Monday, May 30, 2011

Nonnie Takes Pride on Memorial Day and So Should You

Nonnie Takes Pride on Memorial Day and So Should You

How brave we are!  Soldiers, too, of course, but I’ve never been in a firefight or disarmed a bomb, so I’m not the one to write about the world’s soldiers.  I’ve dealt with terrors, though, and so have you.  Most of us face them down, whether they are the first day on a new job, or the first few hours after a tornado hits.  We’re a brave bunch.

I have a vivid memory of waiting for my first day of school to start, and of feeling woefully unequipped.  I didn’t know anything and I was going to have to learn everything, maybe that very day!  The Principal, Sister Alice Elenita, stood in front of the doors to St. Paul’s Elementary School with a huge bell and a stern face while the other nuns and teachers sorted out the horde of children in the parking lot and directed us into straight lines.  I didn’t know anybody in my line!  I was too little for this, wasn’t I?  The girl (Debbie Sweeney, it turned out) in front of me was quietly, desperately, crying.  I offered to hold hands and we both felt better until our teacher, Sister Marion, told us we had to stand in line with our arms at out sides.  Then Principal Alice Elenita rang her bell and off we went, eyes front.  Not a single first grader turned back.

No one knew I was afraid of riding the subway by myself when I moved to New York City at 18.  I rode the bus to Juilliard the first few days, but it was pokey and the subway was obviously something I had to deal with, so I did, just like I dealt with driving on the Beltway around Washington, D.C., when that seeming impossibility presented itself.  The first time I tried I took a ramp on and immediately took the next ramp off, but, although I never got over my fear of speeding along in all those lanes of traffic, I did it, along with everyone else who lived around there.  I wonder how many of those drivers were scared, at least at first?

Maybe I could fill a book with the times in my life when courage came through for me.  I’m sure you could, too.  We need to give ourselves credit, you know?  We, most of us, are brimful of courage.  Not long ago I picked up a receipt that was left in the slot of an ATM.  It showed a withdrawal of $40.00 and a remaining balance of $14.62.  Odds are that unknown person was going to do what I somehow did the times I was no- kidding- around- poor. Deal with it- like first graders do going through those big doors without their moms or big brothers near-by.

I saw Too Big to Fail the other night and I’ve been thinking about those rich bankers.  I wonder how much courage it takes to get through a week with dignity when you have a couple of million, or billion, in your account.  Tornado?  Tsunami?  They can check into a Sofitel until things sort themselves out.  What scares billionaires, I wonder?  How does character develop when you’re sitting on a cushion that big? If I ever meet one of those guys, I’ll try to find out for you.  You know, if you’re interested.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Simple Twists of Fate


Stone Poem

You stoop to select a stone
to toss down the lazy path.
It rolls, reaches level ground, stops,
stays in place when you pass.

Later that same day,
an angry walker
seizes that same rock,
flings it far into the woods
where it lands hard,
jostles a few pebbles,
and then the stone is home
for another thousand years.


I almost saw Nessie
lift her curious ancient head
above the black waters of Loch Ness.
Hey, that would have been something.

I almost won the jackpot
with triple double diamonds
in a colorful, clattering row.
Oh yes, that would have been something.

I almost had a child.
She was there in my womb
until chromosomes killed her.
My God, that would have been something.
That would have been something

Saturday, May 14, 2011

When Nonnie and Drago were Growing Up

We had it all. Down the street was Mr. Swann’s place. He was a farmer, but we didn’t mess much with the farm itself. On his property, safe from development, was a pond, a stream, near-by woods and further away, scarier woods, Jerry, an old, white, sway-backed horse, and bad-tempered Snow Geese that thought the pond belonged to them. There was a dirt road that led to the forbidden sand dunes-fantastic hills of sand and gravel that the grown-ups called a quarry. Rich People, the Piersals, had a big house on a hill.  You got there by a long, shady lane. All these places were grown-up free almost all the time. Dunno. That’s just the way it was then.

Our various mom’s took sightings of our crowd from kitchen and upstairs windows, and I suppose at least one of them had a good idea where we were most of the time. All the Ranch style and Split-Level houses had yards, of course, but playing in some kid’s yard was for days when one of us was in trouble or had to stay close to home because we were going someplace with our parents, or because we had a new toy that we weren’t allowed to take out of the yard. Our mothers had a relay system for calling us when we were out of range of their voices.  Sometimes we ignored the calls, but not often. An older brother or sister sent to find us, or, the worst, one of our parents showing up, meant we were going to “get it.”

We were a gang of maybe fifteen girls and boys. No babies and no big kids allowed. Crybabies and bullies didn’t last long. Unless the weather was really awful, we played outside. Winters were for skating on the frozen pond, sleigh-riding on Piersal’s hill, snow-fights from snow forts, and building whatever we wanted to try for on a particular day. One great winter our dad built two dinosaurs and a giant bear in the front yard. There was a lot of snow in North Jersey that year.

The three other seasons were for roaming our neighborhood and playing, usually without toys, or only a few. My brother Drago was our Cecil B. DeMille. He’d direct the games and dole out the parts. Tarzan was a good summer game because the pond turned into a swamp, and we could swing across the stream on this rope someone’s big brother hung from a tree branch. Every summer there’d be a group of us who’d try to build a pirate raft for floating across the pond. One time the boys actually built a raft that would hold about five kids without sinking right away. Mostly we just got “soakers-” slimy, muddy shoes and socks which meant trouble when we got home. Drago excelled at organizing Circus in the summer.  He’d be the Ringmaster, and we’d all pick skills to hone. My best tricks were fence-walking and doing hard stuff on these two metal poles our dad hung between two wood supports and put up next to the swing and sand-box he built, and built to last, in our back yard. They are probably still there, behind our brown Split-Level on Allen Ct.  When Drago felt we had trained enough, he’d organize a parade though the neighborhood to advertise our Circus. Seems to me things generally fell apart after the parade and we rarely got as far as the actual event. It was hard to get everyone together at an exact time in those days, even for the kids who could tell time.

“Indians” was a good fall game, played in the woods, of course. All-season games were Spaceship, (we had a great fallen tree trunk, split in two big sections) Robin Hood, Soldiers and Nurses, Peter Pan, Swiss Family Robinson, and of course, bike riding and races of all kinds, even plain running.  Piersal’s lane provided us with a world-class scary Halloween challenge, and they also held epic 4th of July parties every year.  The Piersals were great Rich People.

Eeek! Going way past my usual blog length here. Sorry. It’s just that living with Drago again brings childhood back, you know? It’s just that we live in a fairly safe, suburban neighborhood, but we don’t see many kids outside. We don’t hear moms hollering out their back doors. Cars, rather than kids, have the right-of-way on the streets around here. We didn’t know we lived in kid-heaven, but we did. Good old Allen Ct. Thanks Mom and Dad.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


When I was a junior in high school I ran for Secretary of my senior class.  I’d been elected to the student council each year and I thought I could do a good job taking minutes and all. I’m pretty sure I got on the student council, my entry into politics, my freshman year because I had two well-known, well-liked, handsome older brothers. They paved the way. Even though my personal ambitions were of the ballerina-kind, I was a good kid and listened to all the adult voices that claimed beefing up my list of extra-curricular activities was the way to go if I wanted to get in to a good college. I didn’t know then that Juilliard, the only college I wanted to attend, would not be impressed by my being elected Secretary of my senior class. I campaigned, (hung posters around the school) wrote a speech, and was, to my amazement, elected! No one knew what courage this whole business demanded. I was shy, did not have an approved wardrobe bought in the favored store in nearby Ridgewood, New Jersey, and, a very tricky bit for me, had a bilateral lisp. I dreaded giving my speech to the entire student body (about 400 kids.) But I did it and that was my political career. I have no idea why I won-possibly because I had fewer enemies than the other candidates; my trudge through high school hadn’t included much drama, if any. There was plenty of drama in my dance life, but I didn’t think that counted very heavily outside of various studios.

I’ve always been bowled over by national politicians. They are of another species.  They want to make decisions for other people. Lots of other people. They want to lead public lives and know that they will make enemies and that people will say mean things about them. How about that? Even when they are successful and their side wins an argument, they just wake up to a day filled with new battles.  It must be tremendously difficult to be in the public eye and yet stay out of trouble and easy as pie to slide into a quagmire of one kind or another. Yet these men and women run for office thoughout their lives, ever trying to keep their names on more and more lips, their pictures on more posters, and their speeches heard by bigger crowds. Holy cannoli! Not a life for me.

I’ve been a serious voter though. I do my best. Talk, read, listen; try to figure things out so that I can make educated choices. Not so easy.  I’ve been bamboozled a few times-and I’ve certainly gone with the losing side and had to live with people who I had no faith in being the boss of me, at least for a term or two.  But, you know, Obama is someone I trust. I think I have from the get-go. I like that he’s tall and has a great smile; I like his wife and kids; I like his background and think it’s cool that he’s of mixed race, and I trust him. I believe that he does his best, and I find that I’ve never had reason to question his choices as our President. So, with this, with the killing of an unarmed monster named Osama bin Laden, I’m not going to wrestle with something that until now I’ve not had to deal with. A murderer was murdered in my name and that’s all right with me. I didn’t dance in the streets about it, but I’m not surprised that many people did. If bin Laden had been shooting at the SEALS, I wouldn’t have had to re-organize, accommodate, think about this news at all. It’s just that I grew up believing it was wrong to shoot an un-armed man, and now I need to believe that in this case, in Osama bin Laden’s case, it was an okay thing to do.  And I’m going with that. I’ve stretched a little and that’s fine. I’m on board.