HANGING WITH OLD FRIENDS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Friendship is something you treasure more and more as the years go by and you realize the clock is ticking on your mortality. I used to have numerous friends during my working years. But when they finally turned the TV news camera off me, many of those friends disappeared.

72-Cherrie-Ron-Amherst-River_082

It goes with the territory. How many t’s in territory?

72-Ron-Cherrie-Amherst-May-GA_059A

In retirement, I have maybe a few real friends. I can count them on the fingers of one hand. That’s the way it was before I became a regional celebrity. I’ve never been a really sociable fella. People often confused my television persona with real “me.”

72-Cherrie-Garry-Amherst_02

I’m reserved in large gatherings. Always have been. Some of it is due to my hearing problems. Mostly, it’s because I’m shy. I hide behind what remains of my professional celebrity. I don’t laugh much except when I’m around our dogs. I’m always comfortable with our furry kids. I’ve found myself laughing a lot the past couple of days. Laughing with people. Very special people. Ron and Cherrie.

72-Cherrie-Marilyn-Amherst-May-GA_056

Cherrie and Marilyn are best friends. They’ve known each other forever. They make each other laugh through the darkest of times.

Ron is a quiet guy, much like me. We don’t talk a lot, but we share a lot when we are alone. About a variety of things. It’s comfortable being around Ron and Cherrie. Easy. We talk about the problems of the world, our crisis-filled lives, and movie trivia. We finish off each other’s sentences as our overloaded brains smoke like old wiring.

More than anything else, we bring out the best in each other. We remember the joy of laughter, of enjoying the moment. Silly stuff reigns.

72-Three-Amigos-Amherst-May-GA_003

Our visit with Ron and Cherrie will end in a few hours and then it’s back to reality. If only we could bottle the fun we’ve had, we could throw away most of our prescription meds.

Friendship. What a concept!

DO OVER

What Would You Change?  by Rich Paschall

If you could do your life over, what would you change?  Would you choose a different career?  Would you choose a different house or apartment?  Would you consider living in another town?  Another part of the country? A foreign country?

Would you travel more?  Would you see other towns, other regions, other countries?  Do you have adventures that remain unfulfilled?  Do you wish to do more exciting things?

Here’s a big one for you to consider.  Would you change your mate?  Would you have more or fewer children?  Would you stay single or get married, depending on what you current circumstance is?

Many people like to say that they would not change a thing.  They would do everything the same way.  Some say this defiantly so, as if defending the life that they have led.  It may be just a front, however, for some family or friends.  Would we really do things the same way?

No matter what we insist to others, we all have made mistakes that we regret.  Would we not change these mistakes, if only we had the chance?  Would we not make better choices if we had the chance to choose again?

Do you recall the statement you said you wish you could take back because it was insensitive?  Do you recall the gossip that you took part in, only to realize later that it was just a way to put down a coworker, neighbor, or family member that you just did not like at the time?  Wouldn’t the passage of time make us wise enough to refrain from such things?  If we took part in these things with the knowledge of our lifetimes in front of us, would we not take a different course?

Perhaps you have seen the article, frequently reposted on social media (I have seen it a number of times, anyway), that talks about The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. These were collected by a nurse and published in a book.  It is summarized on Collective Evolution website. The list, of course, indicates that if these people could live their lives again, they would not take the same paths.  When they looked back from death’s door, there was plenty to change.

Top on the list was having the courage to live your own life, rather than that which was expected.  As we grow up, there are expectation of parents, grandparents, other family members, teachers and community about what we should do in life.  Our roles are frequently defined by others and we, as loyal children and friends, take the path expected of us.  Would we now decide on “The Road Not Taken?”

Every male patient regretted that they had not worked so hard.  They missed family events or other adventure while they worked extra hours.  From the perspective of the end of life, the choice was clearly a wrong one.  Yes, many need to work harder to support their family, but did we choose work, when another choice would have been better on a particular day?

Many wished they had the courage to express their true feelings, or that they had stayed in touch with old friends, or that they allowed themselves to be happier.  Perhaps they regretted all of these things.  So I ask the question again, what would you change if only you could?

If time and health are on your side, then you can still do many of the things you missed earlier.  You can still make amends for bad choices, thus undoing some mistakes of the past.  Of course, we can not now change everything, but that is no reason to be sad about the past.  We can use what we learned to move forward with better choices.

I think the desire to make up for missing some things in the past is one of the emotions that gives rise to the “Bucket List.”  Of course, you may put things on the list that are new to your thought processes, but how many of the things you would list would actually be things you feel you missed out on in the past?  Is there some adventure you should have pursued in the past that you can still do now?

While there are many decisions I regret from the past, and some that I regret now actually, I have one basic problem with a “Do Over.” If I had made different choices in the past, would I still end up in the same place? You see, there are many things about the present I like as they are.  If I had gone a different route, would I eliminate some of the things I like about the today?  Would some of my close friends be missing?  Of course, I would not know they were missing if I had gone another way.

Friends meet up in Strasbourg

Friends meet up in Strasbourg

My jobs in recent years have allowed me to make new friends in other countries.  In fact, one of my best friends lives in France.  We have travelled to France, Germany and England together as well as much of the USA.  I can not now imagine a life that does not include him.  I never thought of these travels or friendships when I was young, so I could not have consciously made the choice to end up where I am.

Because of my love of my current adventures and friends, I guess I really do not want a “Do Over.”  I just hope the knowledge I have gained from past mistakes will allow me to make better choices in the future.

From where you are right now, do you wish to go on with the knowledge you have gained, or would you rather have a “Do Over” realizing it may take you to a different place?

MY PARTY

I was turning 60. The preceding five years had been rough. I had been nearly dead. Having pulled back from that edge, I was struggling to put myself back together and rejoin the living.

I’d aged a lot. I went into the period looking younger than my years. I came out of it looking older.

Sixty is the leading edge of years termed golden — a cynical stab at making a sow’s ear into a silk purse. The downward slope of life’s mountain is perilous. Sharp turns, unexpected twists, unseen hazards blocking the path. They poke and hurt.

Friends pass on. The remaining ones are too tired to be social. They move far away and you can’t visit. You can’t bring yourself to do battle with airports and security. Your passion for travel drops way down on your “to do” list.

Email and telephones are the fallback position and take the place that hanging out once held. Communicating becomes a challenge. Telephones have terrible audio. Even email messages grow succinct.

When I turned 60, my husband conspired to throw me a party. No easy feat as the pool of living friends had greatly diminished, yet somehow, he did it. I saw faces I loved, hadn’t seen in a long time. Some I’d never see again, though I didn’t know it at the time.

There were friends from all over my world. Family I would never see again. It would be the last time my brother would visit. In less than a year, pancreatic cancer would take him away. I look at the pictures. More than half of those guests are gone.

The gathering was a great, though. A beautiful, bittersweet gift.

Life goes on. Good times never entirely end and there will always days when laughter rings, even if it’s only Garry and I enjoying our private jokes.

I don’t spend much effort saving for future rainy days because, metaphorically speaking, it’s raining pretty hard. Tomorrow arrived a while ago.

BIG GUY AND THE CARDINAL

Garry was working weekends that decade, so whatever stuff happened on Sunday was part of his beat. This particular Sunday, the old catholic cathedral near our condo in Roxbury, was going to host Cardinal Bishop Bernard Law. It was a big deal for the neighborhood’s shrinking Catholic population.

Holy_Cross_Cathedral_1881

For a Prince of the Church to say Mass anywhere is an event, even if you aren’t Catholic. We lived one block from that lovely old cathedral. The neighborhood was buzzing.

It was a grand dame amongst local churches.You could see her former grandeur, though she was currently in desperate need of restoration and repairs to just about everything.

Roxbury was an almost entirely Black neighborhood. It had previously been a Jewish neighborhood which was red-lined by greedy real estate brigands. We had been among the first two or three middle class mixed-race couples to move back to Roxbury. We hoped we’d be the start of positive move for the neighborhood, including how it would be reported by media and perceived by Bostonians. We had chosen it less out of altruism and more because it was a great location. Convenient to everything with lots of green space, lovely neighbors, and compared to almost any other place in Boston, affordable.

It was not crime central. You could leave your car unlocked on the street and no one would touch it. I know because my neighbor tried desperately to have his cars stolen, going so far as to leave the keys in the ignition for weeks. Not a chance. People watched out for each other in Roxbury. I never had better neighbors, or felt safer.

75-BostonHPCR-3

The morning on which Cardinal Law was due to visit, Garry called.

“I was telling Bernie (Cardinal Law) that you used to live in Israel and are really interested in religion and stuff.”

“Uh huh.”

“So he’ll be dropping by for a visit.”

“When?”

“I think he’s on the front steps. Yup, there he is. Gotta run. Love you. Have a great day.”

BING BONG said the doorbell.

I looked at me. At least I was dressed. The house was almost acceptable. Thanks for all the warning, Gar, I thought. Showtime!

And in swept His Grace, His Eminence, wearing his red skull-cap and clothed in a long, black wool cloak. Impressive.

Big Guy stretched. Our Somali cat — the best cat in the world and certainly the smartest, sweetest and gentlest — was our meeter and greeter.

Big Guy

Big Guy

I offered the Cardinal the best seat in the house, the blue velvet wing chair by the bay window. Big Guy promptly joined him. We chatted for almost an hour. Israel, the church, whether there was any hope St. Mary’s would get funds to repair and upgrade before it was too late.

The neighborhood. A bit of church politics. Although Bernard Cardinal Law was ultimately blamed for the long-standing and terribly wrong policy of the Church in hiding the misdeeds of child-molesting clerics, this was years before that story came to light.

The man I met was wonderfully intelligent, friendly, witty, and a pleasure to spend time around. Which was probably why Garry was so fond of him and considered him a friend.

When it was time for the Cardinal to depart, he stood up. Big Guy left his cozy spot on the warm lap of the region’s reigning Catholic cleric. And that was when I saw the Cardinal was coated in cat hair.

Oh! Exactly what does one say in this odd circumstance?

“Wait a minute, your Eminence. Let me get the pet hair sticky roller and see if I can get some of that hair off your long black cape?” I was pretty sure the cloak needed more oomph than a lint roller. It was going to need some cleaning power beyond my limited resources.

So I shut up. Wincing with foreknowledge, we parted company. As he and his retinue swept out my door, I pondered how life’s journey takes strange side roads, unexpected twists, and turns. This was one.

“Meow?” questioned Big Guy. Clearly he liked the Cardinal and it had been mutual. I believe Big Guy came away from the experience with some special, secret understanding of Truth. I, on the other hand, felt obliged to call my husband and warn him that Cardinal Law was dressed in more than he realized.

“Oops,” said Garry, master of understatement.

“Yup,” said I, equally downplaying the difficulties that would arise from the incident. I had wrangled with Big Guy’s fur. I knew how bad it would be.

Some weeks later, when Garry, in the course of work, again encountered the good Cardinal, he called my husband to the side for a private word. The other reporters were stunned! What scoop was Garry Armstrong getting? Rumors ran rampant. Armstrong was getting the goods and they were out in the cold. Mumble, mumble, grouse, complain, grr.

“Armstrong,” murmured the Cardinal.

“Yes sir?”

“You owe me. That was one gigantic dry cleaning bill!”

“Yes sir, Your Eminence,” Garry agreed. “Been there myself.”

“I bet you have!” said Bernard Cardinal Law. And the two men shook hands.

When the other reporters gathered round and wanted to know what private, inside information Garry had, he just smiled.

“I’ll never tell,” he said. “Never.”

But now … YOU know. The truth has finally come out.

A CEREMONY OF TEA

For Rashmi Kashyap of Soul n’ Spirit, this post is for you.


I don’t remember exactly when, but a while ago … a month? two? It’s hard to keep track of time. I mentioned in a post how difficult it is to get good tea in the U.S. It isn’t impossible, of course. If you have sufficient resources, you can get anything.

Ordinary folk are limited to local shops and the ubiquitous Internet. The problem is not that tea (in general) is not available. It is quality tea, fresh tea, which is nearly unobtainable. By the time we get it, it’s old. Tired. Teabag tea is not tea. I’m not sure what it is.

tea pot, tea canister, tea

I’m sure there are sources for better tea, especially in cities which are home to large Asian communities. But not here. In this part of New England, items people can find routinely in shops elsewhere, are unavailable.

We won’t starve. Beef, chicken, some fish. If you want something more exotic (by local standards, anything other than brown gravy, white bread, and hamburgers is exotic), for example items you need to create Asian cuisine, are not for sale. For years, I couldn’t even find matzoh meal, which I never considered remotely exotic. Perhaps I am exotic.

We live in the country. Rural. On the plus side, we are blessed — in season — with fresh produce from local farms. Milk comes from cows who graze in green pastures and sleep contentedly in the shade on warm summer days. Eggs are laid by chickens who wander about, pecking and clucking. They don’t know how lucky they are.

glass teapot

We’ve got horses, goats, and the occasional llama … but fresh tea? Rice other than Carolina long grain? Spices? Fresh curry powder? Light or medium soy sauce?

It’s no wonder Americans are not tea drinkers considering the tasteless dust which passes for tea. I’m pretty sure our local Chinese restaurants makes its tea made from teabags in the kitchen. The only good tea I’ve had in years is the green tea at our Japanese restaurant.

tea in teapot

The miracles wrought by the Internet are not limited to exchanging email and reading each others’ blogs. Rashmi Kashyap of Soul n’ Spirit heard the yearning in my post. Last week, a package arrived from far away India.

Wrapped carefully in fabric, packed for its long journey around the world. Tea. Fresh, beautiful tea. Not the dry, old stuff you get here or even online, but tea so young it can remember growing in the earth.

teapot and canister

I have a big earthenware teapot and made a pot that same night. It was amazing. Garry admitted he had never tasted tea like that. It was a different experience.

I needed a smaller, brewing teapot suitable for a couple. I have owned several over the years, but since coming back from Israel, it has seemed pointless. Now, though, I have a reason.

brewed tea in glass teapot

Amazon to the rescue. One glass, brewing teapot, perfect for two people. A small canister to store the tea, seal out light and seal in freshness. A tea measuring spoon because (blush) I don’t remember how to measure tea anymore. After 33 years in the U.S., I can’t think metric.  I thought I couldn’t forget. I was wrong.

It took a couple of days to get my teapot and other things. Finally, I could properly serve tea.

It is a soul-enriching experience. Tea in the evening. A couple of crispy things on the side. Garry drank three cups (they are little cups, tea cups) as did I.

I thank my friend on the other side of the word with each sip. I cannot begin to express my gratitude. Maybe this post will help.

SUNSHINE, SPRING TRAINING AND SURVIVAL

The missing Harold mystery, Rich Paschall

George and his ever talkative wife Martha had just about enough of the Midwest winter. They were tired of snow,  tired of cold. At close-to-retirement age, they were just plain tired. When another cold night forced them to stay at home rather than visit a favorite neighborhood stop, they realized there was only one thing which could pull them through to warmer weather. Baseball! Right then and there, they began to talk about a trip to sunny Florida for a round of spring training games.

A year before, they had traveled to Florida on a rare road trip to see the Chicago Cubs play. The Cubs lost, of course, but they deemed the trip a success. They had visited a ball park other than Wrigley Field, spent a day at the beach, and wandered through town to do some typical tourist shopping. They had some very hot days, but did not suffer the kind of stifling humidity Lake Michigan can serve up in July. Now, in March, they were ready to go south again.

Always sunny Florida?

Always sunny Florida?

George sat down with spring schedules to see what teams would be playing, so that he could  find the best matches for the days they could go to Florida. Martha researched the ball parks themselves and the surrounding night spots on the internet. When they had chosen a few games they might like to see, they looked at hotels, air fares and rental cars. After a full night of debate and delay, they made their choices.

They would return to the familiar spots of St. Petersburg. From there they could go to Tampa to see the Yankees, then down to Bradenton to catch the Pirates and from there to Sarasota to see the Orioles.

Unlike the famous George and Martha of Broadway play and movie fame, this couple rarely had arguments. In fact, they were in agreement on just about anything that meant parties and good times. When almost all of their arrangements were in place, and they were congratulating themselves on another “road trip extraordinaire”, Martha had one more good idea. Of course, the good idea may have been fueled by the German beer she had been drinking all night, but it was an interesting idea, nonetheless.

“Why don’t we call old Harold for the game in Bradenton or Sarasota?” Martha blurted out as if her head had been hit by a rock and she was stunned silly.

“Harold!” George shouted with glee. “That’s a wonderful idea. The old boy probably needs a road trip anyway. Let’s give lucky old Harold a call.”

While Martha dutifully looked for Harold’s phone number, George wondered why the little tapper of Dortmunder beer had run dry. “I am headed to the basement, ” George called out. “I have to find another one of these big cans of beer. You killed the last one.”

“I did no such thing, George,” Martha lied.

When the twosome finally met back at the kitchen table, each was carrying the object of their search. “Well dial the phone and hand it over, old woman,” George said with a laugh.

“I am not as old as you, wise guy,” Martha said as she handed over the phone. Both began to giggle and laugh like school kids up to no good. The phone rang away as the couple talked on until George finally realized there must have been at least 20 rings. He hung up.

“I can not imagine that Harold is not home at this hour. He was never out late.” It was true, of course. In all his life Harold was rarely out at night, and since he retired and moved to Florida, he was always home by dark.

“He’s probably sleeping, you nit wit,” Martha declared. “Let’s give him another try tomorrow.” And so they did. In fact, they called for several days in a row and at different times of day, but Harold never answered. When the day of the trip arrived, Harold was not part of the plan.

Undeterred by their lack of success at lining up Harold for a game, they resolved to try him again once they landed at the Florida airport. They departed from Chicago’s Midway airport. Unbelievably, it was once the busiest airport in the country, but that was before the jet age. Now the crowded airport just seemed like the busiest airport. St. Petersburg airport, on the other hand, was in stark contrast, even for spring training. The crowd was small and the rental car line was short. The couple got their car, got to their hotel, and got on the phone. Still, there was no Harold.

“I hope the old guy is OK,” Martha said, finally voicing more than a bit of concern.

“Sure, Harold is just fine,” George insisted. “He is probably at some nice restaurant right now being fussed over by some cute waitresses. Don’t worry.”

At that very moment Harold was being fussed over by some weary nurses at the Intensive Care Unit of the county hospital. This trip, the retired planner from the Midwest was going to miss the endlessly talkative George and Martha.

Note:  The next Harold story appears in 3 short weeks.