DAY OF THE MONARCHS – Marilyn Armstrong

We named our little sailboat Gwaihir, the wind lord. Really, she was a wind lady and the name was a bit pretentious for such a tiny boat. Somehow, I thought it would be a lucky name. She was a 16-foot Soling with a centerboard. She drew a mere 16-inches with the board up. I used to tell people Gwaihir could sail on a wet hankie and I believed she could.

Soling Drawiing

She was a surprisingly stable craft. We carried a 5 HP outboard motor so when tide and wind were against us, we could still get home. In the old days, sailboats had to drop anchor and wait for one or both to shift. Today, we have to get home for dinner … so we have outboards.

When my husband had the time and felt particularly frisky, we took Gwaihir out through Sloop Channel and Jones inlet into the ocean.

Even a 3-foot roller looks big when you are on the deck of such a small sloop. My then-husband was a madman on the water. He would sail through thunder squalls because he liked the challenge. His father had been equally insane, so I guess he came by it honestly.

Mostly, I piloted her through the salt marshes and canals off Long Island. She was perfect for shallow water sailing. We could sail through nesting plovers, herons, and ducks, silent except for the soft flapping of the jib. The birds were undisturbed by our passage and went about their business, white sails wing-like in the breeze.

One bright day with a warm sun lighting the water and the sky blue as a robin’s egg, I anchored on the edge of a shallow, reedy marsh. I drifted off to sleep as I watched little puffy clouds scoot across the sky.

MonarchButterflies_20090910

I awoke a while later and our white sail was covered with thousands of monarch butterflies. I had drifted into their migration route and they had stopped to rest on my little boat.

I didn’t move or say anything. Just looked up and watched, thinking that if ever there had been a perfect day, crafted for my delight, this was it.

Then, as if someone had signaled, they rose as one and flew onward to complete their long journey, and I sailed home.


Check out AMAZING MATHILDA, Bette Stevens’ inspirational tale of a Monarch butterfly and her meadowland friends. This award-winning children’s book follows the life cycle of an endangered butterfly. It’s a beautiful read and learning experience.


Fandango’s Friday Flashback: June 13, 2014

LITTLE FLAGS IN A COUNTRY THAT’S DYING – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t know how they will get it done, but I’m sure there will be flags in the Revolutionary War cemetery in the middle of town. It’s directly across from the dam and it is beautiful especially in the autumn.

It is just a hundred or so yards from the river itself. Uphill, so it never floods, even when the rivers rush over their banks. The people who created that cemetery knew about the rivers and flooding. They picked a beautiful spot, but dry and safe for the bones and memories.

An old cemetery, dating back to the early 1700s. It contains traces of many generations of those who lived and died in this town, this valley. Folks who lived along the Blackstone and its many tributaries fished in its lakes and streams. They fought in our wars and are buried here — Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War veterans as well as those who fought in all the American wars since.

Every Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day, the cemetery blooms with bouquets and flags. The schools bring the children here, so they will remember too and traditions will be maintained. They bring bouquets of wildflowers or from the back garden. Lilacs and lilies, scarlet poppies … and always a miniature American flag. Even if there’s no special holiday, the cemetery always shows signs of caring, remembering.

Maybe it’s easier to remember here, with such a small population. Is that it? Or it’s just part of the air, the character, the history. Remembering is what we do in the Valley.

The cemetery is one of my favorite places. We’re newcomers after all, only living here 17 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok … from tiny villages in Ireland and the West Indies and the shtetls of Eastern Europe.

Valley people have been here longer. Many came from French Canada in the late 19th century to work in the mills. Another large group formed the dominant Dutch population. They built churches, businesses and factories, dairy and truck farms, shops, horse farms, and sawmills. Their names are prominent wherever the rivers run.

Newcomers, like us, aren’t quite as rare these days, and anyway, we’ve lived here 18 years, so we are no longer outsiders. Nonetheless, we have no ancestors in this cemetery.

The valley is the only place I’ve lived where the majority of families have lived in this town or in nearby villages for three, four, five generations.

“We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else … but some can’t remember when or if it’s true.

I point out they must have come from somewhere because unless they are Native American, they came to this place, even if a long time since. They get misty-eyed trying to remember old family stories handed down when they were young. Hard to remember, they tell you. “You know, that was 75 years ago … a long time.”

We nod. It was a long time ago. A year has passed. Little flags and flowers bloom in the cemetery. It’s a nice thing they do. Remembering.

But this is not like any other year. I wonder who remembers the holiday.

THE JOY OF HANGING OUT — MARILYN ARMSTRONG

Hanging out is a concept lost to modern youth, but the most fun times of my young years were spent hanging out. Too bad modern kids have lost it.

I was a teenager in college. Madly in love with my first boyfriend who was seriously into the “Village scene.” He brought me there for my first taste of cold chocolate at a MacDougal Street coffee shop. I took to the Village like the proverbial duck to water.

From the old Italian coffee houses that sold coffee along with a few other non-alcoholic drinks, to the tiny, dingy coffee houses where folk music was born, this was the Heart of Hip. Everything was a 15 cent subway ride from home.

The world was mine.

It wasn’t only the Village, either. A lot of New York was free back then.

Museums were free. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was a magical experience. For that matter, the huge New York Public Library behind the stone lions had basements full of original, ancient documents into which you could freely delve. You couldn’t take them out of the library, but they were free for you to absorb. (I have no idea if that’s true anymore.)

You could spend an afternoon at the Hayden Planetarium watching the stars. If you had just a little bit of money, afternoon plays on Broadway could be very cheap, especially if you could live with “standing room only.” In the afternoon, there were always seats available. A lot of things you pay big money, for now, weren’t expensive back when. This wasn’t just a matter of the change of the value of money through the years. It was a huge change in culture.

If you were a teenager, New York on your doorstep was heaven, but Greenwich Village in the 1960s on your doorstep? That was the stuff from which dreams came true.

From Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton to Pete Seeger and Judy Collins … they were all there. The famous, soon to be famous and a few infamous people. All young, making music and passing the basket.

Caffe Reggio — the place where cappuccino (in America) was born.

I’d take the subway and get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with other people so we could make the rent and maybe afford food too.

All I needed was subway fare — 30 cents round trip — and a few more cents for a hot (or cold) chocolate at the Reggio. For this pittance, I could spend an entire day and evening in the Village. Hanging out.

“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.

“You bought a coffee or a hot chocolate and just sat around waiting to see what might happen. You could read or watch people coming and going. Hoping you’d see someone you knew — or maybe wanted to know.”

“That’s it? You just sat around?”

“Yup. Just sat around. And we didn’t sit around with our cell phones because there were no such things. We just sat around. Talking or thinking or reading. It was a quiet place until the music started. That was hanging out. No one told you to hurry — or told you to buy something or leave. It was cool to simply be there.”

Bleecker and MacDougalI often sat with a cup of coffee or chocolate for a whole day. No one pushed us out the door to make way for ‘the lunch crowd.’ No one bothered you unless you looked like you’d like some bothering.

When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. It wasn’t particularly odd to have no money at all. A lot of us walked around with empty wallets. Without wallets, too. Rich was having exactly enough money to buy a coffee and subway tokens. It was okay in the 1960s. Poverty was cool.

Not only were there no cell phones. A lot of people had no phone. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Cars? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I know I didn’t. That was a decade in the future.

People were friendly, funny, and we were sure we were going to change the world. I think we did, though sometimes when I’m in a dour mood, I wonder if all we really did was make denim a fashion fabric.

Out near Hofstra in Hempstead, where I was occasionally attending school and getting far better grades than I deserved, I was a music major and one of the perks were free concert tickets to Carnegie Hall. There’s the “main room” — but there are also a number of “recital halls” where up and coming musicians perform. I’m hoping that’s still true.

Meanwhile, one of my soon-to-be husbands and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island. They opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. It was a light-hearted reference to education — AB, MA, and Ph.D. Nobody got the joke.

They brought in the same people who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.

Dave Van Ronk (back then)

What did I do there, in Hempstead? I hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Hanging. I also played bridge upstairs in Memorial Hall instead of attending classes, but no one is perfect.

No one was texting, computing, or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the microphones). Nobody’s phone was beeping, dinging, or wailing. No one was going off into a corner to talk on the phone.

If you were going off into a corner, you were either making a date — remember dating? — or buying (or possibly selling) drugs.  All the noise was human. Talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating. Drinking.

It was an incredibly happy time for me, even though I thought I was deeply troubled, probably because I hadn’t really made the full breakaway from home to real life … and also because I’d read too many books about troubled youth and figured I must be one.

I know that whatever kids are doing today, they aren’t having nearly as much fun as we had. I feel sorry for them. We were adventurous, playful, willing to try anything at least once and most of us, more often. If I hadn’t been me during those years, I’d envy whoever had been the girl hanging out. If I miss anything of the “old days”? It’s hanging out. Just being there and doing nothing important.

Being there was enough.

A MOTHER’S WALTZ by Leslie Martel and Marilyn Armstrong

Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 8, 2020


FROM swo8 (Leslie Martel): Today is Mother’s Day. To commemorate this day, we have created a photographic montage of families together. It includes eight generations of my family and three of Marilyn and Garry Armstrong’s families.

The song is bittersweet because to be a mother, is indeed bittersweet. Our children bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. The couple in the video are my great-grandparents.

My great-grandmother died in childbirth, leaving 3 babies and a husband. When my great-grandfather remarried the children were sent off to their aunt to be raised.

The aunt is the lady sitting by the fireplace. The first photo of children is of my grandmother and her twin sisters. My grandmother being the oldest would have missed her mother the most. In spite of her early losses she became an extraordinary person and had a huge influence on me and my thinking.

To be a mother has got to be one of the most difficult endeavors to undertake in one’s life. We are given this helpless creature for a short period of time to nourish, educate and inspire before they disappear into the ether of adulthood.

As a tribute to mother’s everywhere we dedicate this song, “Mother’s Waltz” by swo8 Blues Jazz and Marilyn Armstrong. 


FROM Serendipity (Marilyn & Garry Armstrong): The melody of A Mother’s Waltz echoes in my mind. I feel as if it is something I remember hearing my mother sing a long time ago, but of course, it is new from swo8 Blues Jazz

The pictures of my family include my mother, me, much younger and my son as a toddler. Pictures of Garry’s family include his mother and father’s wedding, Garry’s dad back from WWII with little Garry on his knee. Garry’s mom as a young woman.

The pictures are family heirlooms that evoke strong and sometimes conflicted feelings.

Music by swo8, with pictures from Leslie Martel (swo8) and Marilyn Armstrong (from both my family and from Garry’s family).

These are memories in music for all mothers.

HOLLYWOOD FANTASIES, GARRY ARMSTRONG

I love movies. Old movies  Movies from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. I grew up watching these films. They were movies from Hollywood’s golden age when fantasy really trumped reality. These were films seen in theaters. First, second and the beloved third run or neighborhood movie houses.

old hollywood glamor shots

This was before television. The movie theater experience was as much fun as seeing the film. That’s where the fantasy began.

I saw my first movie in 1946. I was four years old. The movie was “The Best Years Of Our Lives”. My Mom and Dad took me to see the film in a big glittery theater in Manhattan. New York. The city that never sleeps. My Dad, in his Army dress uniform with ribbons and medals, had just returned from Europe. World War Two had ended less than a year earlier. I vaguely remembered the headlines. My Dad seemed ten feet tall in his uniform. My Mom was more beautiful than I could ever recall. She looked like a movie actress in one of those popular magazines of the day. I felt as if we were in a movie that evening. It was magical!

I remember some of the scenes from the movie. The returning GIs, looking down on their hometown from the air. The family reunions. The men looked like my father and yet they didn’t. I was bothered but didn’t understand. I dreamed about the movie that night. My Dad was the star. My Mom was Myrna Loy. I was the son receiving souvenirs from my Dad. I could see myself in the movie.

astair and rogers

That fantasy would replay itself many times over the following decades. It grew with the films of my youth. The westerns, especially. I adored westerns. I liked seeing the good guys always beat the bad guys. I liked the way the good guys dressed and the horses they rode. Curiously, none of the guys — good or bad — looked like anyone in my family but that didn’t matter to me. I didn’t think much about it. I was all of those good guys! Most of all, I was John Wayne. Later, I was so much John Wayne I enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school. That’s another story.

As my fantasy grew, I also discovered I was a romantic. This is a guy secret. I liked romantic movies with happy endings. I was Joseph Cotten pursuing Jennifer Jones in “Love Letters” and “Portrait of Jennie”. I was Spencer Tracy, the underdog to Clark Gable, vying for the affections of Myrna Loy and Claudette Colbert.

Somewhere, stashed away, I have an old notebook. One of those notebooks with lined pages used for compositions in grade school. I used to write imaginary castings for movies with myself as the star opposite Hollywood legends. Actually, I added some reality. I worked my way up from “and introducing Garry Armstrong” to co-star, and finally as a star. Fortunately, that notebook was never discovered in class.

Marilyn and I have been watching (again) a series, “MGM – WHEN THE LION ROARED”. It’s a fascinating look at the rise and fall of Hollywood’s most prestigious studio. As we look at the series, I fantasize again about being there in Hollywood during its golden age.

MGM_backlot

Fantasy dissolved into a dream last night. I was in 1930’s Hollywood. I was at MGM. I saw the legends. Gable, Tracy, Garbo, Crawford and all the others. The dream unfolded rather skillfully. I was a freelance writer working under a pseudonym in separate quarters. This is how I, a man of color, could exist in that world. It was perfectly splendid. My work was excellent. Others took credit but all knew who I was, especially Louis B. Mayer. I never asked for a raise. My scripts all had the MGM touch.

In real life, I’ve had the chance to meet many of those legends who’ve been part of my dreams. As a TV news reporter, I’ve actually had the opportunity to socialize with some of them. You’ve read about some of them in other posts. It’s funny when reality meets your dreams and fantasies.

I’ve done some extra or background acting. It was interesting but the hours are long, like those I logged for almost 40 years on television. I don’t like getting up early anymore. I haven’t quite closed the door, mind you. I hang onto the fantasy I’ll get “the call” for a lead role in a major movie.

And, the Oscar goes to …

BELL BOTTOMS BLUES – Marilyn Armstrong

I miss the blue jeans. The big wide bell bottoms denim jeans were the most flattering pants I ever wore. They made my legs look longer and my hips narrower. Of course, I was also 50 years younger, so that may have had something to do with it too … but still, I miss them.

From the year my son was born — 1969 — and for the next few years, fashion and I were in tune. It was probably the only time in my life when what was in fashion looked good on me and was also comfortable. I had not yet discovered the joy of elastic.

It was the happiest and hippiest of times …

I was young, in my early twenties. I wore bell bottoms. My favorite pair were patchwork jeans. By the end of a day wearing them, I looked as if I had been sitting on a waffle iron. I loved them anyway.

My shirts had fringes. Everything had fringes. I think my draperies had fringes too.

96-BabyOandMe-HP

I wore granny glasses with rose-tinted lenses. I had my hair cut in a shag. I carried my baby in a sling on my hip, had a Leica on my shoulder and a song in my heart. That was a great time.

They are making them again now, but they aren’t cut the same way and aren’t flattering. And anyway, these days if it doesn’t stretch, I probably won’t wear them. I miss having a body and clothing. I really miss the Leica. Mostly, I want those old bell bottoms back!

WE WERE NEVER A CURRIER AND IVES COUPLE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

The title comes from an episode of “The West Wing” which we are binging again in this early spring of discontent and dismay.  The series is even better this time around, a great mental prescription from the Coronavirus while our world seeks a political hangover cure.

Many of us, struggling with the present, have tinted memories of the past, recent and distant.  There’s the yearning for the good old days when our lives were more stable and strife seem relegated to small countries on the other side of the world. We were younger, more innocent and more naive.

The Currier and Ives (or Norman Rockwell) images dominate our collective memories.  It’s a return to Main Street, white picket fences in Pleasantville that never really existed except in TV Land. You can almost smell those Sunday dinners with the family gathered around the table, roast turkey, mashed potatoes, hot buns and the smell of apple pie baking in the oven.

The memories seem so real you can almost touch them.  We yearn for them right now in this time of plague and uncertainty. We ache for those days when we could believe in our political leaders and when sports was an unchallenged relief from the headaches of yesteryear and yesterday.  When Mom and Dad could calm our fears and we weren’t responsible for our lives. The way we were.  Or were we?

We don’t remember Mom and Dad quietly wrestling with problems we didn’t understand because we were kids. We usually were told that there were no worries.  “You’ll understand when you grow up,” we were told.

We took those reassurances to bed, sure that everything would be okay in the morning.  Our tomorrows usually erased our youthful, short-term angst.

Many of us are now in the autumn of our years.  Mom and Dad are gone and we are left to make sense of today’s madness for our children and grandchildren. It’s difficult to explain, to find answers for all that’s gone wrong.  How do you make sense of a world turned upside down before your eyes?  We’re not living Currier and Ives lives and really, never were. We’re left wondering if those romanticized images of our youth have any truth.

Maybe it’s easier to believe that those were the good, old days rather than trying to stomach reality.  It’s like clinging to the images of old films with Hollywood endings. We’re desperate for heroes, good news, and happy endings for these long dark nights that drag into the morning. We’re not Currier and Ives but it’s nice to recall times when life seemed easier. When we could laugh freely and look forward to tomorrow.

I can see Wolf Blitzer and friends laughing in the Situation Room — with NO breaking news.

Here’s something to think about: give yourself a break. If there’s nothing you can do, do nothing and enjoy it. Everything is in motion, everything is changing. Relax now. Who knows what will be coming down the road in another week?

A BOX FROM THE HALL OF RECORDS – Marilyn Armstrong

One morning, I woke up to find a beautifully wrapped package next to my bed. Attached to it was a note: “Open me, if you dare.”

What’s inside the box? Should I open it?

When I looked closely, under the wrapping paper and ribbons, I could see who sent it or at least, from where it originated.

“Hall of Records,” says the label.

I’ve been searching for this package since many years ago I had a dream in which I am climbing an endless ladder in a tall building until finally, I get to a steel door. Which is locked. On the door is a sign that says “Hall of Records.”

In all these years, I’ve never been able to go into that room. I’ve never been able to see the information in the room. Now, here is the box and it’s right next to my bed. Does it contain all the records? The lost memories? The suppressed memories? The experiences that are too painful to remember? All the buried stuff … and maybe it’s in that box.

I look at the box, pick it up and give it a good shake. It’s heavy and solidly packed. No rattling, nothing loose inside. It must be crammed to its limits.

I’ve made my decision.

I carry it to the attic, pull down the creaky old stairs. Up to the attic I haul that heavy box, grunting with the strain of it. I have lived this long without knowing all the details of the worst days of my life. I think I can slide through the remaining years equally — and happily — in ignorance.

I AM THE APPLE – Marilyn Armstrong

It occurred to me I needed to see my spine specialist. When you deal with chronic pain, you learn to ignore it most of the time. Unless you want to wind up addicted to pain killers, it’s your only option. It’s a practical decision. Do I want to keep participating in life? Then I have to deal with what I have to deal with. That’s the way it goes.

Mom-May1944

Long-time ago, I was doing my mother’s hair. I liked fixing her hair. Hers was easy to style. Thick, silver and just a bit wavy. I asked her to turn her head to the right, and she did. When I asked her to turn her head the other way, she said: “I can’t.”

“You can’t? Why not?”

“Because my head won’t turn that way.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“My neck is stiff.”

“Um, mom? How long has it been like this?”

She thought for a while. “Fifteen years? Something like that.”

That stopped me. Fifteen years? “Have you seen anyone about it?”

“No,” she said. “I figured I was just getting old.”

At the time, I thought her statement was bizarre. It turned out she had treatable but advanced tendonitis and it got better. She hated doctors and hospitals.

Time marched on. I’m much older now than my mother was then. I fully understand her response. When I called the doctor for an appointment, I discovered the last time I’d seen him was more than six years ago.

To be fair, I’ve had a few medical crises since then and I got distracted. Besides, I know what’s wrong with my back. It isn’t going to kill me. I’ve lived with it most of my life. I’m used to it and do my best to ignore it.

Right to left: Aunt Pearl, my Mother (Dorothy), Aunt Ehtel (Uncle Herman’s wife), and Aunt Kate.

Recently, though I’m having trouble walking, even on flat surfaces and going up and downstairs is especially difficult. It crossed my mind there might be something he could do — some medical magic — to improve me without major surgery. I already know surgery isn’t an option.

My doctor is wonderful. The best. The only doctor who can look at my spine, not gasp with horror and immediately decide I need to be rebuilt with screws, pins, and bolts. He’s a minimalist, medically speaking. I appreciate that.

I made an appointment and got lucky because there was a cancellation. It usually takes five or six months to get to see him, but I only had to wait a few weeks. He’s the king of spines in Boston, maybe in the country. I would have willingly waited six months if I had to. Of course, as soon as I made the appointment, I had to make another appointment because I need new films for my spine. I also haven’t had a CT scan (I can’t have an MRI because of the magnetic pacemaker in my chest) in six years and he isn’t can’t see much without fresh films.

I wondered how come I hadn’t processed the fact I can’t walk normally? I suppose I wasn’t paying attention. I was busy ignoring pain.

I was being my mother.

She taught me to be a soldier. She didn’t use Novocaine when she got her teeth worked on. I asked her why. She said, “Pain is good for your character.”

Tree Silhouette in B & W

She meant it. I grew up believing that giving in to pain was a weakness. To a degree, it serves me well, but sometimes it can be dangerous. If you ignore the wrong stuff, it can kill you. One needs to find balance, but that’s not easy.

Watching a documentary on Ethel Kennedy reminded me of my mother, except without the millions of dollars.

Mom was an athlete and I know she was baffled at how she wound up with such a klutzy daughter. She played tennis. She rode horses, played ice hockey. She went bob sledding. She painted, sculpted, designed and made her own clothing. She also never got past seventh grade, so she made up for it by reading everything. She had a truly voracious appetite for life and knowledge.

After a radical mastectomy, she couldn’t play tennis anymore, so she played a ferocious game of ping-pong. She played savagely. She served so hard it was more like a bullet than a ping-pong ball.

As a family, we vacationed in dinky little resorts in the Catskills where there was no entertainment. The one thing they always had was a ping-pong table. So I played against my mother.

She didn’t believe in any of that “let the kid win” stuff. She was a competitor. You won or lost. Trying hard was irrelevant because she expected nothing less. She slaughtered me.

As I got older, I played better but she still always beat me. She told me she was giving me an advantage by playing with her left hand. I knew she wrote with her right hand, so I assumed she was a rightie. Until the day my aunt told me she had always played tennis with her left hand. My mother was psyching me out. Her own daughter.

I never beat her, but I beat everyone else.

She passed me her determination to never give up, to do everything I could as well as I could. Later in life, I realized I didn’t always have to be the best. Playing a game for fun is worth something too. Another lesson learned a bit late.

The older I get, the more I remind me of my mother.

So I went to my doctor and he told me there was nothing he could do. I needed to see a pain specialist. No fix. Progressive. Irreversible. I sighed and accepted it. I hoped there was something he could do. Nope.

We all miss stuff. Some of it intentionally, more accidentally. Sometimes, I miss something important because I’m busy ignoring something else.

I am an apple. Mom was my tree. I fell, but not very far.

DAD WAS *MORE* THAN A CONTENDER – Garry Armstrong

A friend emailed me info about a popular boxer who just improved on his very impressive record. I had to admit knowing nothing about the prizefighter. I’m a self-proclaimed baseball maven but know nothing about professional boxing these days.   I’m not a fan.

I don’t get my jollies watching two people bashing out each other’s brains. This is no ethical line in the sand.  I enjoy football but never have fantasized about tossing a final second ‘hail mary’ pass to win the Superbowl for the home town team. I flinch when I see the guys grinding each other into the dirt just to pick up a few yards.


My Dad wouldn’t agree with me. He was the boxing maven in our family. We used to watch the old Friday Night Gillette boxing matches. It was our one Father-Son bonding event.

We used to watch the likes of Kid Gavilan, Chico Vejar, Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong (no relation), Rocky Graziano,  Rocky Marciano, Jake LaMotta, Floyd Patterson, Jersey Joe Walcott,  Ezzard Charles, Ingmar Johansson, and the young Cassius Clay – Muhammad Ali.

Joe Louis was Dad’s hero.  Unfortunately, I only remember seeing Louis in the declining years of his memorable career.  Dad used to describe listening to his fights on the radio when “The Brown Bomber” was in his prime.

My father is on the left and Marvin Hagler is on the right.

I remember seeing Louis’ pictures in the homes of many Black families.  He was more than a boxer, more than the heavyweight champion of the world. He was a folk hero and legend to people of color.  Louis was a sport and cultural icon before Jackie Robinson. My Dad could recite, chapter and verse, round by round, of many of Joe Louis’ fights.

As a young boy, I looked at pictures of my Dad in his boxing prime.  I was always awed. Dad was  6-feet plus a few inches. A tall, matinee-idol handsome man. This isn’t fog of memory sentiment.  My Dad never lost those strikingly good looks – even in the autumn of his years.  My girlfriends visited, they would stare at my father with jaw-dropping admiration, then glance at me with a, “What happened to YOU?”  look. It always deflated my ego.

When we had visitors, it was like living with Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, or Denzel Washington as my Dad.  All three of the Armstrong boys addressed our parents as “Mommy and Daddy” even when we were adults, well into our professional lives.  It may seem bit old-fashioned now but it felt normal for the 50-year-old Garry Armstrong, noted TV News Reporter to talk about his “Mommy and Daddy”.  My friends always smiled with appreciation,  maybe a little envy.

I am drifting here.  Typical Garry.  William Armstrong, Sr, the pride of Antigua and World War 2. Decorated Army Veteran  ( The EAME Service Medal, The WWII Victory Medal and the American Service Medal),  did a lot of amateur boxing during the war where he saw lots of active duty and action, including the Battle of the Bulge, Normandy, Vineland, and Central Europe.

I don’t recall Dad’s boxing record.  He said it was recreational.   An avocation. Something to do between combat.  I suspect it was Dad’s way of getting respect during a period when our Armed Services were still segregated.  When asked, he begrudgingly said boxing was relaxing for him and his opponents were usually friends or Army peers.  As I write,  I don’t remember if Dad ever fought a White opponent.  I never thought to ask that question as a kid.

Dad taught his 3 sons some basics about self-defense but never made it a big deal. He never tried to force boxing on us.  I’m not sure he shared our passion for baseball.

Dad showed rare outward passion when “nice guy” Floyd Patterson suffered boxing defeats.  He always thought Patterson should’ve been a little tougher but the one-time heavyweight champ had a very sensitive outward demeanor that rankled some old school boxing fans.

Rocky Marciano’s undefeated career record was always appreciated by my Dad.  I wanted to say my Dad commented “Good stuff for a White Guy” but, no, my Father wasn’t given to such acerbic comments.  Leave it to his oldest son with a slightly bent sense of humor.

During my Boston TV News career, I met Marvin Hagler, the pride of Brockton, Ma. and a champion pugilist. We struck up a friendship beyond reporter-prizefighter when I talked about my Dad and his love of boxing.

I managed to score a painting that showed Mavin Hagler and “Bill” Armstrong, head to head, in a boxing match.  An artist friend did the painting and Hagler was kind enough to add a personal sentiment to ” a fellow boxer” for my Dad.  It was an emotional TKO for me.

When I presented the painting to my Dad, he gave me the biggest smile he’d ever shown me in my life. I felt a deep tug in my heart and barely held back the tears. My Father really LIKED the gift.  It’s hard for me to explain how important that was for me.

Me and my father at our wedding.

Years later, after my parents had passed and we were on the verge of putting the family house up for sale,  my two brothers and I were deciding who would get what. It surprised me when they said I should get most of Dad’s boxing stuff.  I didn’t expect it because my two brothers were closer to Mommy and Daddy in their final years while I was busy with my career in Boston.  I didn’t forget them but my visits were fewer.  Yes, I felt a little guilty because I was so focused on my job.

When I started going through Dad’s stuff, a flood of memories came back. All those Friday evenings watching boxing matches.  Dad’s expert take on the state of professional boxing (he didn’t like where it was going).  Dad’s own recollections when he sifted through his equipment.  The gloves, the shoes, the pictures.  I could see my Father reaching into his own past when he was the boxer, master of his own moments in the ring, and maybe a magic moment in Madison Square Garden — standing beside his boxing heroes.

Top of the World,  Dad!   You made it!

ROCK AND ROLL NEVER FORGETS – Rich Paschall

But Sometimes We Do, Rich Paschall

You may have run into someone at the mall or in the supermarket who looked a bit familiar, but you were sure you did not know him. Then he comes up to you and starts talking as if you are old friends. If you are lucky he will say his name or give away a clue to help you place him. Of course, you do not want to admit you do not know the guy’s name, but sometimes you just have to fess up. If it does not seem important to you, the conversation may end without you know who you just talked to.

It can be particularly embarassing if it is someone you recently worked with. I seem to put a lot of people’s names out of my brain as soon as a leave a job. The problem with that is you keep running into the same industry people at industry events and other jobs. Sometimes you just can’t seem to leave a job behind.

It’s not just former colleague names that can be a problem. You can forget  family names too. After all, how can you be expected to remember cousin Harvey or Harry or Hargrove or whoever, if you only see him at one holiday party a year? Sometimes it is better to forget old Harris or Harper anyway. If you are lucky, Harlin or Harlow doesn’t remember you either. Maybe it’s Harpo.

Foggy?

Anyway, we all seem to suffer from the case of walking into a room and then forgeting why we went in there. If it is the kitchen, I may just grab some food. If it is the front room, I may just decide to turn on the TV. If I have gone to the basement, I usually get distracted by the cat, so I can blame any forgetfullness on him. If I go to the bathroom… well, I usually remember why I am there.

Unlike many people who fear their memories are fading with age, I just think I have too much on my mind and I let it wander. I don’t give into the notion that I am “losing it.” I know plenty of young people who forget names or why then went into a room.  OK, I know a few.

Some of us can’t remember what we had for lunch 30 minutes ago, but can remember all the words to a song from 30 or 40 years ago. I have seen people do karaoke from memory, and not by looking a the small monitor with the lyrics. It is in this spirit we bring good news.

In case you have forgotten some of the best rock and roll songs, we are here to prompt your memory. This weekend we will have the top 10 Rock and Roll songs. That’s right! The best Rock and Roll songs. What do you think they are? No need to worry your grey matter over this. We are on the case.

I have been searching for weeks to bring you this list, Righteous Brothers! We will work The Kinks out of your brains and restore you to The Human League. No need to go down to the Beach, Boys, because the memories will wash over you. We will bring the Top 10 and you can Kiss a few bonus plays too. The work was a Risky Business, but we managed to dodge the Silver Bullet. Set your channel to SERENDIPITY Sunday.

DOWNSIZING YOUR LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

One of my friends, Rachel, is trying to get her 94-year-old mother, Blanche, to clean out the house she’s lived in for 45 years. She’ll be moving from a big house in Long Island, NY to a small apartment in an independent living facility in Portland, OR. That’s where Rachel, Rachel’s two daughters, and Rachel’s brand-new granddaughter live.

Blanche is a ‘collector’ to put it charitably. She doesn’t like to part with anything. She has literally hundreds of paintings, many by her late husband, on the walls and floors of every room as well as in storage in her large basement. She has almost as many photos and photomontages and old holiday cards crowded onto every wall and piled on every flat surface in the house. Then there are the piles of books and papers literally everywhere. Rachel found a file cabinet with tax returns from the 1960s.

An example of a cluttered room

The problem is that everything is precious to Blanche. She feels that the house and its contents represent her life and she has trouble getting rid of anything. To me, she seems overly attached to the physical objects, which only represent the memories of the past. I’m not sure how the move will go because Blanche has not yet accepted that her smaller accommodations will not hold everything she insists she needs.

Another example of ‘stuff’ on every surface

This got me thinking about what I would do if I had to downsize dramatically. What would be important to me to keep with me? A good portion of my memories are in my photo albums. These start with my grandparents and go through my mom’s life, my early years, and my life with my kids. But the albums stop in 2002 when I married Tom. My kids were 22 and 17. My phone has most of the recent photos and I have boxes of photos that have not yet been put into albums. I can be happy with my mish-mash of photographic memories.

Some of my photo albums

I’m also lucky in that I have written a lot of biographical material over the years and I’ve collected my writings into binders. For 40 years I’ve written humorous, rhyming poems commemorating birthdays, anniversaries and father’s and mother’s days. My early poems were ostensibly ‘from’ my young son, David, so they documented his early years and his relationships with his family and loved ones. Then I started doing poems about the birthday person and I branched out into major events like Bar Mitzvah’s and weddings.

But my major biographical opus is my collection of blogs for Serendipity that tell my family history starting with my grandparents’ early years. I documented stories from my parents’ lives, my childhood, and my kids’ childhoods into the present day. I also wrote blogs about relationships that shaped our lives and I arranged the blogs in a sort of chronological order. I ended up with a 370-page document that I am very proud of. I have given copies to both of my children so they will always have their family stories close at hand.

Because I have so many of my cherished memories saved in photographic or written form, I think that I could pack my ‘life’ into just a few boxes. I’m not really attached to my furniture – except for a beautiful, custom made kitchen table embedded with sea glass and a matching sea glass mobile. I do love some of my chatchkis, particularly my glass and paperweight collections and a few things from my mom and grandmother. But I could live with just a few of them, decoratively placed around my living space.

So I don’t think I’ll drive my kids crazy if I ever have to leave my home and move to a smaller place. I’ve already condensed my past into manageable form.

However, my jewelry is another story!

CATSKILL COMEDIANS IN THOSE GOOD OLD DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

Maybe you remember the old Jewish Catskill comics. Some of them went back to the old days of Vaudeville. Others are more recent. A fair number are alive and well, and a surprisingly large number are still working. Except, the center of the action today is Las Vegas.

Maybe the Catskills will rise again. Probably not. It has gotten too built up. Meanwhile, ghost hotels are still there. Empty, but packed with memories.

Red Buttons, Totie Fields, Joey Bishop,  Milton Berle, Jan Murray, Danny Kaye, Henny Youngman,  Buddy Hackett, Sid Caesar, Groucho Marx, Jackie Mason, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, George Burns, Allan Sherman, Jerry Lewis (mostly at Brown’s Hotel),  Carl Reiner, Shelley Berman, Gene Wilder, George Jessel, Alan King, Mel Brooks, Phil Silvers, Jack Carter, Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Mel Brooks, Mansel Rubenstein and so many others … they were all there.

Grossinger’s in the early 1970s, the end of the good old days

There was not a single swear word in the ” family” routines, but on the road, these guys were (are) as blue as any other comics. Also, when the punchline was in Yiddish, you knew it was too blue for English.

I always tried to get my mother to translate for me, but she said the lines were “earthy” in Yiddish, but disgusting in English. So mostly, I never heard the punchline.


 For your enjoyment, a few oldies but goodies:

I just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport.

I’ve been in love with the same woman for 49 years! If my wife ever finds out, she’ll kill me!

What are three words a woman never wants to hear when she’s making love? “Honey, I’m home!”

Someone stole all my credit cards but I won’t be reporting it. The thief spends less than my wife did.

We always hold hands. If I let go, she shops.

My wife and I went back to the hotel where we spent our wedding night; only this time, I stayed in the bathroom and cried.

My wife and I went to a hotel where we got a water-bed. My wife called it the Dead Sea .

She was at the beauty shop for two hours. That was only for the estimate. She got a mudpack and looked great for two days. Then the mud fell off.

The Doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn’t pay his bill so the doctor gave him another six months.

The Doctor called Mrs. Cohen saying, “Mrs. Cohen, your check came back. ”  Mrs. Cohen answered, “So did my arthritis!”

Doctor: “You’ll live to be 60!” Patient: “I am 60!” Doctor: “See! What did I tell you?”

Patient: “I have a ringing in my ears.”
Doctor: “Don’t answer!”

A drunk was in front of a judge. The judge says, “You’ve been brought here for drinking.”
The drunk says “Okay, let’s get started.”

The Harvard School of Medicine did a study of why Jewish women like Chinese food so much. The study revealed that this is because Won Ton spelled backward is Not Now.

There is a big controversy on the Jewish view of when life begins. In Jewish tradition, the fetus is not considered viable until it graduates from medical school.

Q: Why don’t Jewish mothers drink? A: Alcohol interferes with their suffering.

A man called his mother in Florida, “Mom, how are you?”
“Not too good,” said the mother. “I’ve been very weak.”
The son said, “Why are you so weak?”
She said, “Because I haven’t eaten in 38 days.”
The son said, “That’s terrible. Why haven’t you eaten in 38 days?”
The mother answered, “Because I didn’t want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call.”

A Jewish boy comes home from school and tells his mother he has a part in the play. She asks, “What part is it?”
The boy says, “I play the part of the Jewish husband.”
The mother scowls and says, “Go back and tell the teacher you want a speaking part.”

Question: How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: (Sigh) “Don’t bother. I’ll sit in the dark. I don’t want to be a nuisance to anybody.”

A short summary of every Jewish holiday — They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.

Did you hear about the bum who walked up to a Jewish mother on the street and said, “Lady, I haven’t eaten in three days.”  “Force yourself,” she replied.

Q: What’s the difference between a Rottweiler and a Jewish mother?
A: Eventually, the Rottweiler lets go.

Grossinger’s – 2008

HEY BABY, THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG – Rich Paschall

Which Ones Hold Your Memories? by Rich Paschall

A lot of people have a song or two that are special to them.  It might be their prom theme song or other high school or college dance song.  It might be their first dance from their wedding.  It just might be the song that was playing when they met, or when they first realized they were in love.

The special song could be one remembered from a rock concert or play.  It maybe the one that was on the radio when you were off on a road trip.  You know the one!  Everyone sang along at the top of their voices.  When you meet now and hear that song, everyone sings it again, just like 20, 30, or even 40 years ago.

Here is my top ten list. They all hold special memories, but if I was to write this tomorrow, the order might change completely. Except number one would stay the same. That’s for sure. First I have some honorable mentions from recent years.

David Archuleta, Postcards in the Sky tour

I have seen Maroon 5 in concert a number of times in recent years, and I really like Sunday Morning for a memory it evokes.  I also love David Archuleta’s Touch My Hand for the thoughts it gives of being on stage but singing to just one person.  Hunter Hayes touches a chord with the recent Invisible.  I mentioned it previously here.  I will also add One Republic’s Apologize, as in “it’s too late to apologize.”

Hunter Hayes, Live at Sears Centre, Illinois

10.  Ferry Cross the Mersey, Gerry and the Pacemakers. This 1965 hit seemed to play constantly on a road trip to Galena, Illinois.  You had to love top 40 radio in those days. A video of a 1965 performance that was posted in 2008 has over 7 million views.

9.  Sister Golden Hair, America. This 1975 number one hit was a favorite of Chicago radio personality Larry Lujack. I heard it often on my America’s Greatest Hits cassette tape.

8.  Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? Chicago.  Recorded for the band’s first album, Chicago Transit Authority, 1969, it was released as a single the following year.

Chicago in Chicago

7.  Save The Last Dance For Me, The Drifters. The 1960 hit came back around a number of times and by several artists.  I particularly recall its use in the final episode of Season One of Queer As Folk.

6.  Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys. I guess I could have picked several Beach Boys Songs for this spot, especially Heroes and Villains.  They recall a particular era for me. Remarkably, Brian Wilson and his band are still out performing it.

5.  Color My World, Chicago. Again off the “CTA” album.  It was a popular theme for dances, proms, weddings.  The late Terry Kath did lead vocals on the hit song.  These days original member and trumpet player Lee Loughnane sings it.  Below it is founding member Robert Lamm on vocals:

4.  Horse With No Name, America. It is a favorite of my closest friend and it became our road trip song.  This 1972 hit was written and sung by band member Dewey Bunnell.

3.  That’s Life, Frank Sinatra, 1966. A friend who ran karaoke often asked me to sing it.  If she had no one to start off her show, she would just announce that I would be starting and play this, even if I was not going to sing anything.  I ended up singing it a lot:

2.  Cherish, The Association. A friend asked me to write a lyric for his sister’s wedding song.  Someone else asked me after the wedding how I thought to rhyme cherish with perish (as in, “their love will never perish”).  Listen and discover:

1. Beginnings, Chicago. I saw them in concert at DePaul University when the first album was hot and the hits were being released one after another.  This was the theme of many dances and certainly many weddings and proms.  I can not adequately explain the memories that go with this song.  From my seat on Chicago’s lakefront:

Add your favorites in the comments below.  Maybe we will sing along with you.

To see any of the music videoes for the songs above, just click on the song title.