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Posts Tagged ‘Memories’

A Gem Amidst the Chaos

July 4, 2012 2 comments

Moving is a pain in the ass. That aside, it holds its share of magical moments.

My angst has a lot to do with the moving method I use. I could simply fire things into boxes, close them up, mark which room they are destined for. But no.

No, this is not the way I move. I hold each item and feel its weight, considering its worth.

My painfully slow (yet methodical) ways have unearthed treasures. Chief among them, a poem my father wrote for me on my eighteenth birthday, four years before he died. I included it in my poetry anthology under the  ‘unpublished’ category, compiled for my grade twelve English class. A century ago, give or take a decade.

My father had a habit of jauntily clacking away on his typewriter at 11 pm when the rest of us were trying to sleep, the returning clang of his carriage a lullaby of sorts. Here is one of his creations:

(Note that my birthday coincides with the anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, in which two war-bound ships collided, killing 2000 people.)

Dee and the Blast

What event could possibly compare
With the day Deanna chose to appear?
An explosion – a mighty blast – that rocked the earth,
Shattered homes and reduced a city to crumbling dirt.
Could an explosion mar the day
That Deanna claimed as her birthday?
The two events divided by some five decades of time
Had elements of sameness, simple yet sublime.
Both were historic events by any measure.
One brought death, destruction and desolation,
Deanna dominated with a frailty that invited consolation.
The ships met head on in the bay,
Deanna met the world by the light of day.
Her frailty she subdued as her awareness grew
Of hunks and dunks and volleyball, too.
She’s now eighteen and journalism is her thing,
The 1917 blast has lost its zing;
Deanna, on the other hand, is ready to swing.

In my afterword, I boldly proclaimed that I enjoyed my father’s poems over those of Wordsworth and, yes, Shakespeare, using the supporting argument that a poem about oneself is hard to beat. Amazingly, Mrs. Bowlby didn’t fail me.

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Mothering in Volumes

May 7, 2011 11 comments

How does one say Happy Mother’s Day to a mother who went so far beyond the typical realm of motherhood that she had NINE children?

Here we all are - Mom is feeding me in the background

As the last of the litter and the runt in the pack, I stood to gain a lot from her incredible patience and selfless work.

Constantly in motion, she went about her business and endured the craziness of our household without any frustration. As a mother of only three children, I’m not sure how she accomplished this feat. The noise level alone would be worthy of earplugs.

If she wasn’t in the kitchen she was doing laundry or vacuuming or washing floors. And consider, if you will, having six children under the age of eight, and no such thing as disposable diapers? No dishwasher? No microwave?

With part of the gang at my sister's First Communion

The funny thing is, my siblings and I wonder at her work ethic, but she just shrugs it off, saying it was nothing next to what her mother did. She comes from yet another incredibly strong woman, with thick skin.

My mother was one of fourteen children. She grew up in a small village in Newfoundland, in a small three bedroom house: one bedroom for her parents, one for the girls and one for the boys. They slept on mattresses made of horsehair, three or four to a bed, and long before luxuries like indoor plumbing. I imagine it to be like the fishing village version of Little House on the Prairie. There was a one room school house and lots of chores for everyone. Surviving the frigid North Atlantic winters that lasted into July was a task in itself.

When my mother was thirteen, she was enlisted to help her aunt in Nova Scotia, whose husband had died in the war. The distance between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, in those days, was not easily traveled. This essentially meant leaving behind all that she knew, to help someone she had never met.

Despite how hard this must have been, Mom talks fondly about her Aunt Mary. Childless, she treated my mother like her own, and sent her to nursing school in Halifax when she finished high school. While in training she met my dad, and after graduating got married.

Folklore has it that on the eve of her graduation ball, my mother swung from the chandelier at the Lord Nelson hotel in Halifax, fulfilling a dare she had made to her classmates for years. She was a bit wild and full of fun, that woman.

After a couple of years, my oldest brother was born, and the other eight children followed at regular intervals. Her nursing career was interrupted while she surreptitiously cared for her own ward at home.

I think about this and I’m impressed all over again. Kate Plus Eight has nothing on my mother, who unquestionably just did it all, without giving any of it a second thought.

When I was eleven or twelve my mom went back to work full time as a nurse, and worked her way up to being head nurse, where again her patience and hard work were put to the test. Talk about a life of servitude.

My father died of cancer in 1993, a devastating blow for all of us, and somehow my mom has persevered and continues to inspire us all. For her eightieth birthday seven of us nine children, plus her brother and his wife, celebrated by going on a Caribbean cruise together. We packed a lifetime of fun into those seven days, our motto was rock it till we dock it. And that we did.

Rocking it till we docked it

Happy Mother’s Day, mom, you continue to be our beacon, our guiding light, our inspiration. You are an amazing person and a woman to be reckoned with. But we’re still not sure how you did it.

Marathon Memories of Boston

April 15, 2011 2 comments

It was only one short year ago that I was in Boston on this very weekend, getting ready to run the marathons of all marathons on Monday. People have since asked me, “Was Boston really all that?” The answer is it IS that, and so much more.

From the moment you set foot in Boston for marathon weekend, you feel you are on holy ground. The city transforms itself into a sea of blue and yellow, and you would feel out of place if you had anything on your feet besides runners. Runners signify athleticism over geekiness, a welcome change of events.

People everywhere near the runners expo at the Hynes Convention Center have their recognizable blue and yellow race day packages slung over their shoulder. Workers are lining the street with barriers and building the finish line stands. People are photographing each other on the finish line, smiling today knowing they may not be smiling on Monday. It is a hub of activity and excitement.

As you walk around on this blue and yellow cloud, it’s hard to believe it is just a regular weekend in other parts of the world.

I was humbled by the people I was meeting, runners who have run not one or two but sixteen and seventeen Boston’s. I met a man who had traveled from New Zealand for the race. People from all corners of America who regularly make this pilgrimage. The camaraderie is non-stop and all-invasive – not the place for a quiet weekend of reflection. It’s a place to embrace, and be embraced, by our great sport.

It’s hard not feel like you’re a part of running history by simply being there. At the runner’s expo I brushed elbows with storied people like Kathrine Switzer, Amby Burfoot, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and David Willey. Heady with touches of greatness and cross-eyed by the massive amounts of people, I actually got lost in the expo and couldn’t find my way out.

Everywhere, people are helping people. It restores ones faith in humanity. My high-tech Garmin watch broke on Sunday, and the manager at their booth simply gave me her watch to use. I was traveling alone, but was invited by a fellow runner to have dinner with his large extended running family in Boston’s storied north end. Everywhere people are speaking the body language of helping. It is impossible to get lost, or not know something. The first person you ask will help you.

It was surreal to walk out of my hotel at 6 am on race day and see the street lined with yellow school buses as far as the eye could see. Making my way to the Commons it could have been rush hour, as long lines of people waited to get on the buses that would take us out to Hopkinton, 26.2 miles outside of Boston.

The athletes village, set up at the Hopkinton high school, housed gigantic tents, with food and beverages being served at several tables for pre-race nutrition. People milled around in large groups, music boomed from speakers, and runners nervously chatted about their strategy or lack thereof. It was like being at a gigantic party. I reluctantly tore myself away from it and made my way to the starting line.

Waiting in my corral at the starting line, excitement crackling in the air, I could feel the ghosts of past runners who had stood on this same spot; albeit with fewer participants. In widely varying weather conditions, snow, rain, draining sunshine, people had stood here on Patriot’s Day, waiting to begin the journey to Boylston Street.

If the entire weekend leading up to the race wasn’t incredible enough, the race itself is out of a dream sequence. The festivities continue long after the sound of the gun. I saw a runner down a beer at the biker bar just down the road from Hopkinton, to the delight of the bikers. A runner veered off course in Natick to play lawn bowling with residents. Several runners stopped to kiss students in the Wellesley tunnel of love. I ran beside Captain Canada for a while, decked out head to toe in maple leafs and flags. Along the way people are holding up signs with the latest Red Sox score. Thousands of people lined the route, high-fiving and screaming the entire time.

It was evident that this was a moment in time. Despite a nagging pain in my knee that started only 5 km in, the momentum of both the crowd and the runners carried me through long after I would typically thrown in the towel. Boston is far from typical.

After Wellesley there are the Newton Hills, of which Heartbreak Hill is only one. Looming even larger is the descent from Heartbreak Hill to the Cleveland Circle, for me infinitely more difficult on my legs that were by then searing in pain, complaining loudly that they had had enough.

But Cleveland Circle leads to Beacon Street, and that meant thousands upon thousands of spectators lining the route, in some places 8 people deep, people on rooftops and balconies, everywhere spectators cheering you on. The Citgo sign appears, a vision to shoot for, proof that the end is actually in sight. If you can only put one foot in front of the other for a few more miles.

Fenway Park and the Citgo sign are the the last mile markers that send you through the famous directions, right on Hereford, left on Boylston, the shortest turn on the course, and undoubtably the loudest. Rounding the corner, the finish line is a short sprint away. Or crawl, depending.

As for the finish, let’s just say it is an odd juxtaposition, feeling physically terrible but mentally high. Yet I very much recommend it. If you ever get the chance to run the Boston Marathon, just do it. The mountains you may have to move to get there will be waiting for you when you get back. The memories of the race will stay with you forever.

Relieved to be finished

The naivete of youth

January 6, 2011 2 comments

I'm the baby in the back ground, missing all the fun as usual

I had a tough audience to impress when I was a kid.

I was the youngest by a long shot in a litter of nine children, so by the time I got around to doing things they were old news.  No one batted an eye when I started kindergarten, for instance, I think my mother wondered why I wasn’t under her feet from the hours of 9-3 one day and put it all together.

Me in the front thinking "how can I get big, fast?"

I desperately wanted to inhabit the world of my older siblings, who always had more interesting drama in their lives than me winning square ball at recess.  Their lives consisted of mystical things, like getting jobs and getting fired, boyfriends or girlfriends and getting dumped, getting the keys to my parents car, and partying.  I couldn’t compete.  I put my Fisher Price Little People aside and just watched them coming and going instead, it was infinitely more interesting.

My toys were not nearly as interesting as my siblings

Finally I started Junior High, and on the much further walk to the bigger school some of my classmates lit up a smoke.  I had finally reached the Big Time; I had joined the ranks of my siblings.  At thirteen, I was a bona fide adult.

Feeling high and mighty with my new half locker, my class schedule carefully taped to the inside, lock combination written on my hand, I entered my geography class as the grade nine students cleared out.  If I was now an adult they were virtually grandparents – I was awestruck by the whiskers adorning the top lips of the boys, and downright perplexed by the concealed pimples on the girls.

Settling into my seat, I noticed a student had written something in loopy handwriting on the board.  It was profound.  Deep.  I was memorized by its multiple meanings, inspired by its possibilities.  Would I be this smart when I was in grade nine?  The teacher entered and erased the board, but not before I had committed the quote to memory.  Finally, I had something worthy and wise to contribute to the dinner table discussion that evening.  My siblings would be astonished with my insightful prose, and ensured of my step into adulthood.

As I crammed into the least desirable spot at the dinner table, the corner spot that necessitated either climbing over one of my sisters or climbing under the table and over my dog, a permanent resident under foot at dinner, I bided my time for making my announcement.  I waited for a quieter moment, which only ever happened when everyone’s mouths were full of clam chowder.  As the spoons rose to their lips, I left mine in its place and took a deep breath.

“So I read this really cool quote on the board today at school: It’s not the size of the ship, it’s the motion of the ocean.”

My father almost choked on his chowder, and my sister’s went flying out of her mouth and across the table.  I was startled; this had more impact than I had imagined.  But before I could inwardly congratulate myself, the entire table burst out laughing, and I knew my error in one horrible second.  My whole face turned pink, then red, and finally purple as I stared into my clam chowder, wanting to disappear into its creamy depth.  My naivete set me firmly back into my barely teen-aged self, the lesson being don’t pretend to be something you’re not.