whole business was getting bizarre. I poured some coffee into a thermos and took it out to the sentry who was now alone, slouched under a tree, smoking.
“Where’s the crowd?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “I gave out forty numbers, that’s it. The rest will just have to wait behind those forty. I’m done with my end.”
Throughout the next two days I would seem them coming and going, folks who knew why the van was there and wanted details about the sale. They never came to my door; no, they all knew whom to ask, which was whoever was on duty at the time. The teenagers assured me that for the most part folks who came to tag sales were a pretty savvy lot. That was comforting.
Late Friday afternoon Amy arrived for a final walk-through. She carried a clipboard as we toured the open rooms and taped NO ENTRANCE signs on the doors of those that would be off-limits.
“Just make sure,” she cautioned me, “that NOTHING is out which you don’t want to get rid of. Believe me: everything is fair game.”
That night I couldn’t sleep. I hung out at the upstairs window, idly watching the kids in the van playing cards and shaking their shoulders to music from the car radio. I considered going down to engage them in some conversation just to pass the time, but then thought better of it. What kind of lunatic comes out in the dead of night to chat with paid place holders? I thought about the overseas phone call earlier in the day from my husband, who had conveniently scheduled a business trip for the duration of this whole ordeal.
“Good luck tomorrow,” he had said, “but don’t be surprised if nobody comes.”
“Someone has been parked by the house for two days already. So far forty people have taken numbers to line up, and others stop by all day long to get details.”
Silence. Then, “What are you talking about, numbers? What’s going on there?”
My husband had never been to a tag sale, either.
Saturday morning Amy and her crew arrived early and when I opened the door it seemed that the entire village had gathered on my block. They were all talking and laughing as if this were a party. I caught a glimpse of a frail, elegant man, first on line, leaning on a cane…Mr. Miller, no doubt.
“Okay, out,” Amy barked. She knew that having the homeowners around always disrupted a sale, as they were usually more attached to their stuff than they realized.
“Just let me wash my hands,” I pleaded, and before she could refuse I sprinted upstairs to the master bath and locked the door. I needed a few minutes to compose myself for this strange event which I would not be attending. Lovingly rolling soap over my fingers, gently caressing my wrists under the running tap, I recalled how well I had prepared the downstairs powder room for this day. I had put out my best hand towels and fancy soaps, a bottle of cologne and hand lotion in a little basket. The counter was dressed with a sprig of lavender and an unlit scented candle. It looked welcoming and serene…a nice reflection of my own poise and thoughtfulness. I was a good tag-sale hostess, despite being a complete novice.
Finally ready to leave and let the day take its course, I walked calmly down the stairs just as the first customer was approaching the cashier. I craned my neck to see what the prized item would be, silently smiling that someone had beaten Mr. Miller to the bounty. Would it be my silver candlesticks and desk set? The Waterford vases or the cashmere throws? But no. As I watched in speechless awe, a woman in a trench coat hauled up the basket with the cologne and the soap from my powder room, into which she had stuffed the candle and all the hand towels.
“How much?” she said to the cashier, who smiled at her warmly. “These things have no price on them.”
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – SEPTEMBER 2015
by: Shelly Papernik
I hear my neighbor long before she comes walking rapidly alongside my driveway. She yells out down the block, “It’s December! You’re not supposed to be working in the garden now.” I am down on my hands and knees, gently raking away huge maple leaves from a patch of hardy iris with a hand rake. My neighbor says something similar every time she comes by and sees me in the garden, which is quite often, since this is the route she walks her big german shepherd, and morning is the time of day we are both out. She hasn’t gotten the point that gardening for me is the same as tennis for her, an activity in which she spends many sweltering summer days and cold winter mornings perfecting her formidable backhand. Both are pleasurable, good exercise, and, since most of my garden borders a sidewalk, social. It’s the time of day I meet people — joggers, dog walkers, school children, people on the way to work, garden people.
Except for rainy or snowy days, I garden all year round. Besides cleaning the leaves off hardy plants like the iris, I put a circle of leaves around plants like the clematis that will benefit from a winter mulch. I prune certain plants that are better off pruned when they are dormant and replace bulbs and plants that have worked their way out of the soil. But most of all, I admire and plan for spring. The irises were a gorgeous blue-purple color in May. Now they are tan stalks topped with dark brown seed pods surrounded by yellow leaves, beautiful in a different way against my neighbor’s green yew hedge.
Many plants are interesting to look at in the winter, but one maverick which is supposed to bloom in February, has for years started blooming for me in November, and a series of these bulbs continues flowering through the early spring. It is the snowdrop. The snowdrop is quite magical. It starts up from the ground with the white flower already formed and held like a pearl between the tips of its two long green leaves. The stalk pushes the flower up higher and higher. When the plant reaches maturity the stalk gracefully arcs and the flower hangs downward. It opens into three pure white petals that form an umbrella over a green and white striped inner circle which in turn surrounds a small patch of yellow.
Though the snowdrop looks as delicate as a baby’s hand, it is in fact quite hardy. In freezing weather it bends over till the flower touches the ground. I have seen snowdrops lying limp on the snow on a winter morning. As the day warmed up I would find them sprung back to life again, as if spring had returned in the time between breakfast and lunch. The snowdrop is small. The stalk is about four inches high, and the flower is only a little over an inch long, so I try to plant a few close to the paths where they will be easy to observe. One of its virtues is that squirrels don’t eat it, which lets it multiply. Where you have planted one bulb you will soon have a patch of a dozen or more nodding white blossoms among green leaves. They are a joy to see, especially in the winter and early spring when very little else is in bloom.
Snowdrops, like all hardy bulbs, actually require cold weather in order to set flowers. If you were to grow them in the south where the ground never freezes, you would have to put the bulbs in the refrigerator for several weeks in order to get flowers. Although they can stand cold weather, one thing they can not tolerate is a wet bottom. Bulbs that are not well drained will soon rot. If you find your bulbs are disappearing, it could be that they are getting too much water from the sprinkler system. One trick is to plant bulbs where it’s too dry for other plants to survive, such as under a maple tree, the roots of which suck up every drop of moisture from the earth.
The snowdrop bulb is about the size of a garlic clove, but instead of being curved, it is symmetrical, like a teardrop pearl. The bulb is off white in color. It should be planted in September or October about three inches down and three inches apart. However, if you happen to have bulbs at other times of the year, don’t wait for fall, just pop them in the ground, as long as the ground is not frozen and you can dig the hole. Water well, then leave them alone.
After the snowdrops bloom the leaves continue to grow until they get quite long and fat. In fact, it’s easy to confuse them with daffodil leaves. The leaves make food for the bulbs to use the following year. That’s why it’s important not to cut them off for several weeks after the flowers are gone. At that time one will notice several round green balls bobbing on the stems where the flowers were. These are the seed pods. In addition to setting seeds, snowdrops also multiply by dividing their bulbs to make new ones. Snowdrops are among the easiest things to grow. Plant five or more snowdrop bulbs near the door you usually use, for a delightful surprise come February or March. You can buy them in September at nurseries or online.
My neighbor and I chat for a while till her dog becomes restless and wants to move on. Before they leave I show her the snowdrops blooming in December. She is amazed. I am amazed at her backhand.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – AUGUST 2015
By: Ella McMahon
We have come a long way from the epicurean standards of the 1950’s when Jackie Gleason was asking for bread, probably Wonder bread to be served with his Chinese meal. Today most of us feel comfortable with chopsticks, speak with authority of the subtle differences between Shanghai and Mandarin cuisine; and yet the thought that Mantou or bread is, and always has been, one of the most essential staples in the Chinese diet never occurs to us.
This seemingly unimportant, trivial information takes on a totally new meaning when we realize that one of the worst famines in recorded history was the 1958-1960 Great Leap Forward FAMINE. 18 million deaths according to government statistics, while estimates of economists outside China considered 40 million to be a more accurate representative of the catastrophe. They also concluded that the famine was a result of natural disasters compounded by serious mismanagement of the newly established government.
As a young child living in China I had no knowledge of the circumstances or even the existence of the Famine. Of course my parents were fully aware of the tragedy taking place in the rural communities. Under the dictates of General Mao the urban population had a protected legal right for a specific amount of grain, while the farming communities were subject to non-negotiable production quota and the remaining surplus of which they had to survive on.
When in 1958 2/3 of the agricultural land in the northern provinces received no rainfall at all, followed by flooding in 1959, the grain production dropped and the quotas were not met. The peasant farmers were accused of counter revolutionary activities, their crops were confiscated with starvation and death to follow. My parents like many other Europeans living in China tried to help in any way they could. They repeatedly told me that I had no part in my good fortune or in the circumstances of my birth, and took me along on their drive to the country side to inspect the bread distribution efforts. What they did not anticipate was the level of my fascination with the mantou celebration.
Even though I was not able to understand the depth of the suffering that led to such frenzied jubilation, the magic that those huge metal drums with the boiling water and racks of mantou buns brought to the people of the village was obvious and translated as a palpable energy and excitement even to a very well nourished seven year old child. I pleaded with my mother to allow me to join the crowds. The answer was a resounding NO!
On the long drive home, I voiced my displeasure about my mother’s decision at repeated and frequent intervals. Finally my father put his newspaper down and “suggested” that perhaps they could make it up to me by asking Ivan, our cook to prepare the same dinner as the children in the village had – A single mantou bun with hot tea with no milk or sugar.
When we got home mother spoke to Ivan. As usual when facing unusual requests, He flew into a rage. Something about French chefs should not be asked to prepare food like that. And as usual he calmed down and made the best mantou. It was my first one; but I knew that it could not be any better.
More than half a century later, I still love the taste of mantou. A steamed bun made of refined white flour, yeast and water. I fully understand why most people don’t enjoy it as much as I do! Or maybe we don’t need to understand so much. Sometimes our senses have their own kind of understanding.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – JULY 2015
THE BOYS OF SUMMER 1
By: Louise Naples
The dock below the tidy Adirondack cabin
Is down two long flights of wooden steps,
Past the screened-in porch ,
Past the middle deck.
Bright blue chairs litter its surface
Draped with colorful towels.
The fishing tackle box sits open mid-dock,
The rods recline on the posts.
The two boys of twelve years
With face masks, flippers, and long handled nets
Launch themselves off the dock
Into the crystal clear Lake George water.
The hunt is on for the small mouth bass,
Found a plenty here in Bass Bay.
Their large green pail
Perched hopefully at the edge of the dock
Filled with lake water – ready to receive their catch.
They snorkel their way around, flippers flapping
To the double crib docks of the house next door.
And soon return – triumphantly – with their first catch.
They carefully transfer the frightened five incher into the waiting bucket.
The young friends decide they do better with the nets
Leave the fishing rods idle
They go off again in search of hapless prey.
Not an easy task today –
The high nineties temperature
drives the fish down into colder water.
The young friends are undaunted –
They possess the abundant enthusiasm of youth.
In an hour, six small fish are caught
They thoughtfully consider their precious cargo,
Nervously skittering about in the pail.
They consult their fishermen’s handbook.
There is no doubt.
Too small to keep,
Too small to cook.
They haul their prizes up the steps
To the higher cabin to show their folks
Before returning the fortunate fish
To their watery home.
THE BOYS OF SUMMER 2
The sailboat – moored temptingly at its ease,
Invites a water-born flight across the choppy lake.
White caps decorating the surface inform the need to reef the sails.
A ride not for the feint of heart.
The boys ask about the “Diving Rock” of Lake George
A k a “Leaping Rock”.
Across to the east side of the lake, a mile across
Somewhat north of our cabin
Sits a large ancient rock formation
An old glacier souvenir
One sheer side famous in these parts.
To the teenagers of Silver Bay, a point of pride
To make the crossing in any available conveyance,
Scramble to shore, climb the stony path to the top of the rock.
They jump, they dive, they cannonball
Into the lake from on high.
It is a rite of passage for the kids on the Lake.
How high is the rock, the boys ask.
We heard its thirty feet!, they say with awe.
Nah, not that high. Want to check it out?
They mull it over in quiet consultation.
Okay. Will you take us?
Ernie launches the sailboat
With the boys and their mom aboard.
They shoot across the lake,
Negotiate around into the cove.
Approaching the rock,
The boys make their assessment.
They jump out of the boat
Swim to the shore,
Climb the path
One at a time,
Into the refreshing water
In the cool of the evening.
They are elated with the joy of the jump
And their successful passage.
They go back up and jump again,
Tired and happy they scramble back aboard
Heads held very high!
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – JUNE 2015
By: Ann Walters
The arrival of tea time every Sunday at 6:30 p.m. in our house was a special deal.
It was an extended family gathering and one of the affluent relatives would proudly arrive and hand my mother the fancy red box with yellow ribbons tied in a bow around it. “Oh you shouldn’t have!” my mother would say, as she placed it squarely on our counter. We all knew that it was a special cake. Although my mother was a great baker and any cake that she made was lighter, fresher and more real tasting, our tea time was always a special treat.
I hovered close to my mother’s elbow when it came to cutting the cake. I loved the ceremony of untying the ribbon (to save it for some other use), lifting the lid on the box and catching my first glimpse of the cake. My favorite bit was when my mother removed the cake from the clear plastic wrapper. As she cut the cake, I scraped my finger along the inside of the wrapper and scooped up any icing and crumbs that had stuck to it. Some icing tasted better than others. My mother sliced the cake in its entirety. The slices were carefully placed slightly overlapping on a fancy doily covered plate.
There was the strawberry layer and the more exotic pineapple layer; we never got the chocolate for some unknown reason. It had the sweetest butter cream and a slice dissolved easily in my mouth. There was even icing on the slices of these cakes, so that every piece was generously endowed. With this cake, there was a fight for the last piece, as it has a heel and a crust with excess icing that lodged during the cutting
When the visitors arrived, my mother prepared her trolley. This was a gold trolley, with two shelves, that had been a wedding gift. On the top shelf, she placed cups and saucers, a milk jug, sugar bowl and a plate of sandwiches, eggs and ham. On the bottom shelf was a plate of biscuits (cookies) in their green and orange foil wrappers, Cadbury chocolate fingers, Scottish shortbread, and the special cake. The laden trolley was wheeled into the dining room. She served her guests with a generous supper and several cups of tea in her silver teapot, which was also a wedding gift.
As children, we were told to keep our hands off the food until the guests were served. I sat on the arm of a chair and waited patiently. I tried to stay focused on the conversation buzzing around me and answered questions that were asked of me, but my eyes were drawn to the remaining slices of cake.
During a lull in the conversation, I started to tidy up. I placed all the dirty cups, saucers and the empty teapot back on the trolley and wheeled it into the kitchen. Disguising my greed, I volunteered to wash the dishes so that my mother could join her guests. My sisters were delighted to be relieved of washing up. As soon as the dining room door closed, I had the kitchen to myself. I pounced on my haul. I greedily gobbled the last slice of the cake before anyone could interrupt me. I made sure that I did not miss any of the icing. In haste, I ate it. For eating the slice of cake, I know had a sink full of dirty dishes to wash.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – MAY 2015
By: Peggy Offenberger
With quiet gesture
The snow sprawls
Like a dioramic
On city streets.
It is immune
To the chill greeting
Weary of its banal redundancy.
It snows all day
It snows all night
It snows all day
It snows all night
It snows all day
It snows all night
Drifts like purist alabaster
Black dunes of soot
The theme repeats endlessly.
When will Spring
Flesh out a better season?
Wandering off the beaten path
I came upon a gallery of peonies
An imperial waterfall.
The holy preacher of majesty
Together with the delicate
Fragrance of the flora
A meditation on
The redemptive energy
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – APRIL 2015
By: Mary Grasso
When we went sledding, long time gone,
The icicles were six feet long;
The snow surpassed a six-foot wall
And piled in drifts of six yards tall.
Or maybe not. But so it seemed
To us as children. Oft we dreamed
Of snow-flaked heavens where we’d glide
(With God and Angels at our side)
Upon a glittering field of white.
And all the day, and into night
The wind would howl, the cold trees shake,
The birds would hide, the ground would quake,
And magically our sleds would fly
Toward the clear and frozen sky!
And when the runners, caked with frost,
Were slowing down, we’d nothing lost:
The pond was slick. On sturdy skates
We’d cut the ice with figure eights.
It never happened quite that way
But we were young and prone to say
That winter was the best of seasons
And—sled and skate—we had our reasons.
Now slippery paths and icy ways,
A snowstorm that might last for days,
Can make us weary and surmise
To think of winter otherwise.
Young things still flaunt the season’s woes
But veterans of remembered snows
Retire to our Lazy-Boys
And smile upon those ancient joys.
Our Chapter is proud to announce that one of our members, Sophia Michelle DeLanner, has published her debut novel, “About Anna….” available on amazon, Kindle and other e-sources. Below is a synopsis of her book
Anna, a Russian immigrant on the verge of turning forty, is a single mother living with a headstrong teenage daughter in a shabby neighborhood of New York City. After a slew of bad relationships, Anna all but gives up hope of finding her better half—until she meets David. Their all-consuming love seems timeless and everlasting, but his pending divorce from a scheming socialite threatens their future plans.
As Anna navigates her new love, her overbearing mother and meddling aunt attempt to thwart her efforts toward achieving her own happiness. A survivor of abuse who is able to adapt to fluctuating economic conditions in her adopted country, Anna struggles to pull through the many obstacles fate keeps throwing her way.
Engrossing, unpredictable, and moving, the novel will make you laugh out loud one moment and swallow back tears the next. In the vein of Vladimir Nabokov, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Leo Tolstoy, ABOUT ANNA… presents a rich narrative about the joys and hardships of a life in which the road to forgiveness is hard—and the path to self-acceptance is even harder. Delanner’s complex characters will resonate with you long after the final page is turned.
WEB SITE: http://www.sophiadelanner.com
PUBLISHER: Infinity House
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – MARCH 2015
OLD TIME MOVIE THEATERS
By: Louise Naples
Recently, we traveled to New Jersey via the Path Train from Manhattan to attend a demonstration-talk at the Landmarked Loew’s NJ movie theater, and its Wonder Morton Theatre pipe organ. It was billed as an “Introductory Tour of the Theatre Pipe Organ”.
The first aspect that delighted us was the building itself, a 1927, lavish movie palace. The entrance canopy was a field of small lights, and the façade solid brass. The ticket seller’s booth was also polished brass with beveled glass panels, and upholstered in red velvet. We entered an enormous three-story Grand Lobby with marble columns supporting a rotunda, and a crystal chandelier worthy of the Phantom of the Opera! We were treated to a buffet luncheon in this space.
A grand staircase wound its way up to the Loge. There were intricate wood carvings and ornate polished brass ornamentation covering the wall surfaces, numerous elaborate sconces illuminated the space in a warm glowing light, and high above, coffered ceilings covered in gold leaf shimmered. And oh the Ladies Room! It took me back to a time a century past, comfort and luxury wrapped in a jeweled box. It is spaces like this, which generate feelings of happiness, delight, wonder and joy that is the essence and purpose of architecture.
The thirty-two hundred-seat auditorium, hung with rich red tapestries, is undergoing extensive restoration, but we could not miss the magnificence it once was and will be again. The elaborate design of these movie palaces was based on European opera houses and palaces. But attendance in such theaters declined during the 1960s as television became the primary instrument of entertainment, and the great migration to the suburbs began. Alas, many of these old theaters have been torn down, but several remain and are becoming landmarked and restored, as is this one.
Loew’s had five of these magnificent places, called Wonder Theatres, one each in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, and New Jersey. In Queens, it was the Valencia in Jamaica, and I remember “going to the movies” when a theatergoer would see a few cartoons, the newsreels, and two feature length films for about twenty five cents. It was considered a big date night, and we always got really dressed up. Alas, the pipe organ from the Valencia, though repaired and restored was removed to another location. The machine, which used to emit clouds across the star-studded ceiling, was in disrepair with no one alive who knew how to repair it. The theater, which has served as a church for the past thirty years, was painstakingly restored; the meticulous painting and detailing of the ornate walls and ceilings is magnificent.
Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, the pipe organ, a 1779 instrument, rumbled to life with pedal notes that reverberated within the cavernous theatre. This massive theatre pipe organ added sound to silent films with audience sing-a-longs all becoming a part of the regular programming.
The console case itself was ornamented in the extreme; heavily carved wood and clad in gold leaf with decorations worthy of Mozart’s time. It rose dramatically out of the pit, and rotated around so the organist could face either the audience or the movie screen. Behind the huge red curtains, the screen was as large as an I-max!
The organist Bernie Anderson demonstrated many fascinating aspects of this organ to the audiophile society club members who sponsored this event. The organ had four ranks (keyboards, called manuals) with scores of levers all color-coded. For instance, if he pressed one lever down, the note C# would play on eight octaves simultaneously. There were of course the pedal boards played by the feet as well. The different tabs could render the sound of any instrument in the orchestra, which Bernie demonstrated with enthusiastic delight. There is just no describing the depth and richness of the sounds he produced.
To conclude his presentation, he played a round of six old timey songs for the traditional sing-a-long, with the words projected on the large movie screen. And, for his finale, he played an improvised musical score to an old black & white Laurel and Hardy silent movie that was hilarious. It was SO much fun for an assortment of old and not so old hifi geezers and the occasional wife.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – FEBRUARY 2015
By: Mary Grasso
The jay stretches out its blue wings
The sparrow flits softly around
The mouse in its nest thinks of getting some rest
The squirrel cascades to the ground
His moment not wasting: now winter
Descends like a cat on its prey
Winged creatures can go from the ice and the snow
But the sure-footed squirrel must stay
He’s ransacked the earth for his supper
He’s hidden his share of the store
His share and another, the share of his brother
Who worries the landscape for more
He climbs to the treetop to survey
What’s left of the blown season’s prize
The ground is too bare to be finding much there
But down in the branches he spies
Some mesh-lined contraptions of copper
A-gleam in the waning day’s light
Sure meant for the feeding of birds who are needing
Restocking their bellies for flight
Brave squirrel: now preening, now twisting
To shake out the bounty of seeds
The bird-feeders sway, the pert chippies give way
The grain tumbles down to the weeds
And then, like a rocket he flares out
Gray fur streaking by in a flash
No sooner he lands than on haunches he stands
And scrambles to gather his cache
As one at the window admires
The show of his prowess and grace
He scampers away like the light of the day
And I have a smile on my face
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – JANUARY 2015
MEMORIES OF SUMMER AND AUNT MAY
By: A. Patricia Gainor
Aunt May was a large woman. There was no mistaking the figure starting down our street dressed in a long black bathing dress, big hat on her head, towel tucked under her arm. Aunt May was going to the beach.
A soon as she was spotted, young voices rang out, “Wait for me, Aunt May. Wait for me”, and wait she did. By the time she reached our house and my brother and I rushed out to join her, like the Pied Piper, Aunt May had a small group of neighborhood children trailing along, dressed for swimming and eager to be on their way. Once everyone’s ice cream dimes were safely in her purse, we began our long walk to the foot of our street and the Free Beach.
Though beach clubs dotted the north shore of the Bronx on either side of our street,we were happy to be with Aunt May. She always knew when the tide was in and swimming was at its best. Also, we had friends along to swim with. Her rules were simple; no squabbling, no dunking, and go no higher than your waist. If anyone misbehaved, the offender sat next to Aunt May for what seemed an eternity. Having raised thirteen children, Aunt May knew a bit about firmness, so we wisely tried our best to please.
Once she had her swim, Aunt May would sit at the water’s edge and watch us, praising our found treasures, even wriggling horseshoe crabs. She shared what she knew about each sea creature, and we learned. Often a child would end up in her hap, head resting against her enormous bosom, seeking and gaining comfort. Aunt May’s arms welcomed all of us.
When it was time to go home, and we had gathered all our belongings, we’d stop at the ice cream stand. Amazingly, Aunt May’s purse always had enough dimes for each of us to enjoy a treat on our long trek back to our neighborhood.
Then came the polio scare, and the beaches were closed least the waters contain a contaminant responsible. All of us children grumbled, deprived of our summer fun, but we remained close to home, aware of the disquiet among the adults. We heard that Aunt May’s son Timmy, was struck down with polio, though we understood little of the severity of the disease. To us, the closure of the beaches was unfair, but we learned very quickly not to complain more than once.
When the city finally reopened the beaches, some of us in the neighborhood were allowed to ride our bikes to the water. The beach club offered lots to do and lots of supervision. Occasionally, we’d pass Aunt May on her solitary walk for a swim, and we’d wave as we pedaled past, eager for the pleasures ahead, and indifferent to the possible loneliness of the walker. We had moved on, and in the self-centered world of the young, we didn’t need Aunt May anymore. She was just a nice old lady.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER STORY OF THE MONTH – DECEMBER 2014
By: Joan M Barnes
An old friend of mind died a few years ago. She was in her 97th year. I had known her ever since my husband and I opened our little retail fish store back in 1959 on Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens. She was one of our first customers, perhaps because she lived right around the corner from us. She had been born in London too just like Len. Her name was Dana O’Connell and she had been a Ziegfeld Girl, dancing under the stage name of Eleanor Dana.
I had heard about the Ziegfeld Girls and had seen the old movie, “The Great Ziegfeld”, with William Powell, so I was interested in Dana and what she had to tell me about those fascinating days in the 1920’s when she danced in the Follies at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
There is a Ziegfeld Club in Manhattan. Dana would take me to the meetings and I met the other dozen or so Ziegfeld Girls who were still alive back then. I believe the last Ziegfeld Girl, Dorothy Travis Eaton, died just a few years ago.
I would have Dana over to London Lennie’s for lunch often and I would ask her about her early days as a dancer and about Mr. Ziegfeld. She said he was always a gentleman. He looked for young women who had a certain class. He watched how they walked and spoke and danced, too, of course, but he looked at the whole persona and wanted each young woman to project a ladylike demeanor.
One time I asked her about Prohibition and how it had affected her and her friends. Her answer was that they still went out for a drink, but the waiter put the alcohol in a teacup, “And”, she smiled, “You know what? It tasted just the same”.
Another time she was reminiscing about being on the stage. She said when you looked out at the audience it was like looking at rows and rows of penguins, because all the men wore black tie. Hard for us to realize now when we all go to Broadway shows and even to the opera dressed so casually.
She could remember when George Gershwin was a rehearsal pianist.
When Dana was getting older I took her to the ballet with me one night. At intermission, I suggested a glass of wine, but mentioned, laughingly, that I didn’t want her to fall asleep on me in the next act. She drew up all of her five feet two and said in a dignified voice, “Really, Joan, I think I am more seasoned than that”.
Oh, Dana, I miss you. You were so much fun to be with.
She had a good sense of style. If she found a pair of shoes, or a jacket that she felt looked really nice on her, she would buy four or five pair of the same shoes or jacket in different colours.
She never lost that certain something, that charisma that Mr. Ziegfeld must have seen in her early years. We had a party at London Lennie’s one year when my daughter got married. Her husband’s mother and father came east from Iowa to attend. Dana was invited. I had told my daughter’s new father-in-law that Dana had been a Ziegfeld Follies dancer. Ed asked Dana to dance. They spun around nicely together and when they sat down, Ed said he couldn’t wait to tell his cronies in Iowa that he had danced with a Ziegfeld Girl. There were stars in his eyes.
As the number of Ziegfeld Girls dwindled, the ones who were left became more and more famous. The Disney Company decided to rehabilitate the old New Amsterdam Theatre where the Follies had always been performed. Dana had kindly asked me if I would accompany her to the Opening Night. What a night it was. Doris Travis Eaton, another Ziegfeld Follies girl who was very active and did not show her years at all, asked Dana and me and some of the remaining Ziegfeld girls to her suite in the Palace to have a bite to eat before we went to the theatre. Doris had married well, and had a huge ranch in Oklahoma. She, her brother, who had also been in some of the Follies, and her ranch manager, were all in the suite at the Palace waiting for us. Doris had drinks and sandwiches sent up. The Ziegfeld Club had arranged for us to go by stretch limousine to the Theatre.
The time came for us to leave the suite, go downstairs and into the limousines. This was not as easy as it sounded. Don’t forget, these women are all pretty old. If we managed to get them in the limo, it was a worry about whether we could get them out. I felt like a young chicken next to them. “I can’t bend”, was the most common complaint.
However, we got them all in, drove around a couple of blocks and pulled up next to the New Amsterdam Theatre, red carpet laid out in front, and plenty of reporters and photographers ready to take pictures and interview these famous old dancers.
Joan Rivers was there, microphone in hand, asking Dana questions. Dana always did very well in these situations. She never got flustered, would take her time, and answer a question fully and completely. The photographers were taking photos at a great rate. As we walked into the theatre and looked around, we saw beautiful stained glass murals on the ceilings and the walls. We found out later that the artist had chosen a picture of Dana as a young girl and used that as her model for one of the young women in one of the murals.
We saw a lot of famous people once inside the theatre. Dr. Ruth, the little old lady who had all the answers on sex, was sitting in front of us. A former Miss America was near by. We saw Glen Close and then saw Geoffrey Holder, the famous black dancer.
Mayor Giuliani opened the show and said a few words. He asked all the Ziegfeld Girls who were in the theatre to stand. They all stood, tottering a bit in their high heels. We all stood too and gave them a long standing ovation. We were proud of these dignified old ladies who had survived for so many years and had such great memories of an era in New York City that will never be replicated.
After the opening speeches, we sat back and watched an original musical, called “King David” by Tim Rice. The entertainment over, we filed through an exit door which led under a huge tent that covered one square block around the New Amsterdam Theatre. We walked along Persian carpets and every few feet a waiter would be offering us flutes of champagne. We arrived at the reception, but it was hard to tell where we were as far as address went, as we could not see anything outside. I could not believe a whole block in the heart of Times Square could be tented over.
Michael Eisner was head of Disney then. He came over to have his picture taken with Dana and to say a few words. We were almost too excited to eat or drink. Eventually, I could see Dana was getting tired. We decided it was time to leave. We walked over to the car park and waited for the valet to bring my car. Dana found a seat, still clutching the bouquet of flowers she had been presented with. I told everyone who she was and what a wonderful evening it had been for her. All the people in the car park, waiting for their cars, were anxious to shake her hand and congratulate her. Some even took pictures.
The New York Times the next day featured a story on the Ziegfeld Girls and the re-opening of the New Amsterdam Theatre. There was a picture of Dana taken a short time earlier in the middle of Times Square, with her arms outstretched as if this part of the city belonged to her and she to it. She loved that picture.
She lived for another three or four years and died in a nursing home in Elizabeth, N.J. I used to go and visit her. I hated the trip, as it was over the George Washington Bridge and took about an hour, but when I got to her room, she would look at me wistfully and say, It’s not so far, is it, Joan?” And I would smile and say, “No, Dana, it’s not so far”.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER – STORY OF THE MONTH – NOVEMBER 2014
By: Sophia Michelle Delanner
The Russian proverb “one battered person is worth two unbattered ones” merits consideration. Aren’t those unpummeled by fate on the foolish side, lacking wisdom gained through the miracle of enlightenment that only a good thrashing can offer? At this point in life, when I’ve been clobbered so many times that it’s borderline indecent, this statement makes me prized beyond rubies—a luxury item. Ah, just you wait. To undermine my ironclad logic, there is another old saying that states that less-dilapidated people bought in bulk are bargains—a penny a dozen on market day. How to reconcile the two? But this rude statement, with its faulty rationality and scandalous, camouflaged stinginess, is a fact unproven by science. Let’s disregard it, since the research methodology utilized is questionable at best. In all fairness, the trouble of proving this hypothesis is rivaled only by the hassle of disproving it. I could be a sensible woman, though it would be nice to feel a little bit priceless.
Allow me to share a few highlights to justify my outrageous claim. The mighty former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was the place where I was given birth to by my mother, unwillingly on her part, but that could hardly be considered my fault. I didn’t begin my life alone—Mother was there for the birthing, but that’s as far as she’d go. It was only a matter of time till I realized how doomed I was. So far, four developed countries on two densely populated continents have been listed as all-too-impermanent permanent places of residence on my lifetime résumé. I’m still pretty young, you know; a big chunk of life is ahead of me, and who knows where the all-powerful winds of fate might blow me next, and what new adventures, exciting and hazardous, may be churning in their bellies? More strange cities. More strange faces. The predictable familiarity of the places I’ve been to, the allure of the places I haven’t. I intend to focus neither on the number of cities nor on the number of habitation units here, skimming over any applicable particulars as inconsequential.
Streaking through the abridged version of my life story would include a few life-altering situations, a handful chosen at random—conclusive evidence of my existence—such as two marriages (not bragging), and consequently, two divorces, one confirmed rape, several unceremonious attempted rapes (still not bragging), and one official death, which turned out to be a minor misdiagnosis and a temporary setback. Not my fondest memories. I’d be happy to forget all these experiences, but no, no such relief yet. As Mother says, clucking her tongue, hands on her hips, “You’re so lucky that bad things cling to you! Ay-yay-yay!”
And ex-boyfriends and more ex-boyfriends traipsing through my life. I’ve run into all manner of relationship troubles—nothing to brag about, even if I was in the mood to brag a little. The root of the trouble? The gentlemen callers who charmed me and shared my bed were but salt in the wound, obstacles in my noble quest for my sole soulmate. Each one carried away a generous sliver of my heart, carved a hollow space into my soul, and only gave me fibroids, as they say. No, there’s no end to how naïve a person can be. Nobody said living is logical.
Being a single working mother with all that it entails and keeping body and soul together on days and nights when the stars themselves were too tired to shine might add weight to my claim. By comparison, life and adventures in Middle-earth seem like a walk in a park. Though in the aftermath, I have a wonderful daughter, the best daughter a mother could ask for. If it’s all the same to you, allow me to throw into the mosaic of minor nuisances my being homeless for a while and other stuff I can’t be bothered to remember anymore. What’s done is done. And that’s not the story I wanted to tell you. I mention all of this for the sole purpose of illustrating that I’m one tough cookie, not for the dubious pleasure of getting it off my chest.
Long ago I noticed how much easier it is to go through whatever life imposed on me if I kept my ability to laugh at things—all sort of things, including myself. It is also true that I’m terrified (like you can’t imagine) that if for some reason I did stop laughing for one moment, a terrible silence would commence, and in this silence I’d have no choice but to glean how unbearable my life has been with its thousands of small and large disappointments, and then I might just hang myself.
There were days when in pulling myself from the edge of hell, it was tough to keep my head above the surface and not get sucked into the whirlpools of madness (not whining), when I was so stressed out that I’d forget my name and home address. Ah, but in sleepwalking through those stretches of time, I’d also forget why I should care about remembering such things. Perhaps not a bad thing, if only for the purpose of variety, when they were followed by a cavalcade of days to be endured through their monotonous tediousness—the endless, endless yesterdays. And then, interspersed among periods of utter loneliness, as a localized, pulsating vortex of energy within the universal field of consciousness, were—O glory!—intervals of a magnificent union with the same nurturing field, cozy and snug, when I felt the ebb and flow of life inside me.
If you ever thought this “universe” thing had been created for the sole purpose of giving you the finger at the worst possible moment, wait—it gets worse. Its plot is contrived to get you killed at the end. You’ll lose everything. All of it. One might get the impression that the gods (wherever they are), in pursuit of their own therapeutic relief, look for ways to toy with and complicate humans’ miserable lives to the point at which the business of living becomes an unending torment, ruining everyone’s nerves in the process. Me, I never found it amusing. Such a thing can push one into refusing to believe the reality of these horrible gods, thus repudiating the pleasure of their existence and, in this very act of denial, driving them to madness. How about that!
Gods or no gods, I thought it a good idea to forge ahead and enjoy life, adapting a frame of mind appropriate to such a journey, the bits of it that lay before me, all while ignoring two of Mother’s favorite sayings—“Man is a wolf to [his fellow] man” and “Prepare yourself for failure since it’s the only thing you can expect”—lest those words end up engraved on my headstone.
From the outset, there was an absurd consistency in my never being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, an endless string of chronic near misses. I have long since ceased to ask why. Let it be placed alongside the other mysteries of the world. Alas, Homo sapiens is a resilient animal. I’ve met more than my fair share of incomparable goblins, things that crawled out of the woodwork on moonless nights with a thousand eyes, and several angels.
I’m fortunate to have been granted a number of days drenched in sunshine, smelling of cinnamon-baked apples, sweetened by ethereal joy. My life has zigged and zagged this way and that, yet I still heard my call to freedom—I’ll be eternally grateful for that. No matter how I did it, what matters is that I did it. Sing praise to God that this elegant universe with its infinite possibilities will always be full of wonders, the world ordained and just (true, though it may sound like the opening pitch to an irritating infomercial).
My fellow adventurers, my wrinkles—an inevitable development—have been earned with honor. Though I was showered with the shrapnel of heebie-jeebies along the way, I’ve learned to look life squarely in the eye, and in either one. As I journeyed through time and space, experiencing the wonder of life to the utmost of my human abilities, it seems as if reason were away on extended vacation, odds are, in Hawaii. Ah, those beaches of fine, white sand—so dreamy, so inviting! A permanent move to a galaxy far, far away—too far away—is also a probable event, a possibility I hadn’t even considered, but it might explain things.
I feel obliged to add that I suffered some bruises, scratches, and dents along the way, navigating the minefields of my lot while life smacked me in the face, and—as if to relieve the boredom brought on by the monotony of repetition and to experience some diversity—in the belly and somewhere else. I won’t say where. The whole experience was deflating. And yet…and yet, in general, so far the signs of wear are still invisible to the eye—what a mercy—and my complexion isn’t grayish yet. Ah, but nothing lasts forever. Looking back, the background for those unquestionably educational events was predominantly blurred. What started as a speck of double-stringed DNA proved durable enough, and now look at me fly…unless you talk to my mother. The heart is big enough to love, lose, and love another time to lose again. What a unique vehicle, through which the cosmos can experience itself, I am! What a marvel.
Despite the fact that I was brought up a convinced atheist in the overpowering shadow of Karl Marx’s famous statement that religion is an opiate for the masses, I came to believe in spirits. To begin with, this nonbeliever stance was something I’d been persuaded into rather than adopted out of real faith. Besides, theological beliefs can be dangerous too, and have been known to start a few wars, far more than those initiated in pursuit of all-engulfing, everlasting love, though not as many as for opportunistic conquests of someone else’s land; but, you know…a few. How many lives were sacrificed on altars of implausible ideas that had to be abandoned later on! So being an agnostic isn’t without its advantages. Like everyone else heading for the inescapable grave to rot and disappear forever, blissfully unaware that such satanic things as Abaddon could exist (with its vaporous shades of tar pits and boiling mud, and ghostly epicene shadows of human black mold), I never worried about the whole concept of being burned in the scorching fires of Hell. Ah, the sweetness of ignorance. As it is said in Ecclesiastes 1:18, “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow”—so true.
On the other hand, there’s nothing to avert the looming disaster should it be discovered that yes, there is indeed a place where alleged sinners are burned for the duration of eternity. No redemption, none. Something tells me that a written note from my current therapist wouldn’t do me much good, even if it states I should be excused from such unhealthy activities, justifying it with the simple fact that none of my actions are ill intended, but that my being subjected to a case of bad parenting propelled me onto such an unfortunate path, and that I’m really, really sorry.
It’s a damn shame that neither the existence nor categorical absence of such a place of damnation can be confirmed at this point in time. I should look on the bright side—there’s nothing I could do to rewrite my past or change anything within it. It is what it is, so I should take a liberating lesson or two from a clever bunch of Zen Buddhists and, after exerting a considerable effort, erase the bits driven by worry from my mind. While being transported forward in the winged chariot of time, I’ve learned that life isn’t about the past or the future—it’s about the ride. One thing is certain in life, and that’s death with its icy tooth—the unopposable inevitability of it—followed by decay, like it or not. Yes, everything turns to ash. Death. Decomposition. You might have heard it before, but I think some things are worth repeating. The statement, which declares impermanence with its slippery hold to be the only permanent and reliable thing in this creation, is the sort of statement that might generate enough of an invigorating shock to make anyone stop and contemplate it for a second or two, before the frail echo of this utterance itself will die and quickly be forgotten. Oh, you know…
With this acknowledged so that it won’t curdle into another brown lump on my conscience, consider yourself adequately warned. If I were to risk being annoying by taking the liberty to share what I’ve learned so far, it’d be this: Blind to the future as we all are, be true to your sense of self. Isn’t the unsolicited advice the best or what? Ah, the sacred journey that is life, to be measured in memories squirreled away. One day I’ll embroider “Bloom where you’re planted” on some lucky pillow, in a satin stitch in cheerful colors. It came to me in one of those fleeting moments of absolute clarity that comes within the few short intervals between prolonged periods of insanity and confusion—isn’t lucidity marvelous!—articulated in an intimate way in a velvety baritone. If you had heard this persuasive, oddly disquieting voice, you too would have believed anything it whispered in your ear. To whom, to what did it belong? I wondered.
I try to keep my eyes and ears open. Look what crossed my path the other day—a quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin written on my daughter’s Yogi tea bag: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Says it all, yes? So for what it’s worth, here’s my story. As a former free-roaming spirit who is earthbound for the moment, undergoing the hustle and bustle of being enclosed in the denseness of a physical body, forced to deal with the frustrating limitations of an ego, and who can also glimpse at will the vast spaciousness of the spirit within and thus looks forward to unfathomable escapades in the future with glee, let me welcome you into my world. Welcome! And, by the way, I’m delighted our paths have crossed. Shall we dive in?
WRITERS’ CHAPTER – STORY OF THE MONTH – OCTOBER 2014
A WINK AND A NOD
By: Ella McMahon
I can say with absolute certainty that Myself and I have always coexisted amicably for most our life. We knew what was expected from each of us and we followed the rules.
It is only after our mother’s journals were destroyed shortly after her death, that we found some level of acceptance to be unattainable. Loosing a body of work in a flood or a fire is hard, but not as hard as trying to understand the mental component that allowed someone to perform such a malicious act for no other reason than self -absorption and total disregard for another.
Both Self and I were aware that changing what was done was impossible. Accepting the unacceptable was just as improbably. So Self announced to Me that what we need to do is: MAKE A CHOICE OUT OF NO CHOICE.
Hyperbole! I said.
How about some creative writing as a nod to Mom?
A nod to the lessons she taught us?
Lessons that we will carry for the rest of our lives.
There is only one “minor” problem with your scenario; we are not writers.
We can’t write.
You may be illiterate, but Myself is not.
I have written letters, papers, essays and lectures.
Yes I said, but there is a big difference between documenting information and using words as an art form.
Listen, Self said, between Myself and You, you paint and you are no artist. Why can’t you write without being a writer?
I agreed to try, if only as to not hear another “complaint” about my painting ability.
We joined the Writers’ Chapter in our local women’s club. To our surprise we did not mind the process and thoroughly enjoyed the company of intellectually spirited women who also, and perhaps more importantly happened to be genuinely nice.
So Myself and I became just Me again. Me, who was happy to discover that going out of my comfort zone did not only transform the way I view the past, it allowed me to relinquish feelings of resentment and anger, making space in my life, to live and love with my full self.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER – STORY OF THE MONTH – SEPTEMBER 2014
By: Joan Kaufman
As the days shorten and dark comes sooner and 7 p.m. is already night, I turn on the doorway lights and see that my back patio lights and back yard lights automatically have gone on appropriately. I see summer end and all the fall activities begin. When I get the agendas for meetings and classes, I feel fresh anticipation for all that the new (now for me the old) school year brings.
I think of the song at the flag lowering with which camp days ended when I, a city girl, was in the countryside and a child camper, and then a teenage counselor. I heard the song of an end and a beginning. It is the song Taps that I recall.
Day is done
Gone the sun
From the lakes
From the hills
From the skies
All is well
God is nigh
When I hear Taps I remember both loss and joy. I feel that same poignancy in fall when my grandson returns to school life after a summer canoeing in camp in Canada, and I recognize that my children’s agendas become more complicated, and responsibilities increase and are more demanding. I see myself hungrily build a schedule for myself, now far less demanding than formerly , but one for which I am still grateful. However, in fall, now, I feel the shortening of my time, but also satisfaction for things that I have accomplished and that have mattered to me.
I understand, through my remembering, the sounds of Taps, that my most significant heartbreaking time of the day has always been dusk. I revel in it and feel both the ends and new beginnings. I understand now better why I love dusk: it breaks my heart but it allows for rest.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER – STORY OF THE MONTH AUGUST 2014
WHAT MY GRANDKIDS SAY
By: Peg Offenberger
As grandparents we eagerly await the bon mots, pithy saying or cute remarks which our grandkids drop, especially when they are in their very young years. I too am not immune to this. I too am making a collection of the wonderful things my grandchildren utter. Perhaps someday I shall share these gems, if for nothing else but to playfully embarrass them.
We have two sets of twins. My daughter who lives in Germany has fraternal boys and my daughter who lives in Newton MA has a set of identical girls. The boys were born six weeks before the girls.
Shortly before Christmas this year, Danny, one of our four twins, told his mother that he did not believe in Santa Claus. He was convinced that mommy and daddy bought the gifts. Danny maintained that he only believed in three things, God, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.
One morning last week, Massachusetts Ryan, came to breakfast and told his mother that a tooth had fallen out during the night and that he put it under his pillow but the Tooth Fairy did not come. His mother explained that perhaps the Tooth Fairy was very busy last night. She suggested that putting the tooth under his pillow tonight might prove more productive. Ryan agreed and that night he put the tooth under his pillow.
Before Ryan’s parents go to bed at night it is their custom to visit the room of each of their three children, give each a kiss and make sure each is tucked in for the night. Ryan was presumably sound asleep when he received his kiss. It was then that his parents remembered the Tooth Fairy. Since neither one had money in his pocket, Mom went to the girls’ room. She borrowed Meeghan’s piggy bank from which she liberated two dollars. With piggy bank in one hand and two dollars in the other she walked back to Ryan’s room. When she got there Ryan was standing next to his bed. His arms were folded. When Mom entered the room he said, “WELL HELLO TOOTH FAIRY.”
He had set her up so he could prove his theory that she was indeed the Tooth Fairy. Since she was completely busted there was nothing else to do but laugh and fess up. She did however manage to get a promise from him that he would not tell his sisters what he had discovered. Even money says that will not last very long.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER – STORY OF THE MONTH JULY 2014
NO PURCHASE NECESSARY
By: Mary Grasso
In 1984 the Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles; the Soviet Union stayed away and persuaded a slew of other nations to join it in protest. Exactly what they were all protesting has never been clear to me, although some people claimed it was about possible defections. Officially, the Russians denounced a so-called climate of anti-Soviet hysteria and claimed they had “security concerns.” Whatever. They weren’t coming, and they announced it on the day the Olympic Torch Relay began in New York. Their allies in dissent gave notice soon after.
At that time the summer and winter games were held all in the same year and the Winter Olympics of 1980 had been hosted in Lake Placid. Unexpectedly, the American hockey team had beaten the heavily-favored Soviets. Our kids were too young to notice in 1980 but by 1984 they planned to keep tabs on all the events. And they had an opinion as to why this Soviet boycott was being staged: the Russians just couldn’t get over losing that hockey game. It made sense.
In the spirit of the season we decided that, while all the action was going on in LA, a vacation in Lake Placid would be fun. The kids wanted to visit the still-fairly-new Olympic Village and ice skate indoors right where the hockey team had. Lake Placid also offered some nice restaurants my husband and I were inclined to try. And then McDonald’s intervened.
We should have already known what was going on, and we did, vaguely: McDonald’s had launched an advertising campaign called “If the U.S. Wins, You Win.” It was a scratch-off game played on tickets available from any McDonald’s franchise, no purchase necessary; if the American team uncovered by the scratch-off won the gold medal, the bearer was entitled to a free Big Mac; for the silver medal, French fries; for bronze, a Coke. McDonald’s had rolled out this gimmick during prior Olympics but since we mostly ignored fast food it had not impressed us; there was no reason for us to think it would have any effect now.
Our fatal mistake was to stop at a McDonald’s on the drive up to use the restroom. My husband ordered hamburgers for the boys and coffee for us. While we waited, the teen-age servers chatted amiably with the kids and asked what sports they liked. And then, in a fit of good will, one of them took a handful of scratch-off tickets and tossed them on our tray. “Have fun with them,” he smiled. “No purchase necessary.”
It was early August and the games had been underway for several days. As the boys scraped the tickets and enjoyed their impromptu meal, my husband and I smiled at their childish enthusiasm. Then Matthew turned up two tickets for an event that had won gold and Angelo scratched off tickets for three silvers. Another ticket appeared for a bronze medal; then one more for gold. Suddenly we saw that a sinister vacation glitch was unfolding: unless the kids forgot about it, we would have to return to a McDonald’s to redeem these food prizes. And there was no chance they would forget; they were obsessed with America’s winning. Besides, every single McDonald’s had a scoreboard posted to check the outcomes. “Don’t worry,” my husband assured me, “it’s probably rigged so that most of the tickets are for things we never win.” Which, as it turned out, was true. Except that THIS year, with 15 countries boycotting…America won everything. Or so it seemed.
Mary Lou Retton became the first American gymnast to take gold for her all-around program and then went on to collect four more medals; Joan Benoit won the Olympic marathon; Carl Lewis struck 4 gold medals in track; and in a singularly stunning feat, the American women tied for the gold in freestyle swimming. American wrestlers floored the competition in the Greco-Roman division, which I had never even heard of, and we even won silver and bronze for weight-lifting, formerly a Russian-dominated sport. In all, America finished with a phenomenal total of 174 medals, 83 of them gold, an accomplishment for the ages.
And as for us…in lovely Lake Placid, between visiting the ski jump and having our pictures taken at the hockey rink, we went to McDonald’s. Before we trekked down the bobsled run but after we kayaked on Mirror Lake: we stopped in McDonald’s. Since everyone in town was in on the promotion and everyone was following the Olympic Games, the lone franchise temporarily ran out of hamburgers and began offering free breakfast. So for several mornings we had our coffee with synthetic scrambled eggs at McDonald’s. Every time we redeemed a scratch-off, we got at least five more, because the kids asked for them…and according to the rules of the promotion, they could have as many as they wanted.
“If the U.S. Wins, You Win,” as it played out in 1984 is now cited as one of the worst marketing debacles in recent history. But for my family it was a great success: the kids got to gorge on forbidden foods and when the vacation was over they never wanted to set foot in a McDonald’s again. And my husband and I, besides acquiring happy memories of a different sort of family experience, learned the true meaning of No Purchase Necessary.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER – STORY OF THE MONTH – JUNE 2014
I HAVE OFTEN WALKED
By: Louise Naples
My husband and I are walkers, and we have a set of favorite places for our daily constitutionals. Forest Park, just a short stroll from our Woodhaven home, has miles of trails for exploring; the sense of peace, tranquility, and solitude one experiences while lost in its depths is astonishing. The city and its noise disappear as we wander in this urban wilderness. You meet occasional fellows on horseback, or other trekkers walking their dogs, or high school track teams, students running in pairs; but often, we seem to have the park all to ourselves. The wide and generally well-tended bridle path makes it easy on the feet if the narrow, winding ones are too challenging. This park, a site of the terminal moraine, moves in hills and troughs, altering the vista moment by moment.
The sunlight twinkles through the branches, setting the leaves to a blaze of color in the fall. On mistier days, the fog lends an eerie mood, and changes the sounds of the woods. And in the crispness of winter, the snap of twigs, or the crunch of hardened snow sets the squirrels scurrying. The hardy winter birds fly to the tempting bright red berries on the shrubs, then wing off to their habitats. And when glorious spring makes her entrance, the pale greens of the new leaves, the delicate blossoms on the cherry, apple, and dogwood trees, and the new growth on the evergreens deliver their eternal promise of renewal.
For a more brisk walk, there is also the running track at Victory Field. Six laps around the course takes a half hour, and with our fifteen-minute walks to and from the park, we get a solid hour of hard walking – atonement for a good lunch.
At other times, we head out Crossbay Boulevard to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve. The beautiful trail around the fresh water West pond is our favorite circumnavigation. The generous, wide and graveled path takes you past habitats for owls, snakes, and numerous birdhouses, perched high above the ground. The occasional sturdy benches provide a place for repose, and taking in the serene vistas, watching the avian antics. The shore birds, the geese, the swans, the ducks, the ospreys, the immense dark clouds of swift-moving terns, and countless species of winged animal stop on their migratory paths to rest. There are always numerous amateur photographers toting their tripods and elaborate zoom-lens cameras to capture nature in flight.
If you just happen to be there on “landing day”, you can scan the sky with a pair of binoculars and see the numerous “V” formations advancing from the south west, one after another, heading to the pond. We watched on one glorious spring morning while each group approached the water, gracefully landed, then as a unit, moved aside to make room for the next group, thirty to forty geese in a group. It was thrilling to observe that timing, cooperation, and evident talent for communication.
In the fall, we had the good fortune to be present on a late afternoon when thousands of Canadian geese were preparing to head south. We listened to the loud screeching of those birds, and like others on the trail that day, we found a spot and sat down in the grass. There was a sense that these birds were organizing themselves with purpose, into flocks, maybe families, and I could just hear them calling out to one another, “Now don’t get lost, stay together until our group is called. “ After a time, the first groups began to rouse themselves and swirl upwards, flying in tight circles until they reached a certain altitude, then other groups followed, their squawking raising a mighty din. Then came the miracle of light; the setting sun shone on the underbellies of the vast array of birds, turning them a bright pink/orange. We, along with the other visitors to the park, sat spellbound, watching as they flew off, forming the telltale “V”s, heading into the sunset. We knew we had experienced a rare gift of nature, the timing of that visit as serendipitous as it was magical.
Our recent visit to the Preserve showed us how the power of Mother Nature in the form of a storm called Sandy, could rearrange geography. In one place along our favorite path, the torrent of rising water tore away part of the trail, breaking open a water-rushing channel from Jamaica bay into West pond. The breach caused the former fresh-water pond to turn brackish with the infill of salt water. Yet the birds were still there, though in greatly diminished numbers, oblivious to the concerns of the ravaged communities nearby. Now, that severed trail must be walked in two distinct halves.
We have often walked miles along the Atlantic Beach at Rockaway, or Bell Harbor, or Breezy Point. We park near 121st. Street, walk to the Boardwalk, and turn right to head West. We stroll the boardwalk until it ends at about 130th street, then continue along in the sand, and walk to Brooklyn. Along the shore we admire the magnificent houses, the mighty turn-of-the-century clapboard wonders, intermixed with some houses of strikingly modern design, while far out at sea, we spot the many ocean-going container ships with their twinkling lights.
At the end, there is a huge breakwater of rocks right at the foot of the cyclone fence bordering Riis Park. I think the fence was put there to protect the gentle minded from the nudist beach of sore repute that existed on the other side. We always climbed the rocks and put both palms on the fence, touching Brooklyn, before we turned back. It’s a great walk, and of a summer evening, we would often climb up onto a deserted life guard stand, and sit and watch the sun set behind us, and the moon rise over the Atlantic. We watch the airplanes from Kennedy Airport taking off to the east. A perfect perch where we relaxed until it got dark; and we would wend our way back, sometimes stopping at a lovely restaurant called Harbor Lights for a glass of wine.
After the storm, we visited and saw with great dismay the emptiness and desolation. The entire boardwalk for miles along was gone, ripped away by the swift rising waters. Left standing are just the concrete phantom skeletons of its supports. All the first floors of the houses and apartment buildings are boarded up. There was sand everywhere it shouldn’t be. People struggled to shovel the sand drifts off their gardens and away from their doors. And Harbor Lights was burned absolutely to the ground, along with about fifteen houses in the block surrounding it. The only remnants are the stone steps leading to the former entrance and a forlorn sign. And this was not yet in Breezy Point where the devastation was greatest.
We have often walked, and will continue to walk our special places, and watch the transformation of those areas into whatever is coming next for them.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER – STORY OF THE MONTH – MAY 2014
By: Joan Barnes
Years ago when I first started to travel, I, like most everyone else, wanted to bring home a souvenir of my trip. What to bring? I wanted something that would fit in my suitcase, not weigh too much, not cost too much and still be a nice remembrance of where I had visited. I decided to pick up a good china plate from every country. I started off with a bone china plate with a Mountie on it from Canada. I had an Aynsley plate from England with Windsor Castle on it. From Switzerland I brought back a beautiful plate with a blue gentian painted on the front – that’s a small blue flower that is found in the Alps and still used occasionally for medicinal purposes. Cedar trees graced the front of a plate from Israel and the Greek Key was featured on a plate from Greece. In Holland a Delft plate found its way into my suitcase and in Denmark a Royal Copenhagen plate made it home with me. A plate from Turkey was covered in graceful calligraphy. I think it reads “Allah is great”.
This went on until I had quite a collection. Not only did I have plates from different countries but I had commemorative plates as well – mostly royal – don’t forget I’m from Canada. What to do with them? I decided to hang them on the wall –not very original I’m sure, but this was long ago, when I was young.
The older I became and the more countries I visited, the more plates I collected. I had to have a carpenter come in and build a plate rail around my dining room. Then I had to have him build one around my upstairs hall. I was overrun with plates. And still I bought them. Not only was I collecting, but all my friends were collecting for me as well.
My uncle had a summer house near Athabaska, north of Edmonton, Alberta. He told me there had been a plate in the house for years, and did I want it. I said sure, I’d love to have it. When the plate arrived I looked at it with interest. It was a commemorative plate with dates and names on it and the words, “England expects every man to do his Duty”. The dates were from the 19th century. I finally realized this was a commemorative plate from the Boer War. It’s still hanging on the wall.
But the oddest plates I ever received, and the ones that caused hoots of laughter from everyone who saw them, were a pair of plates from the North West Territories in Canada. Relatives out there had heard that I collected plates and told me they had a pair in the shape of polar bears. Was I interested? I said I sure was, and to send them to me post haste.
My sister was with me when we opened the parcel. To this day I can still see the look of bewildered surprise on her face as we peered under the tissue paper expecting to see china plates. My cousins in the Northwest Territories were truckers. When anyone mentioned a plate collection to them, they immediately thought of license plates. And that’s what they sent me – a pair of Northwest Territory LICENSE PLATES and they truly were in the shape of polar bears.
They became my prized possession and I displayed them proudly above the window in my kitchen and whenever anyone mentioned my plates, I always took my company to the kitchen to show them the plates I liked the best.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER – STORY OF THE MONTH – APRIL 2014
A CASE FOR THE AFTERLIFE
By: Peg Offenberger
Since the beginning of time, the beginning of consciousness in the human brain, we have wondered what happens to the spirit when the spirit leaves the body at the time of death. Ancient man believed in the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians buried their dead with all the things necessary for the deceased to live a life of luxury in the next life. Joseph Campbell in his book “The Power of Myth” teaches that every civilization no matter how old or how primitive, includes a belief in an afterlife.
In the Christian tradition we speak of the assumption of Mary into heaven and the rising of Christ into heaven. Obviously these are metaphors for we now know much more about what is in the universe and what it takes to visit other planets. Our astronauts have not yet located a place like heaven nor have they found several millions of souls hanging out in space. They hope to find life somewhere in the universe but no luck so far.
As children we are encouraged to be good or we shall not go to heaven. We refer to the deceased as having gone to a better place. The big question is, “Where is that better place?”
The good news is there are a cadre of physicists or more precisely quantum physicists, who believe there are at least ten universes existing simultaneously and parallel in our universe. They believe mathematics prove their existence. However, since we live in a three dimension world we are not equipped to communicate with a universe or universes in four or five or more dimensions. Our perception is limited to the three dimensions which we inhabit. Therefore no experiment can be set up to prove the theory. Perhaps after several more million years of evolution we will develop the ability to contact these other universes. In the meantime mathematics is our only proof. My impression is that math does not lie.
Now consider the near death experience. These are people who have flat lined. Their hearts have stopped. They may be technically dead for several minutes or longer but then come back to life. They describe passing through a blue tunnel. They claim to have talked to God. They tell of seeing and talking to deceased relatives and friends. They see people they know but did not know they were dead. They are thoroughly convinced there is a God and there is an afterlife.
String theory and the near death experience lead me to believe the Quantum Physicists are about to solve the age old question of where the spirit goes when it leaves the body at the time of death. There are some quantum physicists who now suspect that at death, the separation of the soul from the body, the soul passes into one of the other strings which exist parallel to our universe. This seems to me a reasonable answer to the question of where the soul goes when it leaves the body. It is comforting to know that reputable scientists are affirming the afterlife and where it might be. Think about it.
If the subject of string theory interests you, I suggest you google Dr. Brian Green for a better understanding of string theory than I have outlined here. It is quite complicated but Green has a YouTube presentation that makes it somewhat friendly to nonscientists. If the experience of near death interests you may want to google the Near Death Experience Research Foundation.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER – STORY OF THE MONTH – MARCH, 2014
By: Anne Walters
It was a dark January day, rain mixed with snow. I looked out my bedroom window wishing for something better. Across the street, workmen tossed trash into a large dumpster. I wondered who was doing so much renovation. There on the sidewalk was a kitchen cupboard, green enamel with a cream colored interior.
In the dumpster, a table with the same colors rested next to a twin size mattress, bags of clothing were thrown in, mingling with everything else. I could not figure out where the endless stream of refuse was coming from.
Then I noticed two open windows on the top floor of the house. I always admired the balcony in that house and envied the person living there, as each year, someone put plants out on the ledges. Early December every year, someone placed a red plastic wreath in each window. I thought unkindly of it, as I felt that it was a bit tacky. The man in the dumpster began breaking things apart with a sledgehammer.
Suddenly, I remembered an incident of a few years before. While I wandered the aisles at the local supermarket, a small gray-haired woman approached me, asking me to help her get a box of cereal from the top shelf. She said, “I do not mean to intrude, but I suppose you know me.” I was trying to figure out where and when we might have met. “I have been living across the street from you for ten years. I just want you to know, I am not snooping, I just look,” she said. “My name is Fanny, we should have tea sometime at my house.” She said she admired my amaryllis flowers in the window during the winter. “I used to watch your husband every morning, waving good-bye to you on his way to work.” I never saw or heard from her again.
The sound of the sledgehammer went on, the dumpster was filling up. The red plastic wreaths were laying on top amongst her treasurers.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER – STORY OF THE MONTH – FEBRUARY 2014
By: Shelly Papernik
Sun so low it drips gold on the dark snow.
Air so cold it skis down your windpipe.
Rain so wet you can swim from drop to drop.
Wind so strong you would think God was yawning.
Blowers and mowers so loud they go to war with the airplanes.
Daffodils so bright they raise your cholesterol.
Air so soft you can go to sleep on it without a pillowcase.
Azaleas so pink you want to tickle them like babies’ toes and hear them giggle.
WRITERS’ CHAPTER – STORY OF THE MONTH – JANUARY 2014
SUNDAY MORNING DREAMING
by: Mary Grasso
Every Sunday my parents would open the travel section of the newspaper and set about planning a trip. Mostly they picked whatever destination was featured, and it might have been anywhere. In great spirits my father would ask, “Where are we going this week?” and my mother’s eyes would light up. Hunched over the kitchen table with a pot of tea, they figured out airfares, hotel rates, sights to see, things to eat. They brought to this pastime a zest unmatched in the routine of their everyday lives. Inevitably, by Monday their plans had been scuttled: “Too expensive,” or “Too far,” my mother would explain, and that would be the end of it. The end of it, that is, until the following Sunday, when some other location was featured. There was never a chance they would take any of these trips; yet in their imaginations, encouraged by travel writers, the whole world was just waiting for them to show up.
But as a family we did travel. For several years my mother packed us up to visit what they called “home,” meaning Tipperary, where she, my sister and I stayed for the summer. Most years my father came for a few weeks as well. My parents were Irish-born; they took to these visits as natives, but at first it was hard for Nora and me to adjust. For one thing, my uncle’s farm was in the same condition it had been in his youth—maybe worse. Against the chill of Irish rain it was heated (in a manner of speaking) by the open hearth on which he also cooked. Rainwater from a trough and well water gathered in buckets stood in for plumbing. In an upstairs bedroom made bright by kerosene lamps, with a staticky radio that broadcast nothing but weather reports, we would be set for the summer. Or rather, set after a few days, when Nora and I had recovered from the airsickness that was our companion the whole flight across and the carsickness that followed during the three-hour drive from Shannon Airport.
We loved being “home,” more each year, which was why my mother kept taking us back. We ran wild through the countryside with a swarm of cousins who seemed remarkably capable; actually, I later realized, they were just seasoned farm kids. We always had jobs. We fed the chickens, opened the gates for the cows, and we took tea out to the meadow every day at four o’clock for my uncle and his hired men. “Tea” meant a thermos plus bread, jam, bacon, and the cornstarch custard that my mother had made. As the men rested against a haystack, we would swirl jam into the custard and savor it, declaring it the best thing we had ever tasted. My mother boiled the custard since neither of us could keep down raw milk. She boiled the drinking water, because that also made us sick. We got sick from too much fat in the bacon and from the smell of the kerosene. Once Nora even had to be taken off the hay wagon, nauseous, after she had clamored incessantly to ride with my uncle. He was out of patience so he left her by the side of the road; when he picked her up on the way back she became sick again. The extreme version of nausea that afflicted Nora and me was considered by our parents to be an unremarkable aspect of our childhoods. Apart from my mother’s few adjustments to our diet, they thought nothing of it; then again, they should have been used to it, as we even got sick on the New York City subway.
Travel to Europe in those days—we are talking the 1950’s here—was undertaken mostly by ocean liner. But we always flew, nine hours on a prop plane. Even when plotting their imaginary trips my parents disdained a sea voyage; my mother claimed she couldn’t bear the sight a ship after having emigrated on one. More likely, it would have been too expensive. But one year my father cashed in our plane tickets and reserved passage back to the States on the HMS Media. Nora and I were quite excited about this; we did not anticipate, nor did anyone think to tell us, that the seven-day crossing would make us even more sick than the prop planes had. That boat rocked and rolled its way across the Atlantic as we languished in our cabin day after miserable day, subsisting on water. Our parents, of course, were NOT sick and they had a great time parading around the ship. For the following year, and all the years thereafter, we stuck to flying.
Ireland was the only place Nora and I ever got to, but we thought it was heaven…nausea and all. But that was long ago. Now I can actually take the exotic trips my parents only dreamed of, and I don’t get sick. Whenever I touch down in a place that they pretended they might visit, Turkey or Hong Kong or Alaska, my mind flows back to the happy Sundays they spent figuring it all out. But always, my heart is still in Ireland on my uncle’s farm.
Writers’ Chapter – Story of the Month – December 2013
A PUPPY FOR CHRISTMAS
By: Clara Verdone
“I wish we had the money to buy Billy that bicycle for Christmas,” my husband lamented,
pointing to the toys in Sears’ window. “But we’ll get him something he wants more – a puppy!
I was elated. Already I was seeing Billy holding a puppy. “Oh, Bill, he’ll love that! – I’ll go
to the shelter tomorrow, and…”
“Hold on a minute, Betty,” he interrupted, as we walked back to the parking lot for the car.
“First of all, forget the shelter. We’re not buying any dog, we’re buying a pedigree, a registered dog;
you know – with papers.”
“Papers!” I squealed, trying to catch up to him. “There are times we can’t even afford the
Sunday papers! Those pedigree dogs cost a fortune!” Bill waited for me to catch up, and reminded me
of the bonus he will get on Christmas Eve.
“And you’re forgetting this year was a bad year. I really don’t think you should count on it!”
“You say that every year,” he laughed.
“Okay – but to wait for Christmas Eve? And what about gifts for the others?”
“We’ll give them all IOU’s!” He laughed. “No problem!”
“Suppose we don’t find the right puppy?” I waited for his reply, knowing there wouldn’t be
any. His mind was already made up. Noticing the skies were graying, I said, “Perhaps Billy will
have snow for Christmas – I’ll paint his old sled.”
“And he’ll have a puppy, too! He said emphatically.
On the day before Christmas, we went over our plans again. My parents were expected in
the morning to take Billy to see the Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall, and come back with him
on Christmas morning. Bill said he’d call about twelve o’clock after he got paid so that I would be
ready to go out and buy the dog with him.
Christmas Eve everything worked as planned. I had loads of time to trim the tree we hid in
the closet, and search for a nice box to put the puppy in. And I found the perfect box! One of my
hat boxes – the red one. I removed the out-dated feather hat and measured the space under the
tree – a perfect fit! After an early lunch, I got dressed and waited for Bill’s call.
At one o’clock I began to worry; he was supposed to call me at twelve. What happened?
He always got paid at noon! I looked at the time again, busied myself with other things, and saw that
it was now three! I got up and started to pace the floor. It wasn’t like him not to call. Five-thirty!
I was frantic! I looked out the window, and as I anticipated, it was beginning to snow. I wiped the fog
from the window. Was that my husband? No, it couldn’t be. I wiped the fog from the window again.
It was! He was getting out of the car carrying a large carton.
I raced to the door before he knocked. “Holy cow, you bought the dog!”
“No bonus this year, honey; they gave us a turkey.”
I wanted to cry but there wasn’t any time for tears. “We don’t have the time or the money.
We should have gone to the shelter – we shouldn’t have waited so long, the last day!”
He looked at his wrist watch. “Look, we still have time. Come on,” he said, leading me into
the bedroom. He took the large wooden cat bank we had standing in the corner of the room, and
peeling off the masking tape underneath, shook out seventy-three dollars in bills.
“Well, son of a gun,” I remarked, completely surprised it had money in it at all! I never heard
it jingle when I moved it!”
“I just stole from our own bank! Let’s go!”
The night was bitter cold and the snow was coming down harder on our faces like small
chips of ice. We went to the pet store, and as soon as we entered, our spirits warmed up.
“How much is that puppy?” Bill asked, pointing to a little brown dog caged beside a white
brick house. The owner commented on his good taste while picking up the dog. He said it was a
Shih Tzu, AKA registered, and a real healthy puppy.
Bill winked at me. “How much is he?”
“Oh, it’s a ‘she,’ and she’s two hundred fifty dollars.”
“Well, we don’t want to buy the house, too, just the pooch!” We chuckled, then gasped, as
the man said the house was two thousand dollars. He said it without humor!
“We paid less for the down payment of our house!” Bill choked. The man said that it was a
one-of-a-kind, all hand-crafted pet house. “Well,” Bill added, “we’re really looking for a male puppy,
say for seventy-three dollars?”
“Seventy-three dollars?” He glared at us for wasting his time. “A male hamster, maybe!”
“Maybe!” That was the last word we heard leaving the store. But after the third pet store, we
discovered our suggested price was a direct insult to the management as well as the animal. And it
approaching 8:30. The wind was whistling in all directions, blowing the snow into high drifts making it
difficult to think of anything but bowls of hot soup, and the words, “I TOLD YOU SO!”
“Bill,” I said, shivering, “I painted the sled – let’s go home.” But he said that there was one
more store to check out — case closed! I was glad I painted Billy’s sled and toys for special effects,
something more positive, I thought.
As we suspected, the store was closed. The old man inside was putting on his coat and waved
for us to leave, but one look at our sad faces, he opened the door. It didn’t take us long to tell him
what we wanted.
The old man scratched his head and then his chin. “How about a male canary,” he said.
As we turned to leave, he called us back and told us to follow him to the rear of the store.
“My wife feels sorry for strays, and placed this litter in the back of the store. They’re all washed, fed,
and examined – they’re all healthy puppies.”
In a playpen was a hill of squirming, cute fat puppies and underneath the pile was a squeezed-
in little white face and two little white paws trying desperately to come out from under. When he
finally stretched himself out, he practically hobbled sideways, to our delight.
“How much is the skinny drunk?” Bill asked, grinning.
“Take it, it’s yours – free,” the old man said, as he was eyeing the clock on the wall.
“Is it a male – with AKC papers?”
“Here are your papers,” the man said with a grin – handing over yesterday’s newspaper,
Writers’ Chapter – Story of the Month – November 2013
By: Louise Naples
One early Fall morning, Alan was asked by a friend to take on an abandoned female kitten. He was reluctant, being a single man, and not really wanting to take on the responsibility of caring for a pet. It was a commitment he was not sure he could adequately fulfill.
But the all-white ball of fluff, with black facial markings suggesting the Phantom of the Opera, was playful, and frisky, clamoring over everything. Alan decided to give it a whirl. He took her home, bought a litter box, and set that up in the corner of the bathroom. He got advice on the kind of food to buy for a kitten, went to the local pet store and picked out a few toys he thought she might enjoy.
Naming her was his next task, and he couldn’t decide right away. Not wanting to make a snap decision on such an important issue as her name, he just called her Cat.
Cat roamed around the spacious apartment, exploring, and climbing and getting to know her new home. She was friendly, and curious, and soon content enough to rest easily in his lap as he read in the evening.
Not a week after he brought her home, she was leaping about and jumped hard onto a wicker folding chair, which collapsed with a bang, breaking her leg. Alan was beside himself, not even knowing the name of a veterinarian. He called a friend, got the name of one, and rushed Cat in for treatment. Surgery, of course, was required, and a pin inserted to secure the leg and insure full use of the leg after healing. The tab for the surgery was $2000. Alan felt terrible, though he knew he probably couldn’t have prevented the accident. He also wasn’t thrilled at the expense; Cat was costing him a bundle.
The next day, she seemed okay, able to hobble about on her little cast. As Alan was preparing to go to work, he watched her for a while, and she was listless, and uncomfortable. He had given her the medication the Vet had ordered which seemed to be effective; but Alan decided to stay home a while with her, just in case. He laid back on the bed fully dressed, and tucked Cat in with him; both fell fast asleep.
He awoke some time later to the ringing of his telephone. It was his mother, breathless and frantic. “You’re at home, You’re at home. Oh Thank God!!!!” And she began to cry. He told her why he had stayed home from work, and she told him to put on the television.
The date was 9/11
Alan worked in Tower One of the World Trade Center. Cat’s name is now Angel.
Alan’s mother bought her a sterling silver water bowl.
Angel is now twelve years old, and the love of Alan’s life.