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.

DO YOU REMEMBER? – Rich Paschall

Memories Of Our Youth, by Rich Paschall

If you are over 21 what do you remember from your youth that is no longer around today? If you are under 21, I am guessing you can remember your childhood well and most things are still around. If something has already disappeared, by all means comment below.

For some of us, the early days are in the distant past.  You know, as in history. While some things may stay fresh in our memories, for other things we have to look at old pictures, or Google 1950s or 60s to look up things on the internet. This is to jog our memories of toys, stores, and technology that have gone away.   I will try to stick to memory. If I start looking things up, I could probably fill multiple articles here.

Toy soldiers

Toys have certainly changed. I remember a toy box, a big wooden container, that held many toys. I can not recall when that went away, probably on one of our many moves.  We had toys made out of wood as well as a stuffed animal or two (or three). I remember small plastic toy soldiers. They were green and very durable. Toy soldiers were popular then.

Outside we would get down in the dirt and play. I do mean dirt, not on the grass. Trucks and tractors were fun. My friend next door had a farm set and we could create a farm, as if we had any idea what they were like. Marbles were fun too, but I didn’t like games were we would bet. I did not want to lose any “cat’s eyes” or “boulders.”

We had skates that attached to our shoes. Oddly enough you could not use gym shoes or just any old shoes. You had to have shoes with soles on them so the clamps would go over the edges. It was great fun to go to the roller rink where they had shoe skates. When we were older we were able to get our own skates. I think I was in seventh grade when I got mine and I went skating often. There are few roller rinks left in the metro Chicago area and none nearby.

Inside we could enjoy television on our giant 19 inch black and white television. Sometimes the picture did not come in too clearly, especially channel 2 (CBS) and we would have to play with the antenna until we got a better picture. I was the remote control. I would have to get up and go to the televisions to “fix” the antenna, turn the volume up or down and change the channel. There were only 5 channels when I was very young, so there was not a lot of channel hopping.

Silver Dollar Survey

Transistor radios were important when we became teenagers. They were about the size of a cell phone, but a lot thicker. They would run on 9 volt batteries, not some thin rechargeable lithium ion thing. We were cool when we could carry around something that played music. This was our idea of “cutting the cord.” Chicago had two radion stations blasting our rock and roll off their 50,000 watts of power.  AM rock and roll stations have gone away.

Before the days of VHS recorders and digital cameras, I had a Super 8 camera. It was alledgedly a step up from the standard 8 millimeter cameras and film. The film was in a cartridge and did not have to be threaded in the camera. I wish I still had mine as I think it would earn some good money on ebay. Despite what some film buffs may tell you, 8 and super 8 are not coming back.

Have you seen the video of young people trying to figure out how to use a rotary phone? I am not sure it isn’t a put on, but then again when would people under 21 have seen one? In a movie?  Would land lines even accept the pulses generated by such a phone? I do have an older push button phone I bought at Sears many decades ago. It’s plugged into my Magic Jack so it works a lot like a landline. There no reason to have an actual landline anymore, is there?

My first computer was a Commodore 64. It was a step up from the Vic-20 which somehow operated on tape. The C64 used the large floppy discs and had a whopping 64 KB (kilobytes) of RAM (random access memory) and 20 KB of ROM. Yes, it was not very powerful, and if you wanted it to do more than play simple games, you had to write the code yourself. It was not practical, but owning your own computer was a novelty and I suppose they were relatively inexpensive.

Commodore 64 – the most popular computer ever produced. More than 30 million of them sold. Yes, I had one of these, too.

At home there were no CDs or tapes for our music. We had 45 and 33 1/3 RPM records. The 45 typically had one song per side, while 33 1/3 were albums with about half of the songs on each side. The numbers represented the speed, or “revolutions per minute,” the record was to be played. A good turntable and quality speakers were a must as we got older. People will still tell you today that vinyl records on a good system represents the best sound for music. Now the problem is you need many cabinets full of heavy records to store the same amount of music you can keep on your phone.

record player

Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel

One important thing missing from modern society is the phone booth. Yes, there were little booths on the street with pay telephones. In an era before cell phones, these were very handy for urgent calls. As they started to disappear we became concerned for Superman. You may not know this, but before the 21st Century, the phone booth was a necessary commodity for saving the world. You see, Clark Kent would go into a phone booth and take off his clothes and his Superman outfit was underneath. Seriously!

No, I don’t know what happened to the nice suit he left in the phone booth. Maybe some homeless man got it. And yes, I do think it must have been uncomfortable to have that cape under his shirt. Since the common phone booth was glass on all sides, I am surprised that no one ever noticed in Metropolis a man in a phone booth taking off his suit. I do know that Clark Kent was remarkably good at doing this in a very confined space. What does he do now, I wonder?

WALLOWING IN THE PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

An endless recitation of woes are giving me migraines. It’s not that I lack sympathy. More like I’m emotionally exhausted. So many people are stuck in a pit of youthful misery. Bad childhoods, terrifying ex-marriages or other horrible relationships. Or worse, they want to write. They need to write, but they can’t. The words won’t come.

So don’t write. It’s not as if you are legally obligated to be a writer. If it isn’t working out, give it up. Do something else. Anything else.

Don’t they want to move on?

Apparently not. The quagmire of despair has become a comfortable, homey place. So they set up a desk, computer, and light and there they stay. Some of these bloggers continue exploring the depths of their suffering for hundreds — thousands? — of posts. Many are closing in on Social Security yet are still suffering from childhood trauma. So much for time casting a rosy haze over the past. Even if you haven’t solved your problems, it doesn’t mean you can’t just let them go. There will be new tragedies down the road and plenty more misery to come. I can pretty much guarantee it.

There ought to be an official cutoff date at which point you are required to close the book on whatever dreadful experience life dealt you during your wretched childhood and ghastly former relationships. Or at least after the passage of one full lifetime, you should be required to find some other subject about which to write.

we are not our mistakes

Sometimes I think it’s because they’ve found an audience for their posts about suffering and it’s their fallback position. Can they really be enmeshed in the same memories after thirty or forty years have passed?

I know lots of people who were abused as children. Hell, I wrote a book about it and because of that, I had total strangers telling me their stories. I suppose I deserved it. If you write a book on the subject and people read it, you can’t blame them for thinking you might be interested.

Now, let’s add in all those who had abusive relationships as adults. Isn’t that everyone? Who hasn’t had a terrible relationship or three? I plead guilty on all charges, your honor.

It was my first husband (before you ask, he died) who strongly suggested I might want to move in a different direction.  Of course, this was before my second marriage, the one in which I managed to step in front of the same bullet I’d previously dodged.


NOTE TO SELF: No one is ever too old to behave like a moron.

You have to want to move on.

It takes time and work, but I’m glad I (finally) did it. There have been plenty of new traumas to cope with. I doubt I’d have survived if I hadn’t cleared the decks. I’m overloaded. I cannot read another angst-laden tale of abuse and trauma. I’m know how awful it can be. Been there. I support all efforts to free oneself from the lingering effects of the past — but I’ve got a few problems and plenty of personal angst. If I can, I’d rather make you laugh than cry.

Cardinal, well-fed!

For all of us, it’s time to stop defining ourselves as the worst things that happened to us. We are not what others did to us. We aren’t our mistakes. As much as we have suffered, surely we’ve also found at least a little bit of fun, joy, friends, and love.

Misery is like a piano falling on your head; happiness just creeps up on you. The result? Long after the people who hurt us have disappeared from our lives, they are still beating us up and the only one getting hurt is us.

Got any good jokes?

DRIFTING ALONG WITH THE TUMBLING TUMBLEWEED – Marilyn Armstrong

I am retired which is, by definition, adrift. This is a good thing and the real reason we retire. After a life of deadlines and commuting, some drifting seems like a good idea. So here I am. Just drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweed … with memories of those great cowboy movies of childhood.

Hi Roy! Hi Trigger! Hey, Bullet! Hope y’all are doing well. I miss you. All of you. You were the good guys. We trusted you. Where are you now, when we need you?

Meanwhile, I’ll just be drifting. Considering one thing and another, I might also be asleep.

YESTERDAY WHEN MY WORLD WAS YOUNG – Garry Armstrong

No, I didn’t pick the wrong day to give up sniffing glue!

If you write, professionally or just for fun, you’ll probably understand.  I’m trying to set down the words that have been conga dancing in my brain as I just showered and shaved. I probably shouldn’t have shaved because my fingers kept poking my brain in rhythmic harmony.

It’s the end of a truly bad week for Marilyn and me. We’re sharing a bug that includes migraine headaches, queasy stomachs and bodies lurching from one room to another.

Our Vineyard house

It’s the capper to a week where Marilyn has been battling the insurance company to pay for repairs to our house battered by the spate of recent storms and very vulnerable to the next storm on the horizon.  You’ll be shocked to hear that the Insurance Company is stonewalling us, oblivious to damage documented by one of their investigators and tone-deaf to our meager social security and pensions that cannot pay for the repairs.

As we assess the latest debate by the Democratic Presidential wannabees and aren’t as excited about a viable candidate to oppose the guy now squatting in the White House, we are staring at each other, two seventy-something wunderkinds, wondering how quickly we slid from the top of our game to “seniors.”

What happened to the world of youth, energy, and expectations?

Back deck Vineyard house. Did a lot of drinking back there. Eating. And reading. It used to have a huge rope hammock.

My bathroom conga line of memories, with bongoes banging on my brains, was back in the ’70s and ’80s. I was living in Boston, in my prime as a TV reporter with earnings that promised to rise with no end in sight. Life was a  pulsating 24-hour trip that kept recycling.

Work and play blended seamlessly. Everyone was young with boundless energy. I slept little, worked hard, and played harder. I paid little attention to health or finances. My pockets were always full.

I had a tendency to forget life wasn’t like that for most other people.

Those days of wine and roses were most obvious during my Martha’s Vineyard summers. There were more than 20 magical summers with other media friends who shared a house. We had the kind of life you thought only existed in F. Scott Fitzgerald novels.

The wine never stopped flowing. My box of unpaid credit card bills, growing in volume, sat ignored as I plied myself with more of that feel-good liquid.

Best of all, the summer Sundays. I was usually up with the roosters. A tall bloody Mary and the Sunday papers to peruse slowly. The sports section came first. Baseball box scores studied with the scrutiny of a lifetime fan whose life revolved around the fate of the Boston Red Sox.

Looking down on the Sound

The Bloody Mary intake accelerated as I looked at the stats of Yaz, Rice, Lynn, Pudge, Dewey, and the other Fenway bats.  I would always need to strengthen the drinks to pace myself — absorbing the gaudy numbers of the sons of Teddy Ballgame.

The numbers were always robust during the New England summers when home runs battered the old cathedral of baseball. The bloody Marys now had me dreaming that this would be the year the Sox would finally defeat those damn Yankees.

I gave little attention to the Sox pitching which was wise. Even with the alcoholic bliss. I thought that fall we’d hold the lead and not succumb to the chill of autumn and the Yankees’ superior pitching. I always ignored the suggestion of friends to eat a little something to balance out the alcohol which had been replaced by Cape Codders. Then, as sunset crept across the Vineyard, moving on to a sturdy rum with just a dash of coke.

All was blissful as someone started the barbecue in the backyard which faced Nantucket Sound.

We rarely talked about work. Our TV jobs were in another world where the less fortunate continued to toil while we played. As twilight faded into warm evenings, we would sit on the back porch, staring at Nantucket Sound. There was a mutual agreement: “We were living the dream.”

Vineyard art

I gave little thought to my future. Life was now. In the moment. If you worked in TV news, there was always a collective fear someone would call, demanding we leave our reverie and cover some breaking news – murder, fire, weather, or another politician’s dirty laundry uncovered.

We often ignored the phone. That was the world before computers and cell phones made it impossible to hide. Now and then, we did ponder a future. Maybe a communal home on the Vineyard for our lives in retirement.  Those idle thoughts were lost in the pungent haze that floated above the back porch. In my mind, I could see a vague future. Lots of free time, good health, and no money worries.

I figured I’d always look the way I seemed to look for so many years. No worries. I’d always be “the kid.” I smiled to myself. Another rum with a hint of coke and I was ready for dreams about a world I figured would always be good to us.

Things promised to get only better when Marilyn came back into my life, solidifying our relationship that began in college when LBJ was president. Marriage began a new chapter in my life. Little did I envision how the future would change life’s trajectory.

All the things I’d ignored awaited us. I had a lot of maturing to do as reality began to check-in. There would be the termination of a job I thought would go on forever. The joys and nightmares of homeownership in a misty mid-region valley. A plethora of health issues that almost took Marilyn’s life.

A wakeup call for me about my own health issues, finding recovery and the backbone to be a dependable spouse. Facing survival in a world I never thought I’d see.

POSTSCRIPT: I finally put a cork in the bottle on December 7th, 2004. I’ll always be grateful to Marilyn and my family for the support, patience, and encouragement as life seemed to be going down the drain for me.

Now, I celebrate those olden days with raspberry lime rickey and lemonade mixed with ginger ale. All current problems notwithstanding, I’m a lucky guy. And I’ve still got a working liver!

SORRY. IT’S MISSING – Marilyn Armstrong

In an endless attempt to clean up and store all the extra stuff in life, the final polish is to put it away permanently by finding a place for it which will be forever safe.


In the course of organizing my pictures, I lost this one. I have no idea how. I must have deleted it, but I didn’t do it on purpose.

Maybe while I was setting up a new computer and transferring files, this one fell between the chairs? Or got lost in some device, like maybe an ancient hard drive that no longer works. Or on an old DVD or floppy disk. Regardless, it is gone. I really liked it.

Path in the woods – A picture of a picture because I can’t find the original!

I have this picture because once upon a time, I printed this on canvas. I gave the picture away, but before I gave it away, I took a picture of the picture.

I lose things.

It’s not new. I have always had a habit of putting important items – papers, jewelry, lenses, cameras — in a safe place. Because, for some inexplicable reason, I have decided wherever it was, wasn’t safe enough. The problem is, wherever it previously was will be the place I remember it being. I will not remember the new, safer place I put it. If, indeed I put it anywhere and didn’t just put it down, go do something else, and forget about it completely.

The new, improved place to which I moved it is guaranteed to be a place I will never remember. It’s also possible I move things in my sleep. Yes, I sleepwalk. I know this because other people have seen me sleepwalking. Also, there are other things that only make sense if I did them in my sleep. No rational (or waking) explanation is possible.

The jewelry I found in the bottom of Garry’s underwear drawer? I’m pretty sure he didn’t put my necklace there. In any conscious state of mind, I would never put anything there, other than his underwear. Or, for that matter, the bundle of jewelry I discovered in the piano bench. Why would anyone put their jewelry in the piano bench? Even me?

The worst losses are accidental. I have something important in my hand. I need to do something else, so I put down. Temporarily. Life moves on. I meant to go back and deal with it, but I have a 15-second short-term memory, so if I put it down and don’t deal with it immediately, it could be in another universe.

The ONLY way I find this stuff is by retracing my steps. What rooms was I in? Could I have left it in Garry’s bathroom? My bathroom? Did I shove it in my camera bag? Which pants or jacket was I wearing? Have I washed it yet?

Occasionally, this results in finding the missing item. Mostly, it doesn’t, probably because the retracing was imperfect. And I forget about pockets. How many were there are and how much stuff you can shove into them.

Lost stuff can appear years later while I am hunting down something else that has gone missing. It can be a thrilling discovery … or it’s a duplicate of important papers I’ve already replaced.

A couple of friends of mine recently became widows. One of them strongly recommended I put our papers in order. Things like the deed to the house which I actually found by accident, so I know where it is. Garry doesn’t know where it is, but if I told him, he’d forget anyhow. Fifteen seconds isn’t nearly enough time. We have our birth certificates and our passports which will do in a pinch. I don’t have to worry about dealing with our fortune since there is none. In fact, it turns out all we will need — either of us — will be our birth certificates, social security cards, and a few passwords.

One sheet of paper in a manila envelope. I don’t even have to worry about the money needed to bury one or both of us because there is no burial money. Presumably, we WILL get buried, one way or the other. I think they have to do something with our corpses. Garry and I discussed this, then realized, “Why worry?” Garry is too old to buy life insurance (I think 75 is the cutoff) and I’m too sickly. For any price.

So we agreed to stop worrying about it. I figure the state has to do something with our bodies. I don’t think it’s legal to just leave us lying around and rotting. It might make an interesting TV show, though. Just a season or two. We could call it “What Should We Do With Mom?”

Too bad we aren’t allowed to be buried on our own property. We’ve more than enough room and our earth would be happy to have us. Meanwhile, I’m searching for that missing picture. Not all the time, but every time I’m in one of my storage drives. It may turn up, someday. Or not.

I’m pretty sure Garry has our birth certificates and passports. So we’re good to go, so to speak.

MAO, A CAT – Marilyn Armstrong

Jeff and I got Mao as an 8-week-old kitten in the fall of 1965. We had just gotten married the month before, and of course, we had to have a cat right away. Why a Siamese? I don’t know. Karma maybe?

From the very first day, Mao was Master of All He Surveyed. Although I have had many cats through the years, Mao was the first and by far the most utterly unique.

Mao – our cat – Photo (from print) by Ben Taylor — and THANK YOU!

He was very smart for a cat. For instance, when we were out-of-town, we would have someone “house-sit” for us. No matter who that person was, and no matter how much Mao ordinarily liked them, while we were away, Mao would attack him or her (or them) virtually continuously during our absence. He would hide behind the bushes and attack legs as they tried to open the front door. He would wait around the corner and then pounce. He would launch himself from atop the bookcase, landing on a victim’s head, sometimes causing serious damage.

The moment we returned, Mao ceased his attacks and commenced purring. He figured, I believe, that he needed to drive out the interlopers so that we could return. Since we always DID return, his belief was consistently reinforced!

Mao protected us from bed goblins. If you were on Mao’s “family member” list, he would stop by your bedroom every night. You had to lift the covers so he could walk to the foot of the bed and back up. No goblins tonight? Good, I will go now, and he did.

Mao was the only cat I’ve ever known that perpetrated acts of vengeance hours or days after your perceived offense. If, for example, you shooed him off the table during dinner time, he would wait until you were sitting on the potty with your pants around your ankles and could not chase him. Then he would casually bite your shins. Tail held high, he would stroll away.

Mao patrolled the perimeter of the grounds like any good watch cat should. Every day of his life, he performed it, almost as if it were a ceremony. During his closing weeks with us, he began to patrol in the company of a younger feline, Mr. Manx. As if passing the torch to the next generation, he taught Mr. Manx to walk the perimeter, and inspect the beds, which Mr. Manx then did for the rest of his life.

In October 1978, Mao, who had been diagnosed with cancer some months before, disappeared. We never found his body, though we were sure he had gone off to die. For the last couple of weeks before his departure, we had noticed that he felt different. Where his muscles had been hard, they were now soft. He slept most of the day and moved slowly.

It is many years and lifetimes later. Jeff has passed. I live far from that place where Jeff and I and Mao and all the other fur-people lived. But I remember him. We all remember Mao, the most special cat.

Mao, I am sure you were there for Jeff when he came to the Bridge. I’m sure you will be there for me, too. You and all my other furry friends who I loved will be there together.

But you were and will always be, utterly unique and entirely unforgettable.

I ALMOST HAD IT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Coherent

Early this morning, I woke from a dream I wanted to remember. It was full of people, but I don’t remember who they were or what they were doing or for that matter, what I was doing.

I sat up in bed for almost an hour trying to get a grip on it and I almost had it. I considered opening my computer and actually writing down something because I know that if I don’t write it down, it’ll be gone. Yet I hold fast to some idea that if I try really hard, I’ll remember at least a tidbit and be able to build a story on that.

You’d think I’d know by now. Dreams slide away faster than my memory of why I’m in the kitchen looking wondering and knowing there IS a reason. I will remember it about half an hour after I go back to the recliner and relax.

Dreams are much more slippery. About the only coherent thought about the process is for about an hour, I remembered it. Then, blearily, I went back to sleep and whatever thoughts I had grabbed onto went silently into my sub-conscience where presumably they will permanently remain.

I have a question about this, actually.

Do we really remember the things we forget? Is there a place in our brains where the stuff we knew and were sure we’d remember are collected? Is the door to that area which is locked, but if we found the key, could we open it?

Would all those random thoughts about things there weren’t terribly important in the first place, come pouring out like the contents of our little memory boxes from childhood?

Those little wood or metal boxes that held the key to our roller skates, a postcard from a long-forgotten friend, a report card from fourth grade and a poem we wrote on our thirteenth birthday which we were sure was going to take the poetic world by storm? Except there would be so many more things in our brains. The Tylenol we forgot to take and the toast we neglected to toast. The time we didn’t water the plants because we came into the kitchen to water them but left with a glass of ginger ale?

These days, I forget more than I remember. I’m trying to figure out if there is a special place in our heads where all these forgotten pieces live in mental cold storage. One day, the door will fly open and it will all explode outward. I better hire a mental maid to clean it all up.

GOOD TIMES, HARD TIMES, AMERICAN PROPAGANDA AND THE PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

I never thought America was the international good guy. Read far too much actual — not school — history for that. What I did think is that we had a fundamental sense of right and wrong and that when nip came to tuck, we’d do the right thing … and right had nothing to do with the Soviet Union, either. Remember, that Berlin wall came down when I was pretty young. I really thought — for a while until, like most illusions, it was shattered by reality — that the old U.S.S.R. might, without their antique soviet rulers, be free enough to make good choices.

I remember a world where people were more polite to each other and where however individually corrupt our pols were, they still believed in “the good of the country” above and beyond their individual agendas. That belief has been falling apart with the passing years. I really thought at least some of them cared. I wish I’d been right about that. We could use some caring.

This horror in which we live right now? It didn’t start with Trump. It started when we decided to create a nation, we would allow slavery and it was okay to slaughter the Natives. We sold our collective souls to the devil before we even had a constitution or anything resembling a country. Oh, we had a nicely written constitution and some idealistic people who did some good, sometimes, when they were allowed.

Overall? We have always owed our souls to whoever had the most money because that was what the slavery deal was about — letting the south keep slaves so they could hold on to their plantation and not (heaven forbid) have to actually work.

Standard Oil went half a dozen rounds with Theodore Roosevelt and theoretically, Rockefeller lost over and over in court, but really, he lost nothing. He literally laughed at the court rulings and nothing changed. J.P. Morgan had a good laugh too as TR tried to break up his ownership of the railroads and many other corporations.

Today’s Exxon is Standard Oil with a cooler name. It is bigger, uglier, and more ruthless than ever. Huge corporations never lose, not today or ever. Money is power.

I don’t remember that nearly perfect world, nor does Garry. Maybe only white middle-class people remember it. The rest of us were under no illusions about where we stood in the great scheme of things.

I do remember a world where there was more personal communication between people. There was also more opportunity to make progress in the game of life. Those opportunities have largely disappeared. The big corporations have bought out, sold off, or absorbed most (almost all) of the smaller organizations which had been the stepping stones for individuals trying to climb the ladder.

Today, we are feudal. If we are born a serf, we will die a serf.

There is an assumption by our kids including my granddaughter that we remember a perfect world.

We don’t. There’s a lot of assuming going on. Some old people want to remember that world. Maybe they lived in one of the white suburbs and never had to bump into a dark-skinned person and treat him or her as an equal.

Then again, maybe age has rosied their memories so now they remember what they wish it had been.

Yup. Lots of assuming going on.

I miss people being polite and talking — even arguing — together. I never believed our propaganda, probably because my mother and father didn’t believe it either. There’s a lot of youngsters out there who are so deeply ignorant they think the boomer generation destroyed the world. We did everything. Built the corporations, fought all the wars — even the ones that occurred before we were born.

All of the problems if this world were created by my generation. And probably yours, too.

The level of ignorance and stupidity going around the world is breathtaking. I think I’ve gotten past being shocked. Now, it’s closer to disgust.

War is never out of style. There has always been a war going on as long as I can remember, which goes back to Korea. I remember listening to the news of the war on the radio with my mother. I remember her talking about it, wondering why in the world we were there in the first place? What did we think we were going to accomplish? I must have been four or five, but I understood. How? Maybe it’s not my first life.

We destabilized Asia. That’s what we did. We are still trying to deal with the consequences. Mom was ahead of her time.

Then, later, I was in my mid-twenties. It was during Vietnam. There were protests and I was involved in some. Not most. I had a little one and a fulltime job, so there were time limitations.  I had friends, a husband, dogs, cats, and a house where sometimes it seemed the immediate nation congregated every evening. A lively social life.

I pointed out to my mother (like I had just discovered this, silly child) if we weren’t sending all that money to make war in Vietnam, there would be money to do things here, at home. Maybe we could do something about healthcare.

My husband and I went effectively bankrupt following my spine surgery and we had insurance. It didn’t cover everything and my surgery — and the four months in the hospital which followed — was wildly expensive. I remember asking Jeff if we didn’t pay them, would they take me upstairs and re-break my back? Because we couldn’t pay. We were going to have to pay them off, month by month for years to come.

Then Owen was born with two club feet. It was the final blow. Wiped out. We never rebuilt our finances. Even way back in the 1960s and ’70s, my issue was healthcare because everyone thought their work insurance was plenty. They hadn’t had a major medical crisis. They would learn.

But, I digress.

My mother raised an eyebrow and looked at me. She said:

Thus spoke my mother. Because cynicism isn’t always wrong.

I was taken aback. I thought she was being too cynical. But you know? She was right.

Wars end and the war-making money vanishes. Never does it go toward healthcare or education. It just disappears as if it never existed and no one seems to question it.

Just once more, I’d like to hear our politicians across party lines look for ways to do what’s best for the country and the people they serve.

TODAY IS THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

You sure wouldn’t know it by what’s on television.

Not a single movie, documentary or anything. We watched “Oh, What a Lovely War” with a chaser of “The Americanization of Emily.” Garry scoured the listings, but no channel is showing anything related to D-Day.

Not like there aren’t plenty of movies and documentaries from which to choose. So, have we forgotten? Call me weird, but I think this is a day to remember. Always.

Here I am, cynical, skeptical and nobody’s flag-waver reminding everyone that this day was important. It was the beginning of the final stage of the most devastating war in remembered history.


The summary of loss of life, 1937-1945:

    • Military deaths: More than 16,000,000
    • Civilian deaths: More than 45,000,000
    • Total deaths for the war years 1937-1945: More than 61,000,000

I don’t think we should be allowed to forget so quickly, do you?

European border before the first World War

Europe just after WW 2

Europe-circa 1970

Because when we forget, when the lessons we learned are lost. We stand in imminent danger of repeating history. I, for one, think that’s a bad idea. Oh, wait … we ARE in the middle of repeating history.

Lest we forget … this is how it all began. With a world just like the one in which we are living. Today. With leaders who think war is a fine idea.

FLAGS AND FLOWERS BLOOMING – Marilyn Armstrong

On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day

The cemetery is in the center of the town, across from the dam and just a hundred or so yards from the river itself. It’s up on a hill, 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. It has a perfect view of the dam and river, but it’s dry and safe for 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 anniversary of the end of some war we fought, 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 19 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok. We come from tiny villages in Ireland, England,  the West Indies, and a wide variety of shtetls in eastern and northern Europe. Our people were always on the move.

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 rare anymore but also not common. We have no ancestors in the cemetery, at least none about whom we know. Anything is possible in America.

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

“We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning they have lived here as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else. 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 it was a long time ago. They get misty-eyed trying to remember old family stories handed down when they were young.

It’s hard to remember, they tell you. “You know, that was 75 years ago … a long time.” We nod because it was a long time ago. We can’t remember a lot of things from our “old days” either. So many years have passed and so much stuff has happened.

In the ground – Photo: Garry Armstrong

How many wars have we fought — just in our lifetime? I can’t count them anymore. It’s endless. We honor our dead. I think we’d honor them more by ending the cause of their deaths which I doubt it will happen. Peace is not in us, or at least not in most of us. Certainly not in the people who run our countries.

So another year passes and little flags and flowers bloom in the old cemetery in the middle of town.