My gift to all of you…for my birthday I decided to offer my book for free on Amazon for the next day or two. So, if you’ve been hesitating to download it, now is your chance! Enjoy!
The best part of being a kid is that no one thinks you know anything. I sit here every day. The grown-ups ignoring me. Speaking what they will because they think I don’t know nothing. That I’m too young to get it. Fttt…let them believe it. Stupid adults.
My name is Frankie. I live in Brooklyn with my parents and a pain in the ass baby brother, Johnny. Kids are to be seen and not heard, and that’s how it is in my family. It’s 1932. I’m lucky to be sitting here on the stoop when I’s want and not having to be out selling papers or worse, working in the factory. That’s what I’m reminded of daily. You see, I’m a gimp, a disappointment. Something’s about my birth going bad. My Uncle Mike says it’s ’cause my “dumb-ass father” dropped me on my head when I was days old. Ftt…let them think what they will. I am what I am, so says Popeye. But no amount of spinach is gonna cure me and get me my legs strong. I sit, I watch and I take it all in. They don’t remember I’m here.
I sit here on the stoop every day ’cause this is where they stick me. So, you tell me, wouldn’t you get into everybody else’s business if that’s what you had to see everyday? Oh yeah…I sees a lot and I knows a lot. You know what I know…some people have a funny way of showing love to their momma.
Mrs. Pauley lives across the street from me with Mr. Pauley. She says I should call her mama. Afterall, she looks over me more than my moms. Don’t get me wrong about my moms. She’s at the factory working her ass and fingers off so ladies can wear fineries of lace and junk. Ftt…she’s gotta do what she’s gotta do to keep the food on our plates and the booze in dad’s belly. So, Mrs. Pauley, er..mama…keeps an eye on me for what seems like forever. Nobody asked her. She’s just a good lady. Smells like chocolate chip cookies.
Mama Pauley has lived across from me at 1333 Stockton all my years. I hear she’s been here on this stinking street forever. Her and Mr. Pauley. Married like forever. I hears they have six sons. I’ve never seen ’em. Guess they’re grown and long gone or sump’in. She talks a bunch about them how they’ve got better jobs, got them some money and best yet, moved away from this dang neighborhood. God knows where. I sorta tune out after awhile. Got them some money…fft..all the good that’s done her now hasn’t it. Ya see I’m sitting here on my stoop. This stupid stoop and I’m watching the police help that scumlord Mr. Rizotti get rid of Mama P.
Mama P. hasn’t been able to pay the rent. Ya see, Mr. Pauley up and died. Mr. Pauley didn’t leave mama anything but a whole lotta gambling debts. She screamed that as they dragged her from her place. It was like she was pleading her case to the street or the universe to save her or somethin’. Nobody came to her rescue. Fttt…you thinks you know them. Mr. P seemed like a good guy. Always doted on mama, getting her flowers and kissing her even though they were way too old for that crap. Guess ya just don’t know what’s going on behind the closed doors on Stockton Street. I gotta say I didn’t expect it. I shoulda seen it. I woulda helped her if I coulda. Damn legs…ftt!
But here’s where I’m getting mad and such. Where were her boys? Lord, she had six of them. All big shots from what she said. None of them, not a one came to her rescue? What kind of scum are they? This was Mama P. She smelled like chocolate chip cookies for god’sake! If she could be mama to some reject kid across the street wasn’t she a great mom to them? Didn’t she comfort them, hold them, believe it them when they were snot nosed brats like me? Ya mean to tell me none of them, not a one, could come to rescue their mama? Fttt…I’d thought I’d seen a lot sitting here on this stoop. Guess I not seen it all.
Image: Rhonda Hansome
I’m a New England girl by birth. I may have left the area in 1991 for warmer environs but I still have the heart, some would say the attitude, of a New Englander. That tends to mean being direct and to the point at times, no frills, especially when it comes to sports. We expect our sports to be raw. No holding punches. No creature comforts at our venues. No sugar coating allowed. Or at least it did when I was a kid.
Growing up I was more into baseball and basketball. Go Celtics! Bird, McHale and the Chief ruled the court. Strong sometimes violent rivalries played out on the TV screen and you loved it. What action, what strategy! If you didn’t like it or were being too girly, then dad was very happy to watch on his own! The Red Sox…this was still during the doldrum years, The Curse. Yet we fans still stuck with them and all the choking just when you thought maybe this year they had a real chance, if they could just.stick.it.out! Painful to watch and experience. Yet you dealt with it and wore it like a badge of courage. I have to say I wasn’t into football with the Patriots so I didn’t bother dad. Dad wasn’t much a hockey guy unless the Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup finals. If he did watch the Bruins, I always felt I had to keep wiping the blood or ice from my face because it sure felt like it was coming through the screen at times. I also never ever recall seeing cheerleaders or fluffy team mascots during a Bruins match!
Flash forward and I’m living in Jacksonville, Florida. Back in the early 2000s, after having been there a few years, the local non-pro hockey team came back into existance. They were called the Barracudas. I went with a friend of mine to have an alternative to the usual “Girls Night at the Bar”. She and I were highly anticipating feeling the cold rink tempered with the heat of the action on the ice. We wanted to see good old fashioned hockey, great skating mixed with the throwing of some punches. Afterall, how many hockey players do you know of that still have all of their teeth?
That first season didn’t disappoint. The crowds were rowdy and enjoyed the action. We interacted with the guys around us. Once they got over the initial shock of two girls not only electing to go to a match on their own but swearing like sailors and drinking beer not martinis, they let it all hang out. The team mascot, Barracuda, was a sorry looking specimen. A bit on the skinny tattered looking side. His face had streaks of fake blood smeared on it. He riled up the crowd by walking around with the other team’s mascot (a stuffed doll usually), a noose and a tiny baseball bat. Let your imagination be free to explore what he did with all of those props. Oh and let me stress there were absolutely NO CHEERLEADERS!
So far so good at this point. What could go wrong with this picture? Have you noticed that it seems that so many events once haven for adults only have now become “Disney-fied” and kid friendly? I thought it might be due to living two hours north of The Mouse but it seems to be happening everywhere. That second season opener of Barracuda hockey was an example of this Disneyfication and it made me not believe my eyes.
Here we are at the second season opener, same friend and I. Both curious about the reported changes to the team due to new ownership. The beer was still few in selection but cheap for large amounts. The hot pretzels were still lukewarm…nothing changed there either. Then we noticed a strangely large amount of families walking around with not just one but several kids. And may I note that the little buggers were already crying before the parents could locate the seats. WHAT THE F! WAS GOING ON??? It turned out it was – you guessed it – the dreaded FAMILY NIGHT!
Who the heck has family night at a hockey match? I don’t recall any official labeling of a Bruins match being a family night growing up. If they had one then a big stink wasn’t made over it. Here it was all big colors and happy activities going on in the stands. And poor Barracuda, he had been morphed into a child-friendly plump plush killer mammal. No more blood smears or nooses as props. No more mini-bats but those dang air inflated bang sticks that kids love to bang and bang and bang. Not always targeting their family members either.
We thought maybe our seats would be safe. They were cheap and you really couldn’t see the action up close. Wrong. Thankfully we were in the final row of our section but in front of us was a family of five! Jumping and yelling and dad already showing signs he wanted to blow. Mom trying to corral the kids while dad began to detach. Or so we thought he was detached.
Trying to make the best of it and the beer, my friend and I decided to speak the way we normally did at a hockey match. There were actually some younger guys diagonal to us. So some trash talking was starting to be exchanged with laughs. But then we got lectured by the dad for our foul language. I reminded him that he had elected to bring his children to a hockey match not me. He went off in a huff dragging his daughter with him. Surprisingly, his wife turned to us not to chastise but note that she hadn’t wanted to bring the kids along. She wanted to be drinking beer too, not chasing after the kids. “He’s just upset because he knows I was right…and he wants a beer.” I believe she even told us to have fun and let go. However, the thrill of the night was already suffering from the changes being experienced up in the stands. The final straw? You guessed it, the new owners had the brilliant idea to include CHEERLEADERS.
I was shocked when I heard the announcement to get up and give a nice friendly greeting to the Barracuda cheerleaders. I believe my mouth was hanging open in disbelief after the light show started. My friend and I turned towards each other and there was some swearing exchanged. You have got to be kidding me! This had to be a joke? Just like there “is no crying in baseball”. There were no cheerleaders in hockey. Or at least there shouldn’t be! What the heck kind of cheers do you come up with anyways?!? Don’t ask because I’ve shut them all out of my memory from shock that night. Oh and what made it even more horrible, the girls came out that first time in heels…on the ice… So not only were they inept at dancing in sync but then they started falling. Limbs flying every where! It was a complete debacle.
My friend and I tried going to another match or two that season but the thrill was gone. The cheerleaders were still there but had smartened up. They now wore sneakers and the staff put down carpet for them to cheer on during the breaks. We tried going on different nights, ones not promoted as family night, but slowly the stands started being top heavy with families. The young college boys and even those old sports codgers that can drink beer with cigars stuck out the side of their mouths had given up their territories. It had happened. The one final adult only bastion had fallen to the family friendly craze. Primitive hockey had been Disney-fied.
Today’s post will conclude a three part series that has centered on lessons I learned from my patients during the early years of my career as a speech pathologist. The first story recalled my centurion cowboy teaching me a new awareness of how to view the elderly and their capacity to still learn and be vibrant regardless the number of years on their medical chart. Next, I introduced you to the Caldwells and how true love can and does exist even after a partner dies. Today, I will introduce you to Saul, a delightful man with a wicked sense of humor and a great way of looking at the opportunities in life.
I was a graduate intern at a local small speech therapy practice in 1992-1993. My education during this internship was to gather experience in several healthcare settings providing speech rehabilitation services. I met Saul while shadowing my mentor. He was to be my first ever experience with a home health patient. That was over 22 years ago and his unique personality has stuck in my memory.
Saul had been referred to the practice by his home health agency since he had recently had a mild stroke. I noted that Saul’s age on his chart was in his late 80s. I pictured a very old stooped over man maybe unable to walk well even before his stroke. I was wondering what “mild stroke” would mean for his speech. My preconceived viewpoint was about to be shattered in many ways.
Saul was indeed well into his 80s. He truly must have had a mild stroke because it was no problem for him to come answer the door of his trailer home. I recall his house being full of old antique furniture and a beautiful upright piano against one wall. That piano was to become a nice therapy tool for us to use during his sessions. Saul had very mild speech and voice deficits. I really wouldn’t have been able to tell there was any thing going on with him but Saul insisted that he was having delays in his speaking and that his “voice sounded off”. It was very mild word finding and prosody deficites. I truly had zero formal structured types of treatment to use with him during our sessions. My mentor suggested that we use regular conversational topics building up in length to work on these areas.
Stumped, Saul suggested to me that he had several jokes he liked to tell people. He could pinpoint what felt different telling them now vs. before the stroke. I said, “why not.” I still remember several of those jokes today. They seemed to have been from the Vaudeville era. Maybe I’ll tell you one at the end if you promise not to get upset at what may now be considered politically incorrect. So therapy did indeed center around getting Saul to speak and use his voice and vocabulary as much as possible. When he ran out of jokes, he would sing at the piano. He would also share stories about his life. Storytelling with phrasing and pausing for effect is actually a great exercise to use in speech therapy. He was a natural storyteller.
Saul had had some kind of a life. He had seen and lived through a whole heck of a lot. It is what laid the foundation for his view of and approach to life. He had lived in the New York City area for a large chunk before moving to Florida to retire. He used to joke that he obviously wasn’t good at reading maps because he ended up in the Tampa Bay Area, not Miami like “all good Jews are supposed to.” But then Saul had a streak of not doing what was expected of him. Two of his unorthodox choices in his later years are what have stayed with me, especially as I continue to age myself.
Saul was a ladies man! I don’t know if that was the case when he was younger but it was for him now. He had met his current, Lady Friend, when he was just entering his 80s. He admitted to picking her up in the local mall while she waited in line at the Food Court. He had zeroed in on her seeing that she was a “looker” and young too, say 65. Saul went right up to her, introduced himself, and told her not to eat the crap she was about to order. Instead she should meet him down the road at Lola’s Diner for some real food. Much to my amazement, Saul said it worked like a charm. She met him for lunch and they’d been together ever since. I teased him that he had “robbed the cradle”. He had me in stitches explaining to me that just because he was older didn’t mean his eye for a quality lady had glaucoma too. He also asked me to take a look at all the 90 year old ladies around him. Did I think any could keep up with him never mind be lookers? Hate to say it but just keeping up with him would have put many younger ladies out of the race. Speaking of racing…
It turns out Saul was a marathoner. He had taken up running in his 60s because he had retired and he was “bored”. He also used it as a way to pick up the ladies after his wife been gone for awhile (shocker, huh). I couldn’t believe “someone SO old” would, never mind could, just start running. Yet Saul took to it like a fish to water, he would add. He competed in marathons up until he was 83. When asked why he stopped, Saul revealed that he had had an earlier mild stroke. The doctor had told him to stop running. Saul missed running. He missed the feeling of strength and control over his body, even for being “an old goat”!
The main point I carry with me all these years from these two stories is that Saul didn’t allow conventional thought and the idea of his own or societies “can’t” to get in his way. He wanted to still find love and affection as an old man. To heck with “robbing the cradle” or believing he was too old to find love, he went out and used a very gutsy pick-up line and landed himself a “looker”. I’d like to see younger men come up with an approach as good as his! People would think he was crazy for deciding to start running, let alone marathons, in his 60s. But he did anyway for almost 20 years. That’s a darn good streak!
“Can’t” was unwelcome in Saul’s vocabulary. It has been one of the best examples ever given to me, especially as I’ve gotten older and had to battle or overcome some of my own life challenges. When I thought about returning to graduate school in my 40s, completely selling off my house and quitting my job to move – I fought against a mountain of “can’ts”. When I took up running to help control some nasty health symptoms, I didn’t let knee problems stop me. I adapted and I ignored the “can’t”. I feel better and stronger for it. I’m fighting all the negativity right now that comes with being laid off and unemployed. Yet I know I can find a job that doesn’t make me want to slit my wrists and allows me to sleep with a good conscience at night. I have finally followed my dream to start the Sofia- Wisdom of the Ages project despite the interesting looks I get from some people at times. Every time I want to cower and give in to the “can’t” I now know I can. The path of “can do” has been partially paved by a little old man I once met long ago named Saul.
You see Saul couldn’t give in to the “can’t”. He wouldn’t allow it because he was living not only for himself but those no longer with him. Saul had survived Hitler and his camps.
So, Saul would be upset if I didn’t retell one of his jokes he taught me. Hmm, let me tell you this one since it’s pretty tame. There was this woman who wanted her portrait painted by a very famous painter in New York. She met with the man for her first sitting. She was dressed to the hilt but not one piece of jewlery. The artist thought it odd when the lady instructed him to paint in a necklace with a HUGE diamond on it. “Like a the size of a hubcap, huge”, she told him. The artist shrugged and agreed. Next session the lady had an additional request that he add big saucer sized diamond earrings. He decided to say nothing and just do what she asked so he could get paid. It was her last sitting after all. Well, several days later he got a call from the pesky lady. This time she requested that he add an enormous ruby ring onto one of her fingers. It had to be extremely large and radiate high class. Finally frustrated and absolutely curious by this time, the artist asked why the woman was making all these addition of jewels that she didn’t have. And this was her reply:
“Because when I die and he goes to marry again right away, I want that chippy to wonder where the Hell all those jewel are and why the cheap bastard hasn’t given them to her!” I wish Saul was here to tell you. He always did the voices better than me.
Image Copywrite: Xplore, Inc (2012)
Interestingly, I grew up on a street called Lakeside Drive but it was actually near a river. The Narrow River to be exact. It was the location of my family’s house for the first twenty years of my life in Rhode Island. As I grew older, I always wondered what possessed the community planners to go with Lakeside versus the more realistic like say, Riverside. Maybe the decision was to go with the less truthful street name because that section of the Narrow River wasn’t actually that narrow. It was pretty wide. Wide yes, but still not round like a circular lake. Who knows what they were thinking. I just find it very inaccurate. I wanted it to be an actual lake. Truth in advertising. I would have actually preferred to live on Ocean Road but my parents didn’t much care about those kind of specifics. Being Depression Era children, they were pleased and thankful to have a nice big house near water, even if it was a body of water with a confused identity.
It was sort of a dare for the neighborhood kids to attempt to swim across the river and not get worn out, drown or something. My middle sister, Lisa, was easily able to swim across this section of the river. I never attempted it. I wasn’t much of an athlete like her when I was young. In the Winter, the river wouldn’t completely freeze over because it was both fresh and salt water. Yes, you guessed it. There was a neighborhood dare for this too. Who was brave enough to walk out to the middle of the river? Bonus points if you skated out there. The river was at the bottom of a steep hill. There were several paths from Lakeside Drive down to the small neighborhood swatch of beach. Another Winter dare, could you get your sled to go fast enough down one of the paths so that you ended up on the iced over river? Could you get off the ice in time before it would break? I have no idea what we were thinking as kids. Obviously, we had some bits of logic and intelligence missing. We were kids being kids. Funny thing is we were allowed to attempt such feats of illogic back then. I don’t know if the same could be done today.
I’ve not yet written one word about my house yet, have I? I think it’s because I’m feeling nostalgic for the freedom kids in my neighborhood had back then. Homes were great. There were many great houses in my neighborhood. Yet if it wasn’t snowing or raining, you were pretty much told to get out of them or there were plenty of chores to be done. Who wanted to do chores? I didn’t want to do more than my share. That’s a fact. Just make sure to return quickly when called from the back porch door or when the street light came on at night. Don’t make mom call all the neighbors to hunt you down!
We weren’t micromanaged as children back then. In fact, just the opposite. We were practically free ranging chickens. I think our parents would have been amazed at the territory we covered as kids back then. We were told not to leave the neighborhood or cross the big roads. Few of us listened. Even a goody-two shoes like myself could cover major territory when I wanted to explore. It was nothing for us to walk several neighborhoods in either direction. Add a bike into the mix and we made it to the center of Narragansett or even the town next door, Wakefield. We were free.
If there were any dangers, we were thankfully unaware of them. Maybe our parents were concerned but not so much that they felt the need to hover over us. Hovering over us wasn’t going to teach us how to get on and take care of ourselves, to deal with and interact with the world. Afterall, our parents wanted us to leave home when we got older. Having freedom to get out from under them was to prepare us for this time. Mom couldn’t hold our hand forever. Nor did she want to be driving us all over either. Ha!
A day could include playing pretend, putting on skits we girls made up about our favorite TV shows. Man I hated always having to be Sabrina from Charlie’s Angels. If there was a house under construction, it was pretty much trampled by us kids. Nothing was sacred. During honeysuckle season, our parents could track what part of the woods we entered into by the pile of tossed sucked dry flower heads on the roadside. We found stone alters that just had to be from times of the Indians and Pilgrims. Was that dried blood left on some of them? And sometimes when you wanted to take it slow or be on your own, you’d just find a quiet place in the yard and stare up at the clouds in the sky. What did you see there? Some of my earliest stories came from me chasing the clouds.
That’s just a little bit of what it was like in my neighborhood growing up as a kid. The neighborhood was just as much our house as our actual houses. I miss those times, those freedoms before becoming teenagers then adults. Like I said, I don’t know if children today get to have adventures like this anymore. They benefit from so much that wasn’t available to me growing up. Yet part of me is glad I didn’t have them.
The scene is set. A couple is observed walking a path in a city park on a Sunday afternoon. Let’s add that the days are getting shorter with the approach of Winter coming soon. It’s gray with a slight chill in the air as if Fall is ready to give up already. The couple are about to pass in front of an old woman sitting on bench. She is knitting a red sweater. As the couple pass by the old woman, the man begins to cry. Seems like a simple any day scene but why the tears?
Helen had practically begged Ben to go for this walk today. He just hadn’t been in the mood to do anything for awhile. She was afraid he was spiraling deeper and deeper into his depression. It took much cajoling but he had finally agreed. Helen suspected it was just to get her off his back, not her point that it may be one of the last chances before Winter came. It felt great to breathe in the fresh crisp air. Yet the longer they walked the city streets into the park, the day had gotten more and more gray. She noticed Ben’s mood also began to mirror the graying of the day. She promised him just one lap around the lake and they would return home, forget about trying to get him to go for coffee. She feared she had pushed her luck. It is then that Helen became aware of the old woman on the bench. “Oh dear lord. And red on her.” As they get closer, Helen tries her best not to stiffen her hand that’s being held by Ben. She’s about to distract him from locking onto the old woman, who she now realizes is thankfully knitting a sweater, by saying something – anything. She turns to him and sees his tears. Oh shit! Stay calm but we need to get home. She squeezes Ben’s hand and tries to gently pump his arm as if to say, “I’m here. It’s OK.”
Ben had been perfectly fine at home on the couch. One just couldn’t get enough reruns of ‘Law and Order”, or at least that was how he felt. Or didn’t feel. That was the great thing about having that show practically on any channel throughout the day. Now he just watched blankly. He didn’t need to think or feel. That was just fine. But not fine for Helen. She was hellbent on getting me out of the apartment today. Fine, just this once I’ll do what she asked. I couldn’t stand her begging anymore. But it better just be a walk and nothing else. Ben wasn’t in the mood to see people, even if it was to briefly walk by perfect strangers. He had to admit the air had felt nice and a shock to his lungs. Once he had loved this time of the year. But as they continued into the park, he could feel his mood darkening, just like the grayness of the sky. He dreaded Winter coming. As if to try to ward it off, he took Helen’s hand. She mentioned just finish going through the park then they would start home. “Thank God! All I’ve got to do is make it through the park.”, he thought. Then he felt his stomach bottom out. He noticed the old woman sitting on the bench they were about to pass. He could feel his anxiety rising. “Damn she’s covered in red too. What is it? Why is she red? I can’t take it. Her..she…looks…no, I know it’s not…God this was a mistake!” He realized the red was from the yarn of the sweater the old woman was knitting. But by then he had already started to cry. He felt the tears streaming down his face. When would he get to the point that seeing an old woman, any old woman, wouldn’t remind him of his grandmother? It was almost a year since her death, when his grandfather had killed her then himself in an attempt to outrun the Alzheimer’s running its deadly course inside them both. He wanted to run right then. To outrun the memories trying to crash in on him. He felt Helen trying to reassure him through her touch. He had to get out of there. He could feel the memory of finding them that day trying to make it’s way into his head.
The old woman had been coming to that bench, her bench for years now. She wasn’t going to let the increasing chill of the oncoming Winter stop her from sitting there one last time before the snows. She figured she’d do some knitting to ward off the growing chill of the day. Her grandson needed a sweater for Christmas, she thought. She was glad she had packed the nice deep red yarn. The color adding warmth to the sad gray day. It would go so well with her grandson’s black hair, definitely. She smiled to herself while sitting on the bench knitting, reminiscing about her grandson. He wasn’t a little boy anymore but practically a young man having started his Freshman year at college. She sighed to herself wondering where the years had gone and if he’d be too old to appreciate the sweater anymore. She looked up at this point, having heard footsteps. It was a nice young couple. She noticed the man had dark hair too. She made a wish at that moment that her grandson would grow to look as handsome as that young man did. That he’d find a great woman to hold hands with like the couple. But then she caught her breath. The man was crying. Tears just flowing down his face. She noticed he looked at her with such anguish. “Oh my. Have I done something? But what could I, I don’t even know him.” She realized things could look so much different close up versus far away. Such a happy looking couple at first glance. Now the tears. The old woman wondered what was happening. She wanted to reach out to the man as if he were truly her grandson. Comfort him. She went to reach out to him but something made her stop herself. That just wasn’t done these days. Not to a perfect stranger. Instead she put her head down as if concentrating on her knitting. But still she offered up a hope that the man would find the peace he needed. She would call her grandson too that night. Seeing that man reminded her it had been too long and you never know at her age.
Fridays in my family got to be referred to as “Fend for Yourself, Friday”. This was because my parents tended to go out for dinner after my dad closed his dental practice for the week. They went for “Fish on Fridays” being the quasi-observant Catholics they were. Old habits die hard, afterall. That meant myself and my sisters were left up to our own devices in getting to have an evening meal. One of my favorites was when my oldest sister, Maureen, would treat me to having breakfast for dinner.
The family had a magnificent cast iron pan back then. It had been passed down through our family. Rumor was it had come from Ireland with my dad’s family. His mother had it and passed it down to my dad given he was her only child. That pan was so seasoned from the years of use that you could just smell and taste the deliciousness it was going to provide to anything you chose to fry in it. Breakfast for dinner could mean Maureen’s mean mushroom and cheese omelets, grilled cheese or pancakes! God I loved pancakes done up in that iron pan.
Butter was in vogue back then. Gorgeous butter by the tablespoons melted into that hot pan, browning just slightly to let you know the pan was hot and ready for the batter. The great sizzle that filled the kitchen area as Aunt Jemima batter collided with the golden liquid butter. Even better was getting to have blueberries in the batter. Back then it was a treat because you had to wait until the berries were in season. Can you smell the pancakes? I can. That smell, the sounds of the pancakes cooking. They’re etched into my early memories.
I loved the first pancake the best. Because of all of the melted butter, the first pancake tended to be the nicest blend between crispy on both the edges and the center. It was so nicely browned and glistened in an overall coating of the butter. AMAZING!! Oh and I’ve forgotten to mention the size of the thing. My family didn’t do no silly silver dollar pancakes. My dad believed in whoppers of pancakes. Those things were the size of the pan when he cooked them. Since we learned how to cook pancakes from his example, our pancakes were huge too. Nowadays, I can’t conceive how we each ate several. But it also explains having needed to lose weight as I grew up. But back to the flying saucer sized pancakes, no buzzkill here about weight and cholesterol. Syrup…Syrup! Real maple syrup! Growing up in New England meant real maple syrup from New Hampshire or Vermont. Lovely, amber sweet nectar that attempted to blend with the butter glaze of the pancakes. Sometimes you had to just float the pancake in it if it couldn’t soak in over the crispy outer layer. Oh heck, I was a kid and I just wanted more syrup. Who’m I trying to fool!
Ahhh! Let me have a moment here…I miss those pancakes. I miss that dang pan! You see the cast iron pan is MIA. My parents moved to Florida back in the late 1980s. Mom decided to NOT TO TAKE the pan. She always thought Maureen had it. Sadly, she was informed awhile back that Maureen didn’t. Its whereabouts are unknown. You may risk to suggest at this point, dear reader, that I could just go out and invest in a new cast iron pan. Don’t. It just won’t be the same. That pan had years on it. It had history and some great stories attached to it. Like the time my great grandmother threw it at my father’s head and it missed him but not the kitchen wall. He really must have done something amazing to earn that. But I’ve also been told she had one heck of an Irish temper! That pan had a life. That pan provided many great meals in it. I miss its pancakes for dinner.
No place better than a Barnes and Noble to immerse oneself into the act of voyeurism. I set myself to get the lay of the land before settling on a place to camp out for an hour. I scanned my surroundings with killer precision. There it was, the coveted oversized leather chair set to the side of the cafe. One could sink comfortably into that behemoth then observe with confidentiality. The arms so wide your venti balanced with confidence. It’s never unoccupied. Today, it would be mine.
I jostled my way past the gaggle of older ladies squawking the pro and cons of each drink given the late hour of the day. High stepping my way around them, dread struck me. Another had spotted my chair. We were both zeroing in on the same prey.
Looks of determination mirrored in our faces. Both our paces quickened. ‘Oh come on, for real!’, shouted the thoughts inside my head. She was good. Long legs stretched the lengths with great agility while I had to maneuver the obstacles of the scientific games area. ‘Please let her break a heel’, I beseeched the Cafe Gods. ‘Let me get this chair just this time.’ I kept powering my path towards the chair. We were thoroughbreds nosing for the tape. Just a little more…I realized my handbag had a long strap. Without shame, I flung it while praying for good aim. Bag to chair, it was mine! My body skidded into the seat with seconds to spare.
I went to raise my fist and cry out ‘YES!’ in victory but caught myself. Instead, I simpered then look down at the coffee in my hand. Not a drop lost either. Today really was my lucky day! I inhaled then let it out with pronounced satisfaction. Now if only a cute guy would appear. It would be the B & N version of the lottery.
Saturday night. Time for the weekly Dinner Date night. They had been doing this for the past year of their marriage. It was supposed to make them feel like they were dating, bring back that newly dating fresh-feeling. At least that’s what their marriage counselor had told them that night many appointments ago, Mary thought to herself. She let out a big sigh then caught herself before Jim heard her.
“So, where do you want to go tonight, Jim?”, Mary faced her husband and braced her hands under the breakfast nook table for the conversation she knew was about to follow.
“Oh, I don’t care. You pick this time.” Jim mumbled through the body of the morning paper. “You know I hate being made to pick.” He snapped the paper turning to the next page.
“O.K. There’s this really great Chinese…”
Jim interjected before she could go any further, “Don’t tell me you want to go for Chinese. You KNOW I can’t take that stuff, that MSG.”
“Well then, I was thinking Maison…”
“Oh heck no! That place is too expensive and you know I can’t eat rich food. The doctor said no more. Jesus, Mary, can’t you just come up with something!”
Mary paused. Took a reassuring sip of her coffee, savoring it’s warmth, it’s comfort. She’d try that final third attempt. “Then Outback. They have good variety. Gotta be something there we’d both like?” Then she waited for the same response she’d been receiving all these Saturday mornings.
“Eh! Not in the mood. To heck with this. We’re going to Olive Garden. I don’t feel like quibbling anymore. Love their breadsticks after all. You too, Mary, right? Yeah that’s right” Jim dropped the corner of his paper. “Mary, you really should try to come up,with the restaurant one of these times. Dr. Fields says you need to take some initiative in this marriage. I have to agree, ya know. So tiring to make ALL the decisions…”
Mary heard Jim as he droned on but she had learned to not process this part anymore. What was the use listening since it was the same every time? Zoning out at this point is what saved her from running away from the table screaming and pulling her hair out; just as she envisioned in her daydream.
Taking one more long drink of coffee, Mary came back to the present. She found a slight smile to put on her face and said, “Breadsticks will do just fine. Pass me the Front Page now you’re done.”
(Michelle, Calla and myself – Pre-race dinner Space Coast Marathon 12/2013)
I first became aware of a force of nature called Calla Morris Hess (aka Miss Sassy) during 2013. Both members of a new international online running group called Moon Joggers, I’d read her posts and think what a welcoming woman with the most outrageous pink hair! How did she get away with having hair that color? To be quite honest, I was jealous she had the spunk to choose it and wear it with confidence regardless of people’s initial reactions. Because once you got past that initial meeting of Calla, you were hooked! There is SO much more to Calla than a first impression.
Calla is a greeter at the Church of Life. You know those volunteers that welcome parishioners before the service, make you feel part of the family. Calla is a greeter but she works on a larger scale. Nobody asked her to volunteer; she just does. She has a smile ready for anyone and everyone. An arm is always ready to wrap around a friend. Doesn’t matter if you just met her. You’re a friend now. She has acted as an unofficial welcome wagon for Moon Joggers since the beginning. See her at a local race and she’s ready with a wave and a “Hi!” She’s a marathoner; knows how to take the pain and keep forging along. She is a woman of strong faith and draws on this faith to make her way through life, come what may. She walks her walk, glad for you to come along if you’d like. Because of her graciousness to all, she is beloved. It is because of her love that her international family now rally for her.
Ever get a message that brings you to your knees? Calla’s family got such a message on the weekend of September 7, 2014. Dave, her husband, posted on Facebook that Calla had suffered a major head injury. She had undergone emergency surgery, was in a coma and on a ventilator. You could hear the air go out of the room. What! Not Calla! How could this whirlwind be confined to a bed and unable to breathe independently? But she was. What happened next is a demonstration how community combined with inner strength and faith can make wonderful things happen.
I’ve never witnessed such an outpouring of support and love for a person before Calla had her horrible accident. Messages flooded in from all corners of the world. Pictures of people running in pink: clothes, wigs and newly dyed hair are posted regularly. We all run for her until she can once again. All that positive energy focused and sent her way with one aim – that she recovers. Calla has been working the miracles for all it’s worth. She was out of her coma and off the ventilator within a few days, not a week or more, days. She has started to speak a little. Her success rolling in bed has progressed to supported steps. Regular updates have contained progress and inspiration to soften even the most hardened of hearts. Even if you’re not religious or spiritual, something is working with Calla to show the impossible is possible. She is determined and she is giving her recovery all it’s worth. She is grace, faith and will. She will rise to run another day with the 1000s of her world family there to cheer her. She is a force of nature to be reckoned with gladly.
Initial progress has come in leaps and bounds. However, Calla’s family and support community are realistic that there is still a long road ahead for her. If by some chance you get taken in by this amazing spirit and would like to help, please visit her support page. Even just sharing her story or encouraging comments will add to her recovery.