Recollections of My Mom – Part 2

“We were living in a 3 room apartment when Phil was born so his crib was in the bedroom with us.  In the morning he’d awaken early and lay there and watch us and if we stirred in our sleep, he would react by standing up in his crib and letting us know he knew it was time for the day to begin.  Sometimes I’d awaken and through a slit in my eyes glance over to the crib and see him eyeballing us and so I’d pretend to be asleep a while longer.  Seems I always needed my sleep and enough sleep was not enough sleep!”

Mom is styling

Mom styling it on Adams Place

“We moved upstairs to a 4 room apartment and from there we could see trees and the roofs of houses and we would sit by the window and watch the birds and at times, the squirrels.  At times we’d sit there and watch the rain and recite the poem, ‘It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring …’ You would recite pronounce it something like, “A rainen, a pouring, the old man a’yoring. He went to bed and bumped his head and couldn’t get up in the morgan.”

Long after Mom has passed she continues to be a blessing in my life.  These stories, these glimpses into viewing the world through her eyes, are such an amazing gift to me and my siblings.  Unbeknownst to her recording these stories and thoughts opens a window into her world from 50+ years ago – her dreams, her struggles, her hopes.  Thanks Mom.

 

Recollections of My Mom – Part 1

“Philip was up every 3 hours day and night wanting to be fed.  This being my first child, I was influenced to some degree by the stories I’d heard and knew he had to burp well after feeding or else he could vomit as he slept and that could be disastrous.  Phil would feed a little and then fall asleep and I’d have to awaken him to be sure he burped and then feed him some more, because he had taken so little.  Well, it ended that each feeding took and hour and a half and we finally finished that round of feed, sleep, burp; feed, sleep, burp; feed sleep burp; and we’d both get to sleep, only to turn over for the 1 1/2 hours and be awakened for the next session.  Needless to say, I am not sure who was more tired, he or I.   Some early pictures would reveal that he was doing quite well, but his father and I were walking around like zombies from lack of sleep!  Pat would take the 2 o’clock feeding so that I would have a longer stretch of sleep but it soon took its toll on both of us, although from the weight noted above [5 lbs. 10 ozs. at birth and 8 lbs 15.5 ozs at 3 weeks old], Phil did quite well.”

Mom at Uncle Jack's House

Mom as a young teen at Uncle Jack’s house

Mom’s Musings – 12/30/63 and 12/31/63

“Saw Steven in the afternoon – He drank 4 ozs. of formula – looks like Philip only he has a rounder face and fatter cheeks.  Spoke to Philip on the phone; he kept repeating ‘paint a wall’ and ‘wagon’.”

 

“Did not see Steven until 5:30 this evening.  Very blue and lonely all day.  Steven drank 2 ozs.; keeps rolling eyes to top of head. Spoke to Philip at Grandpa ‘B’ house. Told me daddy went to the store.”

 

One thing I have to note is how blessed I am that my mother took the time to write down  her thoughts and how intriguing it is to catch a glimpse into her thoughts, emotions, and her world.

Mom’s Musings – 12/29/63

“Dec. 29 – This day was somewhat of a nightmare but thank God I came through the afternoon crisis.  Pat, Mom and Dad, Margaret and Pat’s mom came to see me in evening.  Too bad Ann will be going home tomorrow. Could use moral support.”

Brothers

 

While rummaging through some boxes I ran across some journals/notes written by my mom.  I’ll be posting some of them periodically and perhaps jotting down some of my thoughts.  This first post describes the day by brother, Steven, was born.

Ever Northward

It is late November.  I can feel the muslin shroud begin to descend over the holiday season – dulling my senses.  The Christmas season is my favorite time of year and my least favorite. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.

I can feel the tug of “the journey” begin to pull at my heart strings.  December 22nd has come and gone fifteen times already; fourteen Mother’s Days and fourteen July 11ths.  During the past fifteen years, I’ve made this passage dozens of times.  Sometimes it was multiple excursions in a year, especially in the early years but not so much in recent times.  For two years during my battle with my inner demons, my addiction, I didn’t make the trip at all; too ashamed to make an appearance on those “holy grounds”.

I travel northward, ever northward, like the snow geese above me.  Passing the Canadian geese heading south with their incessant honking.  Over the same pathways as before, through the barren and bleak winter countryside.  Past the familiar hamlets and lakes that dot the route of PA 402 through the mountains.  I pick up US 6 through Wallenpaupack and Hawley and Damascus.  There is very little in the way of traffic except in the villages.  Not many people are making this trek.

As I approach Narrowsburg I cross over the Delaware into New York.  Sometimes it feels like I’m crossing the River Styx for nothing awaits me except for reminders of death.  Nevertheless I push onward through Lava.  All around is evidence of a region that is long past it’s prime: unkempt lawns, cars on blocks in the driveways, paint peeling off the ramshackle homes.  Depression epitomized.

I am close.  The summer camp sites that surround Lake Huntington are the harbinger that my pilgrimage is nearing its end.  The three hour journey ends when I pull into the cemetery in Fosterdale.  Fosterdale is so tiny a town that one would miss it if one blinked; it doesn’t amount to much more than a gas station/convenience store, a church and a flashing traffic signal. An unlikely backdrop, I admit, for this blog post but there it is.  This is where she “resides” now.  The car comes to a stop and I turn off the engine.  Silence.

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Not much has changed since last year.  I remove the dried out decorations and memorials from last visit and replace them with fresh ones.  No doubt they will be there next year and I will repeat this little ritual.  I brush away the dead leaves.  My aunt, Margaret, rests nearby.  I silently pay my respects to her memory as my cousin, who has accompanied me on this trip for the past five or so years, places her Christmas memorial greens on my aunt’s resting place.

She used to live not far from here, my Mom.  I can’t be sure for how long but it was long enough for me to have visited several times.  The truth is, I think I’ve visited her more since her untimely passing than when she was living in the area.  There was always going to be plenty of time to visit … maybe next Mother’s Day … maybe next summer … maybe next Christmas.  There wasn’t going to be any more “next times” after December 22, 2000.

Honestly, there were several trips when I felt “obligated” to make the trek – six hours of traveling for a 15 minute visit – but this trip felt a little different.  This time it felt as if she were saying, “It’s ok. You don’t have to do this anymore although I do appreciate the effort and the thought.”

But as I write this I feel something else.  I feel that gentle tug on the heart, that flash of the memories, and I reach a place of serenity and coalescence.  For as long as I am able I will make this pilgrimage to that holy place.  Her memory deserves it and I need it.

 

 

Friends With Benefits?

“Friends with benefits”

When I hear that phrase what I actually hear is: “Friends with benefits … (wink wink, nudge nudge, snicker snicker)”.  The phrase connotes a certain self-centeredness. It is a one-sided, one-way description of relationship.  When the phrase is used by the one speaking it, that one is never the one “with” the benefits. Rather they are the one “receiving” the benefits, right? It’s definitely one of “what I can take from the relationship” not “what am I contributing to the relationship”.

It’s not a very positive message, in my opinion, but it got me thinking.  What does that phrase sound like, what does it look like, from the third-person point of view?  Is there any difference if it is used to describe a person without the self-centeredness undertone?  What if we insert a comma in just the right spot? “Friends, with benefits.”  Looking at it in that light, the tone and meaning changes dramatically from selfishness to one of recovery, redemption and grace.  It turns into an apt description of those progressing toward wholeness in life.

The Wedding

I attended a wedding not too long ago. Two friends I’ve known for several years. Two friends I’ve been privileged to get to know on a deeper level. Two friends I met in recovery.  They met in recovery, fell in love in recovery and are building a life together … based on the principles of recovery.Wedding 1

Years ago, that kind of life would have been unfathomable. Years ago, addiction  tore, tattered, bruised and shattered their lives like it did mine.  It was unrecognizable from the whole life they experience today. Today, although it sometimes seems drab, mundane and unexciting, the possibilities are limitless in their new, redeemed lives.  Marriage, new careers, family, travel, adventures, friendships and hope are all blessings for them.

The Job

In recovery, especially in early recovery, we’re fortunate to be employed and employable.  Lord knows we weren’t the most trustworthy or reliable people when addiction ravaged our lives.  Because we weren’t dependable we were unable to hold down a job which led to feelings of worthlessness and despair. That, in turn, caused us to dive deeper into our addiction in order to numb those feelings.

Courtesy of flazingo.com

I ran into a young adult in town a while back.  She used to work at a local eatery but I hadn’t seen her there in a while.  I came to find out that she has a new job.  It’s a better job.  The job carries more responsibility.  She smiled as she told me she now works in a bank.  While she was describing her new job she was visibly animated and excited about the direction in which her life was heading.  I could see the positive effects on her self-confidence and self-image.  The blessings of improved self-worth was a catalyst to her further growth and she could sense it.

The Love

I was at a meeting recently.  A friend was celebrating 20 years in recovery and the room was filled with well-wishers and loved ones.  One of the speakers that evening related a recent incident that occurred in a market parking lot.  Someone called out his name and when he turned he saw someone he used with in the past.  She was drawn, disheveled and desperate as she begged for money.  It served as a reminder of where we were in our addiction – slaves – and that we have an obligation to help the still sick and suffering. How grateful we must be that we are free souls in recovery, one day at a time.

We don’t ever have to be suffering in addiction again.  We are people in recovery who get another chance to live again.  We don’t get a pass on the trials in life just because we are in recovery.  We just learn how to get through those tough times.  We are blessed to experience everything life has to offer – the good and the challenging.

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

The celebrant’s family were at the meeting too.  Mom had the opportunity to say a few words.  The gist of what she said was: lots of mistakes were made along the way but we’re in a better place now; just know that you are loved, then and now.  I could feel my own Mom speaking those same words to me that night, at that moment.

“I love you Philip.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

Hugs and kisses across eternity.

Friends with benefits? No.

Friends with blessings.  I like that much better.

Head Rubs and Plush Toys

It’s Mother’s Day.IMG_20150512_104652525

Eileen received a very nice card, signed by all of us and a coil ceramic jar purchased at the high school art show Friday night.  It is a lovely pale yellow with accents of green and purple.  Everyone is chattering away and wishing Eileen a Happy Mother’s Day over breakfast.  A very good start to the day as we head off to church.

Peter has been in an exceptionally joyous mood since he woke up.  He is laughing and smiling and very vocal.  We sit in our usual spot in church with Peter sitting between me and Eileen.  Peter is most definitely enjoying the moment.  As the service begins he is dancing and singing with the music.  As Jonathan is delivering the message, Peter is affectionately taking my hand and rubbing his head in that certain place and way that he enjoys.  Eventually, he leans in and begins to do something he’s never done before.  He positions the top of his head against the side of my face and begins to rub his head against my jaw line much like a cat rubs its head against an object.  He continues to do this throughout the message, all the while “purring”, sighing and smiling as he enjoys the sensation he gets from this “stimulation”.  Even Kris commented on his unusual display of affection

Later that day, Kris and I go fishing IMG_20150510_173650513in the Lehigh River in Bethlehem.  Eileen silently thanks me for a few hours of quiet and relaxation on Mother’s Day.  We enjoy the sunshine and the refreshing waters of the river as we rhythmically cast and retrieve our lines.  A few hours later, Eileen and Pete surprise us at the fishing hole and Kris proudly displays his first bass of the season.

As the day draws to a close, Kris presents Eileen with a plush toy bunny rabbit that he won several weeks ago in a toy machine outside a big box store.  “I got this for you for Mother’s Day,” he says.  I was astounded at this breakthrough.  This is a big deal! He and Eileen have struggled somewhat in breaking down his old walls and prejudices against mother figures.  This day, the walls came down and he showed some genuine affection for her.

IMG_20150511_133507653As nighttime approached, Eileen and Kris were sitting on the couch – she was watching some TV and he was playing a computer game.  Interspersed with that was some conversations about a variety of things. I was upstairs and as I came down the stairs, hearing the conversations … it hit me.  A feeling of love and peace washed over me and I realized that we are a family.  It’s hard to describe but I just knew that God revealed the blessing of family to me in that moment.  It was probably there all along but the busy-ness of the past nine months or so likely clouded my vision.  Nevertheless, we are one.

Now, Kris says he’d a like a sister!

Audience of One

Today’s assignment in Blogging 101: Write a letter to one person I wished were reading my blog.

Mom

Mom

Hi Mom,

I haven’t written you a letter in many, many years.  Granted we’ve talked a lot since you’ve passed through the veil but writing … no.  I didn’t even write very often when you were around.  I was always too busy and thinking that I had lots of time.  “I’ll call her tomorrow” or “I’ll visit her next weekend” were said often as the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months.  Who knew that time would run out?  I guess that’s the whole point, isn’t it … we don’t have the advantage of seeing what’s around the bend.  I imagine that it’s for the best that way.

Anyway, I know that you’ve been keeping up with what’s happening in my life.  Lots of blessings and troubles along the way.  Many dreams and plans that got detoured for a whole host of reasons.  I’m a far cry from being a fireman or an astronaut, aren’t I?  That’s okay though.  Overall I like my life as it’s played out so far.  I’m also excited about this new writing gig I’m trying.  Life is about trying new things along the journey, yes?  You were always up for an adventure.  Me too.  I got that gene from you.

I know you used to write for a while.  I found your poetry journal one time and read some of them.  Summer 65 Mom and IHonestly, I was too young to understand some of it but I remember a few of them that expressed your loneliness.  I’m sorry you felt that Mom.  It’s an awful feeling, isn’t it?  I’ve felt it too.  Personally, I think it’s the worst feeling there is; so many other bad things can flow from that.  I know all too well.

I’d like to tell you that I miss your laughter and your goofy sense of humor.  I miss your encouraging words, no matter what life was throwing at you or at me.  You were always so patient and honest.  I hope that my writing expresses that honesty – being honest with myself and with others.

I hope you enjoy the story of my life.  Don’t spoil the ending for me.  I love you Mom.

Love,

Phil

Unearthly Gifts

Yesterday was Christmas.

We went as a family to a Christmas Eve gathering at our church. Songs and stories – stories from the several “background” characters in the Nativity.  We heard from Elizabeth, the innkeeper, Joseph and several others.  It was a very moving experience to hear their interpretations, their thoughts from their vantage points. My eyes welled up and I got choked up on several occasions during the gathering.

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First Christmas Photo

I am presently leaving one career and embarking on a different path.  It can be a little overwhelming and anxious.  I have been wrestling with this leap for a few weeks now and I have gone back and forth on it. I discussed this new path – a path of freelance writing – with my partner, my wife Eileen.  She is always supportive and I love her for it.  For Christmas she gave me a beautiful leather portfolio to hold my pens, paper and business cards.  Absolutely perfect!! I never dreamed of asking for something like this but she knew.

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Kris reads his Christmas letter

My son Kristofer is from Latvia.  He is 17. We recently completed a year-long process of adopting him so this year has been a year of “firsts” for him.  The adjustment has not been easy for us or for him but we are making progress.  His sister lives with a lovely family in Missouri.  She sent him a remote-controlled helicopter and a letter.  The letter was heartfelt and touching from an older sister to her younger brother; behind the words of the letter was a palpable acknowledgement of how much each of them have been through to get to where they are today.  It also held out hope for a future filled with love and promises for each of them.  It was written entirely in English and he read every word out loud.

My mom passed away fourteen years ago just before Christmas. The holiday has never quite been the same since although it has improved with the passage of time.  Every year for the past several years my cousin Sue and i make the long drive to upstate New York to pay our respects to our Moms – sisters side by side in life and in final rest. This year Sue presented me with two gifts from those lovely sisters! Sue found a set of talking, plush toy, Three StMom Graduationooges heads that her Mom  had purchased for me many years ago but never had the chance to give them to me.  I LOVE the Three Stooges and so did my Aunt Margaret.  Then I unwrapped two photos of my Mom from her high school graduation.  My Aunt had these treasures in her possession and Sue graciously gifted them to me. There are no words that can adequately express the flood of emotions.

The best gifts are the ones that come from the heart.