JUDY COLLINS, AMAZING GRACE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn and I had been looking forward to the Judy Collins concert for months. Marilyn bought the tickets last January before her complicated heart surgery. At the time, I wondered if she was being extravagant given our tight budget. I was very wrong. Marilyn figured the concert would give us something to look forward to in the months while she struggled to recover from the surgery.  It’s taken a toll on her body and spirits.

The concert? She was right.

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It didn’t seem particularly right during the long drive into Boston yesterday. Intermittent heavy rain showers made the usually easy Sunday drive a challenge. Often the traffic looked like something out of “Wagon Train.” Yet, by the time we got to Boston, it was all good. A handicapped parking space was available directly in front of the theater — like on television or in the movies. And the rain stopped, just like that.

judy collins concert

We took a quick scan of nearby restaurants and Japanese got our attention. We chowed down on sushi and tempura with plenty of time to spare to make our 7 pm curtain. Marilyn took pictures and we watched as the crowds arrived for the Collins concert. The audience appeared to be three-quarters casually dressed baby boomers. Our kind of folks.

And suddenly, it was time to pack up the camera and find the tickets. Showtime!

wilbur theater judy collins

The Wilber is an old theatre. Built in 1914, it’s rather cozy inside and they have arranged the orchestra level as a dinner theater. Both of us had been to the Wilbur in the past, though not recently, so it was a bit of a shock to see how it had changed. Instead of theater seats, there were high, padded bar stools. Wait staff brought refreshments.

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Sometimes you anticipate, but are disappointed. The moment Judy Collins walked on stage, the evening turned magical. Judy Collins has — at 74 years old — not only kept her voice, but improved it. I had not realized what a skilled pianist she is, either. Her musicianship was remarkable and it perfectly suited the cozy theater.

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She entertained with a preferred list of her most popular songs. Folk, Broadway and Standards. There was no forced chit-chat but shared stories and memories of professional life across half a century. Most of the audience, including me, were nodding and smiling. It was our story too. The artists and  music of our generation. The music that was the background to our lives.

The songs brought back a flood of memories. “Send In The Clowns” reminded me of my days in TV news dealing with politicians. “Danny Boy,” always a sentimental favorite, took me back to our honeymoon in Ireland where I discovered my Irish roots. I was smiling with tears in my eyes.

theater district judy collins

I thought the concert was over as Judy Collins thanked her pianist-music director while blowing kisses to the audience. It couldn’t be over. Not yet.

It wasn’t over!

Marilyn reassured me as Judy Collins began to sing “Amazing Grace.” Our song. That was the song the bag piper played at our wedding. That our friend sang. Apparently it was everyone’s song because Judy invited the audience to join in and go for the harmony. We sang and filled the 100-year old Wilbur Theater with our voices.

Magic time! We held the last words of “Amazing Grace” for long minutes, the music and our voices echoing through the venerable theater.

A night to remember!

STAY CLEAR OF LANDMINES

Happy Radars – Are you a good judge of other people’s happiness? Tell us about a time you were spot on despite external hints to the contrary (or, alternatively, about a time you were dead wrong).


This is one of Those Prompts which I could answer it in one word. Or I could write book. I’m inclined to be one-word-ish on this. I think I’m an excellent judge of what is really going on if:

  1. I know the people intimately
  2. Spend more than a few minutes with them
  3. I have my radar turned on.

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I’m not a particularly astute judge of strangers unless I have some urgent reason to be. Moreover, I prefer to avoid intruding on friends’ personal business unless I feel I’ve been invited in. Even then, I tread softly. Other people’s private lives are a minefield. You can get blown to pieces if you don’t watch out.

So mostly, I don’t intrude. Most especially, I don’t judge and I don’t take sides.

Taking sides is how you lose friends and body parts.

OUR STORY – 51 YEARS OF FRIENDSHIP, 24 YEARS OF MARRIAGE

I was 18 when I got married the summer between the junior and senior years of college. I was working at the radio station. Jeff, my first husband, was Station Manager. Garry, my now and forever husband, was Program Director. The two were best friends. We all met in 1963 and there it began.

Thirteen years later, I walked away from my first marriage. It wasn’t horrible. Merely empty. A good friendship. As a marriage, nothing much.

Off to Israel I went with my son. I was in Israel for just under 9 years and for all the years, Garry wrote me letters. Every week, two or three letters, always typed in capital letters and mailed special delivery arrived in my mail box. I began to think of them as my fan mail. I lived from letter to letter, carried the most recent one with me until the paper on which it was written fell apart.

Gar and Mar in Dublin 1990

No one writes real letters anymore. Email has eliminated personal mail. But those letters were so wonderful. I carried one or two of them with me wherever I went. Garry told me I was wonderful. He reminded me someone thought I was an amazing woman.

I wrote letters to Garry too and when I got back to the States, I found he had saved them all. A drawer full of letters. Obviously something was going on. I’m sure we both had known for a long time, but had not been ready to deal with the implications. Now, we were ready.

I don’t think either Garry or I has written a letter to anyone else since.

August 1987.

I was back.

With a little help from a friend, I got a job in the Boston area. Garry and I became “an item.” The previous decade hadn’t dealt kindly with either of us and we saw one another with new eyes. We’d always been a little in love, but there always a reason why it was the wrong time to do something about it. Garry was 48 and had never been married, though he’d hardly been living a monk’s life. The time had come.

How did I finally get him to propose? It was all him. Really.

I’d been in California for a couple of weeks on business. I’d come back early because I came down with the flu. That turned out to be just as well, because the big earthquake — the one that stopped that year’s World Series — happened the day after I left. If I’d stayed, I’d have been crushed under a collapsed highway.

Garry was glad to see me … until I coughed. Then he wasn’t so glad. What is the definition of “mixed emotions?” A man in love who knows that first kiss is going to give him the flu. Definition of true love? He kissed me anyway. And got the flu.

After we stopped coughing, we went to dinner. Our favorite restaurant, Jimmy’s Harborside, was only a mile away on the harbor, but it took nearly an hour to get there. Garry was nervous and kept looping around Leverett Circle, missing the turn off. He was telling me how real estate prices were down and maybe we should buy a place. Live together. Forever. Would that be okay with me?

So I listened for a pretty long time because this was the most unexpected speech I’d ever heard. I never expected Garry to marry me. I never thought he’d marry anyone. Finally, I said: “So you want to buy a house. Move in and live together? As in get married?”

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“All of that,” he said and looped around one more time.

“I definitely need a drink,” I said.

The following morning, I asked Garry if I could tell my friends. He said “Tell them what?”

“That we’re getting married,” I said.

“We are?”

“You said we should buy a house and live together forever.”

“Yes,” he agreed

“So we’re getting married. You proposed.”

“That’s a proposal?” he asked. “I didn’t think it was a proposal.”

“You want to buy a house with me and live together forever. If it’s not a proposal, what is it?”

“Just an idea,” he said.

“It’s a proposal,” I assured him. A couple of weeks later, I suggested a ring might be in order. And setting a date. He moved through these steps looking like a deer in headlights, but eventually, he realized all he had to do was show up in a tux and he’d be married. That he could do. We were living together anyway, so …

We were wedded 6 months later having known each other a mere 26 years.

Garry and I celebrate our 24th anniversary today. We have both mellowed. We know each other so well. We know each others faces. I know when he hurts. He knows if I’m upset. It doesn’t mean we don’t squabble, but it does mean we never stop caring and loving and being there for each other.

The man who was never going to get married has become as close to a perfect husband as a woman has any right to hope for. I often think, with my endless health problems, he’s gotten a lemon and should return me to the dealer. Get a wife with a warranty. But he likes this model, however decrepit.

It doesn’t seem like 24 years. I don’t know where time has gone. Turns out, when you find the right one, time flies.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO US

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It’s 24 years of married life for Marilyn and Garry. Where did the time go? It seems just yesterday we were newlyweds. Sometimes, I still feel like a newlywed.

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It’s Monday, September 15th … and we would very much like to go out to dinner to celebrate. But every restaurant (and hairdresser) in Massachusetts is closed on Mondays. Unless we want to celebrate at Mickey D’s place — and we don’t — we’ll have to hold off till tomorrow.

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Meanwhile, Garry brought me a bouquet of bright yellow roses. They perfume the air, a much better scent than we usually have around our dog-ridden living room

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Going to make this a lazy day … so see you all tomorrow!

IS IT HOT OR IS IT ME? WHAT?

SECOND OPINION – What are some (or one) of the things about which you usually don’t trust your own judgment, and need someone’s else’s confirmation?


You mean … there IS another opinion other than mine that might contain something worth knowing? Are you implying that I am imperfect? I am insulted. How dare you suggest such a thing. I will report you to … someone. I’ll have to think for a while which authority should be involved, but really! Such gall!

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

There is one little thing. It seems that as I’ve gotten older, my thermostat no longer works. It started with The Change, you know, menopause.

Shhh. Let’s not be indelicate. Although my husband is … a man … and not subject to the full Monte of mind and body altering experiences that this special Time of Life engenders, he too seems to have acquired a broken thermostat. Thus neither of us is entirely sure if it’s hot, cold, or us.

Conversation A:

“Is it hot or is it me?”

“It’s hot.”

“Oh, good. I’ll turn on the fan.”

Conversation B:

“Is it hot or is it me?”

“It’s not hot. It’s a bit chilly.”

“Maybe it’s hot and you are chilly.”

“Possibly, but you asked. All I can tell you is what I feel.”

“I’m turning on the fan.”

“I’m putting on a sweatshirt.”

You can see the value of a second opinion under these circumstances. Oh, and there’s another one.

Conversation: What?

“What did he say?”

“What did who say?”

“The guy, the one with the hat.”

“The guy on the left?”

“No he’s not there anymore. The one who had the gun. Before.”

“They all have guns.”

“Oh, never mind.”

Otherwise, I know pretty much everything. Ask my husband. He will tell you. “She knows everything. Just ask her.” You see? We are in complete agreement. On everything.

SHOULD HAVE THOUGHT AGAIN — AND AGAIN

Think Again — Tell us about a time you made a false assumption about a person or a place — how did they prove you wrong?


Between pretty good marriage one and fabulous marriage three, there was unspeakable marriage two.

To explain it by saying it seemed like a good idea at the time, is not entirely true. I knew from the get-go it was bad. Not only did I think it was bad, but everyone who knew me thought it was terrible. No one said “Follow your heart!” because it was clear whatever I was following, it wasn’t my heart — or my brain — but some part lower down and less rational.

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Why did I marry someone obviously wrong for me?

I didn’t realize he was stupid. I thought he was just quiet. I had no experience with stupid people, after all. There were warnings. Like when his mother took me aside and said “You know, he isn’t really stupid. He just seems stupid.” His mother?

I overlooked the evil temper, ignorance and drug abuse. The lack of any ambition or profession. That he was courting me while his wife was dying of cancer. There were levels of wrong too many to count.

I figured he was merely a little stressed.

So, how did it work out?  How do you think?

Some crazy risks are fun. Just make sure, before you take a mad plunge, the price you pay isn’t beyond your means. When your brain, friends and  family, are screaming “DON’T DO IT?” Don’t. Do. It.

The real reason I did it? I was too proud to admit I was wrong. Pride will nail your ass every time.

JUST AN OLD MARRIED COUPLE

Long Exposure — Among the people you’ve known for a long time, who is the person who’s changed the most over the years? Was the change for the better?


Garry and I at President Clinton's party on Martha's Vineyard

Garry and I at President Clinton’s party on Martha’s Vineyard

All the people I’ve known a long time have changed, me and my husband in particular. Better? For whom?

I am far less sociable and hugely less outgoing. I was quite the party-maker with a wild and crazy social life and now I’m a virtual recluse.

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Much of my life centered around work … and I don’t work any more. I’ve gone from being gregarious to being a loner, being work-centric to being survival-centric.

Good? Not good? If I hadn’t changed in response to the realities of life, I’d probably be dead or living on the street. I guess that makes them good, right? I read less, write more.

I keep taking pictures. It’s now more than forty years of photography. That’s consistent, anyhow.

Garry was shy, solitary. He was so driven by career and work he didn’t have time for anything, anyone else. Like making friends, building a personal life. Yet … when I came back into his life, he began to emerge. He started to pull back from work, become more sociable. Now, he couldn’t be paid enough to go back to work.

1990 in Ireland

1990 in Ireland with Author Gordon Winter

He used to be the kind of guy who always looked like he’d just stepped out of the pages of GQ. Now, he wears sloppy shorts and old tee shirts or pajama bottoms and sweatshirts.

He remains passionate about sports, but can miss the game and watch a movie without having a crisis.

Both of us eat less, don’t drink at all. Our world centers around each other and a few close friends and family.

You know what? I think it’s good. And appropriate.