Tag Archives: Family

The Show

Last January 6th, The Feast of the Magi, which is also known as Epiphany or Little Christmas, my wife and I are guests of some people in Coventry, Rhode Island who get together each year to celebrate the Feast Day, and the end of the Christmas season.

Little Christmas is the name we gave it when I was a kid growing up in Kingsbridge, a part of The Bronx, the only place I know aside from The British Isles which is distinguished by the definite article in its name.  I used to think Kingsbridge was a place filled with Catholics, Irish, Italians, a German or two and, even, maybe, someone not from one of those places.  I loved it for a lot of things, and remember them all.  But, my favorite memories were the smells from all the different kitchens, big ones, little ones, all kinds, ; which, I long believed, were all Catholic kitchens.  Because, even though St. John’s, which was the church and school I went to, was right next door to a Protestant Church, I never ever saw anyone enter or leave that place.  You are looking for a church to go to on a clear Sunday morning in Kingsbridge Fifty, sixty or so years ago, and you ask me or any of the guys I grew up with, and your will hear us all say, “St. John’s.” No one I knew knew of any others. Until I am about 14 I think the only kind of people there are are Catholics, and the only kind of food, no matter from where, is “Catholic” food.

Anyway, at the little thing in Coventry, a lovely name for a place, there were all kinds of folks.  We got there early because we came down from Nashua, and grabbed a hotel room nearby, so we could stay a bit longer than a half hour before having to drive home in a snowstorm.

Our host and hostess are really nice people.  She has her picture next to the word “homemaker” in the dictionary, even though she has a bunch of letters after her name, so the place was filled with lovely decorations in every room, more lights than Rockefeller Center and the smell of good old fashioned homemade, tried and true stuff wafting through the house from the kitchen and making me hungrier than a whale after a two thousand mile migration swim.

Thus it was that after the greetings and smiles and stuff, I grab a plate of good old food, pausing to let my nose enjoy itself, and wander into the room where the guys are sitting.  An old Jimmy Cagney movie, one with George Raft looking like he had his hair painted on, was playing background noise…more or less…for the conversation going on; a conversation about baseball.

We were at this place last year, so I probably sit in the same spot  where I sit now and listen to the baseball conversation; which conversation is probably the same one  as last year’s was I began to think.

I am not at all complaining, because I find such conversations fascinating; conversations which I have listened to and sometimes taken part in in places from The Kingsbridge Tavern and Toolan’s  in Marble Hill, to a place in Singapore called Raffle’s where I spent a few nights talking baseball with some cops from Australia a thousand years ago.  They are probably all the same, generally, guys talking about players and teams, averages and plays, managers and pitchers, and balls and strikes.  There’s a lot more of course, but that would fill a book.  And has.

I sat and listened for about a half hour, talking a bit with one of the wives who wandered in and probably felt like she was on Mars.  With her I do not talk about baseball,  because, frankly, I am a little afraid I might not measure up.  There are guys sitting beside me and standing around who can probably tell you the hand span of every manor league pitcher from 1898 until yesterday. My only claim to baseball history is I grew up in The City when Micky, Duke and Willy played there, and I saw Ted at bat.  What he did and when he did it, though is lost in King Solomon’s mind.

I forget what I talk to the nice lady about, but she tells me she remembers me from the year before, and I am scared, because I draw a blank, like one of those old maps filled with empty spaces and bad guesses. I practice smiling, and punctuating her conversation with eyebrow raises and smiles and “Uh, huhs” and big nods while she talks about stuff.  I get comfortable when she talks about the stuff on her plate, and what she likes about the spread.

Then she leaves and I go to the kitchen to fill my plate again.  The kitchen is a place I like.  It’s full of food.  I cook, and can ask food questions; things I know about, like herbs, and spices and sauces and stuff. There’s one or two guys there mining this or that dish and I go over to them to talk the”game”.  But, they know about what’s in front of them about as much as I know about pitching, or stealing a base.  They can use a serving spoon though.

The hostess is there too, making sure no one lacks for anything, and she gives me a short tour of the “field”.  I am happy for this, and try to ask a few questions about the things I see and how they got to be what they are.  She is happy to answer, and for a few minutes we go on about ingredients, and what was handed down from who, and  timing and staging.  I feel like myself again, warming to the topic.  But, then, the front door opens and another family tumbles in.  the Woman of the House goes off to welcome them. I am alone among the pots and bowls and dishes; alone but for those two guys from the other room, now talking batting averages.  They don’t even know I am there.

I look deep into the big bowl of mulled cider and see a darker mulled me looking back.  Then I nod and wander out.  You know, I think to myself as I wander into the parlor, which is nearly empty, and survey the Christmas Village spread across the top of the piano, I would love to have been a chef in a big deal place.  I look down at the little town and remember those times I fed a crowd; when I made it to The Show.

There were a couple of times like when we had about a hundred over for burgers, dogs and games at the Upper Biscayne Clubhouse.  They were great fun.  But I remember, back in the ’80s, when I cooked a meal for a couple of hundred people a couple of times.  It was a Seder celebration back when bunches of Catholics were getting in touch with their Jewish roots.  I am on the Parish Council then, and since I have such fun doing a couple of big deals at the house, I think it would be even more fun to throw open the doors at the parish.

I make a connection with the banquet manager at the Park Plaza in Boston, and he introduces me to the Executive Chef.  It is a highlight of my life when I meet him, and I regret I did not get his John Henry on a hambone or something.  What I do get is twelve boned legs of lamb that look like beach balls, and the fixins’.  All of this is gratis when I tell my friend upstairs in his banquet office it is for a church dinner.

It is from a top shelf hotel, so it is all top shelf stuff!  I do not think to ask him for the china, silver and glassware but I wonder what would have happened.  I mean they probably have freight cars full of that stuff.  On the way home, back to the parish with a trunk full of the goods I feel sorry for it because it’s going on plastic.

The first thing I find out is that we never cook all of that stuff in the one chicken oven at the Parish.  We need something on the order of a Bessemer furnace.  God rest her soul, my friend Barbara Keegan, who should have been, could have been, a D.I. at Quantico, orders up the kitchen at Bishop Guertin High school, and we are good to go.

The day, when it comes, goes off without a hitch; well without too many of them.  Barbra, now straightening out heaven’s kitchens, is on the lamb.  I am up at the parish polishing the plastic, setting the tables, preparing.  When the time comes I drive down there and remove six legs, place them in the back of the car and deliver them, like six pizzas, to the gathering wandering Israelites.

It is not too shabby, if memory serves.  Some folks even eat the bitter herbs.

But, I find out one thing.  Ham is a big deal in New England for Easter dinner.  There are quite a lot of folks who never eat Lamb.  This I cannot figure in a religion whose Savior is referred to as The Lamb of God.

My apple pie disappears, though.   And the Charoset which I make at home the night before.  I keep two of the beach balls and give four away.  Easter dinner is  big deal at our house that year.

I try the same thing once more, but, fewer people show up.  The next year someone suggests ham, or even turkey.

And, I ask to be traded.

The photo above is of my grandson, Joe, getting ready to steal second.  He’s twenty-one, soon, and a damned good cook.

 

 

https://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=VQnKB4-kQGI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Last Delivery

When my father cashed in his chips on April 26, 1969 the responsibilities for the proper conduct of his obsequies fell upon my dead brother Tom (MP 56, Fordham 67), who was very much alive at the time, and my humble self.  And so, the next day we appeared at Williams Funeral Home, not too far from Joe’s Fish Market, and just across Broadway from the RKO Marble Hill accompanied by our grieving mother and sister to learn what could be done to honor a devoted letter carrier.

The funeral director, whose name I never can remember, but whose manner I shall not forget, sat behind his desk, which seemed about the size of a carrier’s flight deck.  It was the most slick and shiny piece of furniture there has ever been and was empty of everything except a black phone, his folded arms, long fingers knitted together so as to make me think of a bed of snakes, just below the inverted reflection of his face in the highly polished wood; that face a practiced and professional mask of compassionate sympathy, welcoming us in a properly consoling manner; both in reflection and in fact.

  “We accept cash or check,” were what I remember most his consolations.  That and the soothing words, “Payment is due within ten days, or late charges go into effect,” did much to ease the pain of loss.

My mother, stoically silent, merely nodded, opened the purse she held on her lap, produced a pile of bills and counted out the full amount.   “We would like to see the coffin,” my brother said, standing.  “You have a showroom, of course?”

With no more than the merest gentle smile, your man rose and gestured that we follow him, from his carpeted office through the door and down the carpeted corridor to a doubled door opening into a large room filled with beautiful examples of funerary magnificence.

To be sure, I was awed.  He gestured in such a manner that gave us to understand any of these was ours for the asking.  Thus invited, we strolled among les Objets des Morts, whispering comments and questions until we had narrowed our choices to two.  My dear sister spoke for the first time.  I know this sounds unusual for those who know her, but nevertheless…  She spoke and said, ” Are these the right size? “

For the first of several times during the next few days the, until then, composed, controlled, supremely confident gentleman, our very own Virgil I had come to think, appeared to lose himself in surprise.  “No one has ever asked that question,” he answered with the tiniest waver in his voice.  My mother, smelling blood, smiled ever so briefly and said,”We are.”  I thought I saw him stumble backwards, slightly.  My brother was nearest him, now, and said, “Our father was above average in height, though slimmed some by the disease which finally took him from us.  He suffered greatly in this life, and we would be grieved to know we were the cause of any further suffering for him on his “Last Journey”.” Turning to me, Tom added, “Peter, here, is closest to our father’s height.  We would like to see in which of these Dad would look his best.”

“Of course he’ll take off his shoes.”  The gentleman had raised only this objection after a nervous cough and a frantic look around, whether for help or a way out I have never known.

And so, barefooted since I wanted to feel the satin lining on my feet, I climbed in and lay down in the coffins feeling a bit like that little girl in the story.  The first one was too small by several inches, and I thought of my poor father spending only God knows how many years awaiting the Parousia with cramped aching feet.  But the second was just right, and upon my testimony, we all chose it for Dad.  He, or what is left of him, lies there still, waiting comfortably.

There were several details left to be attended to, so we returned to the office.  The next matter was the preparation and publication of an obituary for the deceased as our Master of the Rites informed us.  In response to Tom’s question he explained just what the charges would be in each of the several papers and offered himself as amanuensis in its production.  He removed a blank piece of paper from within one of the desk drawers and, smiling, paused expectantly.

My mother asked if this was included in the fee just paid.  Sadly, it was not; a piece of information which caught us short for the merest moment.  We were not people of means, and had little set aside for the honors which might have done my father justice.  His early death caught us unprepared. Then my brother offered what I think was a brilliant solution.  He said, “Why not: Ed Gallaher, dead!”

After he had found himself; only a short while, really, our guide gave us some bad news.  “There is a minimum charge.”

It was my sister, then, who suggested a solution.  We would approach my father’s favorite barkeep, Angie of The Kingsbridge Tavern on the corner of our block.  He was always good.  We’ll just add it to Dad’s tab, now in the low four figures.  And that was the end of that!

The last matter of business for the afternoon involved the number of cars for mourners, and, of course the hearse and flower car.  We would do this all without flowers, my mother said, since it was too early for dandelions she added, soto voce.  That left us with the matter of a hearse, and the positioning of cars.

And, here, I spoke up.  “My father’s last wish was to have a Mailman’s Funeral.”  He had been writing something on  piece of paper when I said this, and he slowly put down the pencil.  Looking directly at me he spoke, a little tremulously, “What do you mean?”

I guessed he had never heard of such a thing, so I explained that my father’s body would be carried from the funeral home on the day of the Funeral Mass by six pallbearers in full dress Letter Carrier’s uniforms placed in a mail truck and driven to the church.  Behind it we would all walk, led by the Mailman’s Marching Band.  The Mail Truck, to be driven by my father’s longtime mailman friend and partner, whose name I only remember as Ralphie Boy, would be further decorated with two brand new leather mailbags, one mounted inside out on each each door to signify that inside a dead letter carrier lay.  Further, a gold ribbon bearing the word “Cancelled” in black letters would be draped across the hood of the truck

“Really?” He said.  ” If they are available,” I answered.  “That would be good,” my mother interrupted.  “With the money we save on your hearse, we won’t need Angie.”

And so it was. Or could have been.  The fellow was kind enough to say he would absorb the obituary costs if we allowed him to take Dad to church in his hearse.  Such a deal we couldn’t get in a store as Moe the tailor used to say.

We took it.  He couldn’t stand, so we shook his hand and left.

There are other stories to tell about Dad’s wake.  But, I’ll save them.

Dead and Dying: Something for Lent

This is about two things; what used to happen and what I think is happening.

I was very young when I attended my first wake; young enough so that all I remember of it is that I was in a forest of legs, legs with faces somewhere up there in the distance, and voices flying overhead.  They were making words, I knew, but I couldn’t make sense of them.  It seemed as if everyone was simply saying, “Noise!”  Everyone, that is except old ladies on chairs with sad and tired faces who were saying soft things in whispers as they moved the beads through their hands.  I looked at them with the open and intense stare of the young child, the child who hasn’t yet learned discretion and dissembling.  They looked at me in the same way; their eyes unshielded by age.

Perhaps my most specific memory of that evening is of seeing a massive pair of shoes at the bottom of a staircase.  They were the shoes of my Grand Uncle Bill Fanning, brother of my grandmother, my father’s mother Catherine Fanning Gallaher from Leighlin Bridge, Carlow, Ireland.

At some point during that evening of legs and loud talk, everything grew quiet, and all over the place people got shorter in the legs.  They were on their knees, and saying words I knew were prayers because I had heard them from all the other people, the older ones I lived with.  We prayed for an eternity, following the lead of the man in front, Father Someone.  And, when the prayers were over, we left and went home on the subway.  I slept. It was quieter.

I do not know whose wake I was at.  I only remember legs, big shoes and noise.  It may have been Uncle Bill’s, since I never saw him after that, and Grandma, who was given to prayer several times a day, became more involved in her “office”.  She wanted her brother in heaven, and it was the best of things to do; to pray him all the help she thought he needed.  Never giving up

She never did.  Besides her brother,  she had a big family back across the water, and a sister here, too with five sons, and they all needed praying for.

Several years after that incident I attended my first Funeral Mass.  My mother’s mother, whom I loved, had died.  I knew she was sick because I’d overheard conversations at night in the kitchen, and my mother on the phone to her sister.  Then I was told to dress one cold gray morning for Mass. Nanny was being buried.  I rode in the back of the long black car between my mother and my aunt.  My sister may have been in the car with me, or she may have been staying at home with our neighbors.  I cannot remember.  My brother was there.

I cried.

The only thing I remember about the Mass beyond my first feelings of loss and sadness was the silence, broken occasionally by mournful music, as if the organ was weeping too; and the people singing sad songs for me and my family and my grandmother in the coffin in the front.  Everyone was in black, and everyone was sad, too.  Everyone prayed.  I even saw rosary beads in the hands of the men who moved then one at a time as they slowly went through the silent mysteries, silently.  What I remember most is the deep echoing silence in the church.  I used to think that church was huge, and that when silent the whole world was silent, too. Like that day.  My mother told me to pray for my grandmother, and always to remember her when I prayed.

I have no memories beyond the silence and sadness, being urged to pray for Nanny to help her to heaven, and my tears.

Georgie Masters mother hung herself one afternoon and died tied to the curtain rod in their bathroom.  Georgie and his sister Eileen stayed with us for three days.  Then on the third day, their father came to get them to take them to St. John’s, the big church, for the funeral.  We rode along with them behind the hearse carrying a lady I didn’t know much about. Because it was the way of it, I prayed for her silently in the silent car, and in the silent church where a pin drop would sound like a cannon’s roar, I thought.  Silent except for the quiet whispers of prayers being said for Mrs. Masters, that her Purgatory not be long, and that God be good to her.

We walked back from that Mass to our house.  Mr. Masters held my hand when we crossed Broadway underneath the El.  His hand was warm, and bigger than my father’s.  He had a long black overcoat one and wore a black hat.  We got back home and George and Eileen left with their father.  I could take you today, with my eyes closed, to the spot where I stood in the hallway of our apartment as they left the house.  I still pray for Mrs. Masters, but I suspect the prayers are put in someone else’s account.  She was a woman in pain.

I have been to perhaps a dozen funerals of men, police officers and federal agents, who have died in the line of duty, and one or two priests, too, called home after long years of work in the vineyard.  In the former cases, hundreds, at times thousands of their brothers lined the streets outside, and stood silently until the funeral ended.  In the latter, the loudest noise at the beginning and end was the tolling of a single bell.  A single bell.  A reminder to pray, to remember, to pray.

Their names, now, I can’t remember. What is with me still, though, are the days and places, the long blue lines outside, the robed priests about the altar inside and the silence, reverent, respectful silence.  These, like works in a gallery, frame my prayers, some of whom I knew well, some not at all.  But all I keep in my prayers, years on, like my grandmother at her beads.

We provide the music at funerals in one of the parishes here in town.  Some of the people, not a few in fact, who find out what we do recoil at knowing that’s how we spend some of our time.  “Eeewww!  Funerals!”  “How does that make you feel?”  “It must be dreadful.”   These are the kind of things we often hear from folks we tell about our work.

Well, sometimes…  But, then, there are other things.

Not too long ago we worked at the funeral of a person, a woman who I am told was a nice lady.  Well, no one wants to speak ill..  And I will not, myself.

As with most funerals we attend and provide music for, so was this one peopled with a number of people who appeared to me as if they had just wandered in off the street, or had indeed come to a funeral, but had no idea at all what exactly that meant, or why it was taking place.

I mean, in the latter case those folks might have been thinking  something like this about that: “Duh, Jimmy, she’s dead isn’t she; a bunch of ash in the little gray pot Uncle Bilge just brought in?  What’s the point?”  And indeed it may have been,and probably is,the prevailing frame of mind for some who “happen by” these things; little more than a quiet place to check for messages; or to catch up with someone not seen since the last party.

“Yeah, I feel sad Uncle Bob is dead.  But, look, I ain’t worked since I got the news he was dying last week.  I was gonna visit but, like, I was too busy.  Besides, we were comped at the new casino in Revere for two days.  Yeah, outta sight!.  Don’t matter, really.  He’s dead now.  Just a minute, I gotta check this message.  By the way, you going out with me and Davey on Friday, The Rotten Tomatoes are playing at The Scalded Duck.  They got this new beer they’re promoting that tastes like sour apples with a pickle nose and burnt shirt finish.”

Most of them, the bereaved we used to call them, on this morning stood at the front, at the foot of the altar in a sloppy group talking loudly while we sang some prologues before Mass. (Yes it is still a Mass, folks, though it is more often referred to as a service, as if what was inside the box or the coffin was a device to be worked on by the Gook Squad or a car needing a tune up.)

They chattered the things one chatters before a funeral these days: About how long it has been since they’ve seen each other.  About, whether or not Auntie May is as crazy as she dresses these days.  “Did you see that thing she’s wearing?”  About how the Red Sox or the Bruins or the Patriots are doing.  New cars.  Old cars.  Vacations and, recently, tattoos, or “ink” or “tats” as they seem now to be called.  There were some in evidence on the legs and bare arms of the younger women who attended; though none were on their faces…yet.

Not long after that, we were called to provide music for a young man who had died suddenly.  He left two or three young children behind, I do not remember the total number, along with his girlfriend, as she was styled in the obituary.  He was lauded as a wonderful father to the children, who played with them, and was always good for a laugh, leaving them happy they had seen him.

His mourners included a number of fellows who appeared in their “colors”, filling two rows at the back of the church, and reminding me of bears in a cage.

A few weeks before this, maybe a month, I heard, his brother had died.  Suddenly, as the saying goes.

Yesterday we were present for the final rites of an old woman, mother, grandmother and, I think great-grandmother, and several days ago it was another old man.  Dark clothes filled the pews, and quiet.  Only one or two children were among each congregation of mourners gathered to say farewell.

This morning another old man who died quietly at home, followed by a bundle of relatives, dark and quiet, was wheeled in his casket to the altar for the final rites.

I find myself wondering about the things I see from my post up in the choir loft, and what is happening, and I cannot really think that what is happening is good.

Myself?  I am I know no better than anyone below me, probably worse off than most.  But, being present at twenty or thirty of these “celebrations” each year has not convinced me that I am.

And, is that a bad thing? At least, I find it “wonderfully focuses the mind.”   We of course have life.  We forget the other three things.

In Paradisum

How Benedict Got Upstairs

I don’t remember how old I was, but it wasn’t so old that I could tie my own shoes, since I learned to do that the next summer.  I’ve never thought to remember how old I was when I learned to tie my own shoes, and Mama was always too busy to remember something like that for me.  By the time she noticed I wasn’t asking her for help; well not really asking, simply clip-clopping around with loose laces until she called me over to tie them.  “Come over here Mouse,” she’d say, turning away from peeling, or washing, or folding something.  I’d come over and stand, or hop, on one foot while she bent and twirled laces through her strong fingers until my shoes had pretty bows on them.  Sometimes, though, she’d have to switch them on my feet, just like she’d sometimes lift my shirt over my head, and put it back on, or turn my pants around.  She’d take my face in her hands, smile and say,”Try to remember, Mouse, to put the name in the back.”  Then she’d give me a hug and a kiss on the top of my head.  I can touch the spot sometimes and the memory comes back, smells, sounds, colors and all; and me dancing my one legged dance, or lifting my arms “way up to the sky” so she could put the shirt on with the name in the back; the right way.

The funny thing is that I don’t remember ever feeling uncomfortable in unlaced shoes, or back to front clothes, but I certainly felt better…inside and out…after Mama’s help.

I wasn’t much at trying to remember, of course.  I wonder now I sometimes didn’t do it the “right way” on purpose so’s she would notice and call me over, bend and fix and love, all in graceful but purposeful moves.  Mama never seemed to waste anything, even her moving from place to place.  She was sure of where she was going, sure of what she was doing and sure of why it needed doing.  But she moved as if she was dancing; always seeming to me like she was being moved by some spring breeze, or lifting and flying.  I would catch Papa, who was solid and steady, glancing up from whatever he might be about when he was home, watching her dance about the house, moving from place to place like a hummingbird, or a fall of water.  I like both of those things for the way they remind me of her

Papa was much older than Mama, a white topped mountain, like that picture of Mt. McKinley in an old magazine that I  took from the table one day and moved into my own little corner; near enough to keep an eye on the rest of my world and far enough to be alone when I wanted to be alone.  That wasn’t too often, but every once in a while, I’d notice Big Bear and Little Bear looking a bit sad and go over to sit down with them, and pat their heads and smile at them and give them a kiss.  Truck never needed kissing, but I would take out the cows from his back and arrange them in a row, or I’d play a tune on my piano.  This was often after Papa came home and had sat down in his chair.

Mama would bring him a glass of beer with the white foam on the top.  he’d let me take a sip of the beer and chuckle when I got the foam on my upper lip like a mustache.  “You’re on your way to being Santa Claus,” he’d say.  Or, he’d call me is Mustache Mouse.  Then he’d ask me if I learned any new tunes while he was away at work that day.  Of course I always answered yes, and went over to my place to play my latest “oeuvre”.  He’d smile from his chair, and tap his toe, keeping time.  When I had finished he’d always applaud and say,”Bravo, Mouse.  You are a young Beethoven.”

When I first heard him say that I answered, “I’m not a “bate hoven”.  I’m Mouse.”  He laughed out loud and beckoned me over.  I got up and waddled his way until he picked me up and said, “Of course you’re Mouse.  No one else could be.  But you are also a lot of other things.  You’re mama’s Mouse, and my Mouse.  You’re our little child and my Sunshine.”  Then he sang me the best song, the one that was mine,”You are my sun shine, my only sunshine…” and I forgot all about being upset at learning I was a “bate hoven”.

But, I wondered what a “bate hoven” might be, and thought it would be nice to be one if it made Papa happy.

One day, just after Mama had tied my shoes for me she said, “How do you feel, Mouse?”  “Fine, Mama,” I answered, and smiled.  “Except my belly stings.”  “Well, let’s just be careful.  Is it a sharp sting?”  “No, maybe it isn’t even a sting.  Maybe it’s an ache,” I answered.  “Is it your whole belly, or just a bit of it?”  “My whole belly, mama.  It started after breakfast.”  “OK, Mouse.  You go and get Bear and we’ll go upstairs to bed.  I want to take your temperature, too.”

We did all of that.  And when I was back in bed with Bear she came with water  and told me to stay in bed.  “Am I sick?”  “You have a slight fever, Mouse.  I’m going to call the doctor’s office now.  They may want me to bring you in.  Then I’m going to call Papa’s office and tell him.  Your job now is to rest.  I’ll be just downstairs.  You and Bear rest quietly.”  Bear was good at resting I knew, so I told him he could rest.  I would just lie there and wait to go to the doctor’s office.  She came back to wake me up and tell me that we were going to go to the doctor’s office.

“Can Bear come, too,” I wanted to know.  Bear very seldom stayed home with the others when I went out, but I do not think he had ever been to the doctor’s office before.  “I know he’d like it,” I continued.  Mama took a moment to think about that, and answered, “Well if you get him to promise he’ll be a good bear, and sit quietly in the car, and at the doctor’s office, he may come.  But you must be responsible for his behavior.  Will you promise?”  I said yes, and Mama helped me get dressed to go to the doctor’s.  Bear did not need to get dressed, I told her.  His fur would keep him warm.

The doctor told Mama that I had a flu, and he told her to keep me home and in bed.  I think this is what he told her, because I was not there when he asked her to come into his office and sent me with the nice lady who sits at the desk behind the glass to get a lolliepop.  Mama gave me a really big hug when I came back, and the doctor patted me on the head.  Then we left to go home.  On the way mama stopped at Doc Portnoy’s and got some bottles of medicine the doctor said I should take to get better.

When we got home that is just what she did.  She brought me upstairs and put me to bed with lots of toys around me.  It was the first time that I was sick, and had to stay in bed.  When Papa came home he came upstairs right away and told me he would miss me.  He asked if he could come and visit me each morning before he went to work, and every evening when he came home.  I wanted to know if he would tell me stories, make-up ones.  I had Mama to read books, but Papa always made up his stories.  After Mama had read the books one or two times I knew everything that would happen.  Of course that was good, since if there was a scary part, you could allow yourself to get sacred and know it would get better.

But with Papa, everything was different.  You never knew if a story was going to be scary, or happy or sad, or everything all jumbled up.  The best thing was that they were all about someone with the name of Mouse, who had to be me.  But, I was never sure, and that was the really good part.  Mouse did things I would never think of doing, but he also did things I hoped I would grow up some day and do.

Papa said that he’d come back after his supper and tell me a story.  I thanked him and sat back to wait.  Bear was sleeping so I closed my eyes, too and began to be very quiet.  I could hear Papa and Mama talking downstairs.  She said, “I’m so worried about our little Mouse, dear.  It’s such a dreadful thing to have.  I hope it leaves this house soon, and leaves our Mouse with no harm done.”  “Don’t worry, Dear,” Papa said in his soft voice that sounded like my snuggly blanket felt.  “Mouse will come through this just fine.  Tell me about your day.”

Up in my bed I settled down and listened, imagining Mama putting out her hand for Papa to hold just like they did whenever they told each other about “their day”.  I listened to hear what she would tell him about our ride back and forth to the doctor’s office and how good I was to Bear while we waited.   I listened for his voice saying, “Umm, hmm, and ‘Go on.’ ”  But, instead all she said was, “Oh, goodness!  I completely forgot to tell you your sister is coming.  She’s accepted our offer to move in. She wants to visit first and discuss all the rest of the arrangements for her move. She’ll be here tonight!”

“Tonight?”  Papa sounded like he was yelling, “Fire!”.  I heard his chair scrape back and his heavy footsteps in the hallway.  “You make sure the guest room downstairs is ready for her, Dear.  I’m going out for cat food.”  With that the door opened and closed and Papa’s car soon started up.  He was going for the cat food.  Papa’s sister was also my Aunty-K, my favorite.  And, when she came she always stayed downstairs in the great big room in our basement where she could keep herself and her cat, Benedict, a big white cat who had a big white temper if he didn’t know you.  Once he bit Papa on his leg when he came into Aunty-K’s room downstairs.  He must have thought Papa was a burglar.  And Papa was very angry with Benedict for biting him when he thought they were friends.  At least that’s what Papa told me was the reason Aunty-K kept him down there on her visits

I think Papa was afraid of him, and that surprised me, because Papa wasn’t supposed to be afraid of anything.  He was happy that Aunty-K kept Benedict downstairs on her visits.  I know because I heard him tell Mama that he was sorry for that but he didn’t want Benedict biting me some day, too.  I didn’t think he would, but Papa said he was also a little nervous that he might have to have words with his sister about Benedict if he ever got out and upstairs and bit me.  I wondered what words he and Aunty-K would like to share if that happened.

Anyway, I loved Aunty-K.  She had a hundred different voices that she used all the time.  She could talk the way birds talk, and little animals and big ones.  And she could be a little girl and talk like that; a fresh little girl.  She loved to tell stories, and she loved to laugh.  Most of all she loved to laugh at simple things that just kind of happened, a bird missing a branch, a squirrel who tried to get into one of the bird feeders, a little baby who played with his food.  She would smile and laugh just like a kid at all of that stuff.  She never giggled, either.  She always just laughed out loud.

Well, with Papa gone, and Mama making noises way downstairs I didn’t think I would get any stories told to me, so I decided to go to sleep with Bear.

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I think I heard the doorbell ring, and I think I heard Aunty-K’s voice saying hello.  But, I’m not sure.  There were other sounds, too, all over the house and all around it, but I’m not sure.  Sometimes when noises happened in the night I would wake up and call for Mama.  She’d bring me a glass of water, the noises would go away,  and I would go back to sleep again.  The last thing I would feel would be Mama’s hand touching the side of my face, or her kiss.

I opened my eyes and called, “Mama.”  I called her again, but no one came from downstairs, and no one came from their room.  But the noise had stopped, so I closed my eyes and hugged Bear.  Then I heard someone call my name.  “It’s Mama,” I thought and I opened them.  But, someone else was there; not Mama but a pretty lady who was standing by my window in the soft light smiling at me.  I looked at her and smiled, too.  She was holding a big white cat in her arms.  The cat looked at her, then at me.  She put the cat down on my bed and he walked up to me and licked me on the hand I hand wrapped around Bear.  He licked Bear, too.  It tickled.

“Benedict isn’t supposed to be upstairs,” I whispered.  I did not want anyone to hear because if they knew, Aunty-K and Papa would have their words, and Benedict might be in trouble.  “It will be all right,” was all she said.  “Benedict will be with you.  Don’t be afraid.”  “I’m not afraid,” I told her.  “You will get better, soon.  Remember me, and remember Benedict when you grow up.  He is pure.  Be like him and remember me.”  She put out her hand and said, “Benedict stay with her.”  He sat very still and wrinkled his brow, looking very serious.  He nodded his head once and turned back to me.

Then I couldn’t see her anymore because Benedict laid down on my head and began to lick my eyebrows.  Sometimes cats can be silly.  When I sat up to get him off me, the lady was gone.  Benedict settled back on my pillow and looked at me with his big golden eyes.  Then he put his head between his paws and closed his eyes.  Well, one of them.  The other kept looking at me until I put my head down next to him.  He put a paw on my neck, licked it and me, and we both went to sleep.

There were no more noises.

There were no more noises during the night, that is.  There was noise in the morning though.  I woke up to hear the doorbell ringing, and Mama and Papa both going downstairs.  As I sat up in bed with Bear in my arms and Benedict still lying quietly on the pillow, I heard the door open and Mama and papa yell, “Aunty-K!  Where have you been!”  Then Mama said, “Are you all right?” And Papa said, “We were about to call the police.  What on earth happened to you?  You’re a mess.”
“Now don’t have a fit.  I’m all right.  I stopped on the way for a cup of coffee, and when I got back to the car, Benedict was gone.  I think he’s gone for good, too.  I looked all over that place for him, and even slid down a hill into a little creek.  That’s why I look such a mess.”  “Oh, poor Benedict,” said Mama.  “That’s what’s got me most upset.  I can’t understand it.  I always lock the door, and he was in the carrier, too.  Someone must have taken him,” Aunty Kay said, and everyone was quiet for a moment.  Then she said,” I’m gonna miss that cat.  I swear he knew right from wrong.  But, I’m all right and I’ll be just fine after I sit down and have a cup of coffee.” said Aunty-K.  I could hear Papa carrying her things through the door and putting them on the floor.

Mama said, “We had just awakened and I was on my way down to do that very thing when you rang the doorbell.  Come into the kitchen.”  There were footsteps and soon I heard cups and spoons clinking.  I heard Papa’s voice in the kitchen, and decided I should go down and tell them about the lady.  I was a bit worried about Benedict being upstairs, and wondered whether I should leave him or wake him up and bring him with me.

When I got to the kitchen they were all there, Mama, Papa and Aunty-K.  She sat in a chair at the table while Mama and Papa stood patting her back and holding her hands.  I heard her say, “I feel awful that you invite me to come and live with you, and the first thing I do is cause all of this upset with Mouse sick upstairs.  Oh, I could just sit down and cry for a week.”  “Now, this isn’t anything to get upset about.  Someone will find Benedict and either give him a good home, or bring him back to us,” said Papa.  I stood waiting for him to finish to tell them all that is just what happened.

“But, our little Mouse,” began Aunty-K, “I never knew..”  She stopped speaking and started crying very hard.  Mama turned to Papa and looked at him.  That was when she saw me standing there watching and waiting.  “Mouse,” she nearly screamed, and ran towards me.  “You shouldn’t be out of bed, Dear.  You are very, very sick.”  She bent to pick me up as Papa and Aunty-K turned and came over to me, Aunty-K trying to smile through her tears and Papa looking very concerned.

“Here, Dear,” he said, holding out his arms for me, “I’ll take Mouse back to bed.”  That was when I said, “No.  I fell very good, everyone.  I just came to say hello and to tell you something.  Please put me down, Mama.”  That surprised them I could see.  For a moment everyone was silent.  papa looked at Mama and Aunty-K.  Mama looked at Papa and Aunty-K.  Aunty-K looked at Mama and Papa.  Then all of them looked at me.  I smiled and wiggled to get down.  Mama bent over and let me stand on the floor.  Everything was quiet.

Just then from upstairs there was a very loud “MEOW!”

Benedict Listens to the Lady

The Land of the Running White Clouds, or Aotearoa, New Zealand #2

It wasn’t until we sat in the living room of our little retreat in Paihia, NZ, at about 4:00PM on the afternoon of Sunday, May 16, 2010, that I had the time to think about the previous week and its events with any sense of order.  It had been six days since we shut the door and drove away from home on the first step of our journey to that place on the hillside in New Zealand.

Funny as it seemed to me then thinking about it, the first step wasn’t at all  that big.  As with most journeys, I suppose it’s the first step that gets lost in all the rest of them.  But, this was a big deal for me, this trip, for both of us as a matter of fact, and I wanted to remember all of it.  So, all of the steps were important.

Sister Teresa had come up from Connecticut to spend the night with us before we took her to Logan Airport in Boston on Tuesday afternoon for her own flight to Poland and a visit with her parents and family.  Sister had been a guest in our home long enough to lose the guest label, and that was gone quickly.  She has become, quite frankly, a member of the family, dearly loved as if she was a blood relative.

We had already been busy getting ready, or rather Mariellen had been busy, and I had been her “ready reserve” when Sister arrived sometime in the afternoon of May 10, with her heavy suitcase and her carry-on bag.

After seeing her settled once more in her basement digs, we enjoyed a light supper and a short catch-up visit before calling it a night.  The next day would be busy, I figured, since Mariellen’s “list” still had about a thousand items not crossed off.

Well, the final moments came.  Loading the car with a half ton of baggage and waving goodbye to the crowds lining the street, the band and the mayor in her best dress we drove off.  God had cleared the road ahead, and we took our Sister to the airport with no problem at all, arriving in good time for her to become properly bored with the wait.

We hugged and said a cheerful goodbye and Godspeed to each other, all under the eagle eye of the State Troopers patrolling the airport; one trooper for every two travelers it seemed.  Then, for such a little time, we were on our own, alone.  Our next stop was Needham, MA.  Mariellen’s brother Bill and his wife, the lovely and gracious Mary Lynch Supple, had opened their home for the night to us.  Bill was to take us to the airport at 6:30 in the morning.

Mary and Bill are the parents of four busy teenagers, so as we came through the door, Mary greeted us with a kiss and left almost immediately on what has always seemed to me as a last minute dash for the very last train or a Perils of Pauline rescue of a stranded child.  She is never too distracted, though, to stop and welcome the visiting guest as if the day was spent preparing for that very thing, and the new arrival awaited as royalty might have been at some country cottage years ago.

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I confess that it was I who was distracted.  Three days or so before I had received a camera from a friend.  She had upgraded to a Nikon D-90 and sold me her old (less than a year) D-40.  I’d used the weekend to get familiar with it, even to the point of reading the phone book sized manual; only a slight exaggeration.  I’d packed it away with its charger and an extra 4gig in the top of my carry on knapsack.  Don’t ask me why, but at the last minute I also threw my little Lumix into the thing, too.  But, I forgot the battery charger.  Well, I didn’t forget it, actually.  I figured I wouldn’t need it what with the other camera.

I did not figure on my knapsack zipper failing me and the D-40 tumbling to the ground as I walked across the driveway at Bill and Mary’s house.  Mary, looking at it, said that there was probably nothing at all wrong with it since the case was very well padded.  I called Joanna, who had sold me the camera, at her home in New York and she generously offered to take it to Nikon for repairs.  It was still under warranty!   That was fine, I thought, since while I could get it to turn on, it would not snap a photo.  All I heard when I pressed the shutter release button was a high pitched sad whine.

Poor camera!  And, the knapsack was one of those fancy jobs with the manufacturer’s name sewn onto it.  I grumbled, and got on with the evening.  There were other things than cameras to think of.

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Bill came through the door soon after Mary left carrying several bags of groceries filled with the ingredients for a delicious surf ‘n turf supper of grilled London Broil and the thickest cut of swordfish steak I’d seen this side of Sweet’s Restaurant down by the Fulton Fish Market in New York City.  He fired up his nuclear powered grill just outside the back door to the kitchen.  It looks large enough to cook a meal for the crew of an aircraft carrier and powerful enough to rival a Bessemer furnace.

I joined him outside, he in his shiny asbestos suit, and we talked “sweaty men talk” for a while about such things as searing steaks of the beef and swordfish variety and what we intended to do in New Zealand when we got there.  He showed me his secret, mayonnaise, and I lied since I hadn’t the slightest idea beyond getting off the plane after a twelve hour flight I wasn’t sure I would survive and still be able to walk.

Bill was finishing the meal as Mary arrived back home with someone of the children, I can’t remember which.  Youngsters began to filter in, grazing on this or that morsel.  Did I say this was a busy family?  Madeline, (Mads, Maddy), the only girl, came in from crew practice, lamented the work she needed to do in packing for her school camping trip which required her to leave the next morning at an un-Godly hour, and left almost immediately with Jack and Ned, her two older brothers for a staff meeting at the Needham Swim and Tennis Club where they all have summer jobs.

Of course, this being a busy place, they had their own last minute problems.  Jack was over a half hour late for a piano lesson and Ned, the oldest, needed to return to Holy Cross that same night for finals week.

As we sat at the table only Will, the youngest, was with us, being temporarily un-busy.   I remember wondering aloud just why that was, but I cannot remember the answer.  It may have been lost in the several dozen bursts of conversation that all seemed to be taking place at once. Mary said she’d drive Ned back after the meeting and Bill suggested that he thought it would be better if he did so; concerned that she would be making the return trip near midnight.

Did I say she was graceful and charming?  Well, underneath all of that is a steel core.  She dug in, saying that she was especially looking forward to the drive home when she would use the time to relax at the end of a long day.

I saw the wisdom in Bill’s ready acceptance of Mary’s decision.  The meal was delicious, and I will remember the mayonnaise tip; though I do like using Goya Adobo on my steaks, hamburgers and chicken and pork when grilling.

We had both been up early on Monday, the 10th of May, packing and cleaning, setting the house in order for our absence.  I’d cooked my last supper for a while for Father Kelley, our pastor, down at the rectory, and then come home to finish…a few last minute wardrobe changes, take out a shirt, add a pair of socks… the visit with Sister Teresa.  Mariellen had been about the same business, planning the music for three weeks for the Masses at St. John’s where she is the organist on Sunday, doing her own re-mix on the clothing and sitting, finally, at the table for a short visit and a deep breath before setting off.

I had that all in mind as, shortly after we finished our excellent meal with Bill and such of his family as flew by, and I considered moving in with them, we both went upstairs to sleep in Will’s room in the “Rob and Laura Petrie” twin beds.  Sleep, I knew, would be a fickle friend.