REALLY THE PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

Trevor Noah did a long spiel on “adult summer camp” on “The Daily Show” which left Garry puzzled. He went to summer camp. He even liked it. I never had the chance, but I think I’ve gotten over my resentment. It was a long time ago.

Garry wanted to know why grownups — adults — would want to do that stuff?

I said that some people don’t actually have a clear understanding that the past as a memory is not the same thing as reliving it. Like this town where they are so determined to go back to a period in time that — especially for this town and valley — sucked.

It was a bad time. All the mills and factories closed their doors, then moved south. They left the river a stinking waste of hazardous gunk and everyone out of work. Half the population left because there was no work. The other half sunk into poverty. The train no longer stopped here and the buses no longer ran.

Why would you want to go back to that?

For that matter, why would an adult want to go back to doing arts and crafts and sleeping in cabins with mosquitoes?

We all want to get away. For this purpose, we have books and movies. And memories.

I loved the late 1960s, with 1969 officially my best year. Why? We had men walking on the moon and Woodstock. The Mets won the World Series and my son was born. All my parts worked. I was 22 years old, I had my first camera. I wore rose-tinted eyeglasses and bell-bottom jeans. It was an exciting time politically, socially … and I was young with a whole life ahead of me.

At 22, that world was mine and I loved it. We took drugs and the music was great. If I took one of those drugs now, I’d die. Immediately. Boom, gone, finished. Garry has fond memories from childhood, but that doesn’t mean he wants to be a child.

It would be especially awful going back because I would know that all the progress I thought we were making was going to turn out to be a sack of trash 50 years later.

We all want an interval in a different time. That’s why Garry watches old movies and I read time travel novels. I also understand this is entertainment.

And that is all it is.

FORGETTING EVERYTHING IN A HURRY – Marilyn Armstrong

Younger people — even people just a little bit younger, like maybe 10 years — do not understand the whole “forgetting” issue. They think memory is linked to dementia, but that’s not the same as the standard “everything vanishes in 15 seconds” kind of forgetting that overtakes us as we pass into our 70s.

I don’t forget anything forever. I don’t forget everything ever. I forget bits and pieces of things. Dates. Titles. Phone numbers. If it’s really important, I will remember it — or at least remember to look at the calendar where I no doubt wrote it down.

I forget words, then remember them a few minutes later. I forget television shows and who starred in them. I forget the author of the books I read when I was younger. I have forgotten a lot of things that happened when I was younger, probably because none of them were all that important. Turns out, 60 years later, a lot of what seemed terribly significant wasn’t.

Bits of information that once would have found a nesting place in my brain, disappear. My theory is that if it was that important, I would have written it down. Like on my Google calendar or the whiteboard on the refrigerator. When I was working, I had a head full of information. I remembered it. Accurately, too.

I can’t imagine how I remembered so many things. I couldn’t do it now. More to the point, I wouldn’t want to do it now.

Garry is older than me, so we forget stuff together.

Tonight was a good one. I turned on the oven, but I never heard the beep that tells me it reached temperature. I used to easily hear the beep. Now, I can only hear it if there’s no other noise.

There’s always noise, at least a bit. An audiobook, the television, or a computer. Dogs. Telephones. Air conditioners. Fans. Or the slight roar of the microwave.

Today, I was sure I had put that meatloaf in the oven. I figured it was probably done so I should go cook the potatoes.

Except for the oven, which was warm, it was empty. I was positive I’d put the meatloaf in there. Positive. Well, maybe not so positive because I couldn’t remember the oven beeping. If I never heard the oven, then why — when? — would I have put the meatloaf in to cook? Oops.

Our oven, after I failed to show up to tell it to really cook, eventually turned itself off. I love timers. I don’t know how I’d survive without timers. I think I used to burn a lot of meals.

Why do we forget?

First, I think we don’t need to remember the way we did when we were working. Second, we don’t really care as much about keeping everything on schedule. If we don’t go shopping when we planned on Tuesday, we’ll go on Wednesday. Or Thursday. Or when we finally run out of something we absolutely need. If it isn’t a doctor we need to see or a date to meet friends for lunch, it’s not all that important. Most of my bills are paid automatically and the ones that need monthly updating show up in an email to remind me.

Most of life is on automatic or semi-automatic and that is fine. I’m delighted I don’t have the stress of constant things to do and schedules to meet.

Right now, there are indeed a lot of things to do. I’m trying to gear up what’s left of my memory to do what needs doing. It’s only for a few months. After that, I’m going to forget everything.

Life is easier that way.

One of my favorite lines is “I’ll remember it in the morning.”

But I won’t remember it in the morning. I might not remember it in 15 minutes. Or five. It’s possible I’ve already forgotten it.

FLAGS BLOSSOM IN THE OLD CEMETERY – Marilyn Armstrong

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, 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 wild flowers 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.

At the library

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 a 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.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

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, because it was a long time ago. Before we could remember anything, surely.

So another year passes and little flags and flowers bloom in the old cemetery in the middle of town. It’s a nice thing they do. Remembering.

LOVE IN INTENSIVE CARE – Ellin Curley

On February 11, 1972, my 88-year-old grandfather was hit by a truck crossing a street in New York City. His left side was smashed and a broken rib punctured his lung. Within 24 hours he was in a coma. My mother, grandmother and I camped out in the waiting room of the I.C.U at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan.

My grandfather

Another family was also spending most of its time in the same waiting room – the Palmers, father mother and younger son, who had Tourette’s Syndrome. Their older son, Jeffrey, 18, had been hit by a car. He was a Julliard student training to become a concert pianist. His pelvis was broken and his leg was fractured in several places. He was also in a coma.

Our two families got very friendly over the next few weeks. My grandfather was declared brain-dead. Jeffrey regained consciousness but was in traction and had a cast up to his thigh. I started visiting him and hanging out in his room.

It’s hard to describe what life is like when you’re living it in a hospital. Your day revolves around doctor’s visits and reports. Every little change in the patient becomes major news. And now we were monitoring two patients, Grandpa and Jeffrey. It is all-encompassing and totally consuming.

Me, my mom and my grandmother

Me, my mother and my grandmother

The good news was that Jeffrey and I hit it off. He was smart and funny and we had a great time talking. He was a bright spot for me at a horribly depressing time. My grandfather was gone but still alive. Our family was in a horrifying limbo. We tried to talk the hospital into letting us disconnect my grandfather from life support.

Jeffrey left the hospital after about four weeks. I stayed in touch with him and his family, who lived on Long Island.

The hospital finally disconnected my grandfather from all life support – and he survived on his own. Everything had healed and he was breathing on his own! The stress caused my mom to go into heart failure. She was hospitalized for a few days in a different hospital.

After six weeks (and withholding of food and water), my grandfather finally died on March 26, 1972. My mother recovered. Shortly after, Jeffrey moved into the city and went back to school, still in a huge cast and on crutches. We began dating.

I was 22 and taking time off before going to law school. When I wasn’t with Jeffrey, I spent most of my time helping my mother sort out my grandfather’s finances. He had left his estate in total chaos. It took at least a year to track down all his assets and get my grandmother settled financially.

Jeffrey and me

Jeffrey and I were together and very much in love for a year and a half. His family loved me and I loved them. I went on a vacation with his whole family to Bermuda. Jeffrey spent time with me and my family at our summer-house in Connecticut. It was a good and happy relationship.

I don’t remember exactly why we broke up. Jeffrey had decided to quit Julliard and was starting college at N.Y.U as a pre-med student. I was leaving soon to go to law school in Washington D.C. The age difference was an issue. But I think the breakup had more to do with Jeffrey’s new found infatuation with Scientology.

We met under strange and dark circumstances. But I have only fond memories of Jeffrey. He got me through a very tough time in my life and he was my first real love. Everyone should have such a wonderful experience with their first love. I was very lucky! And how we met makes such a great story!

A MOTHER’S WALTZ: MUSIC & PICTURES – Leslie Martel & Marilyn Armstrong

Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 13, 2018


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 first 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 fire-place. 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 endeavours to under take 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): It has arrived. 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 brand 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. Memories in music for mothers everywhere.

 

JUST ONE OF THOSE DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

JUST ONE OF THOSE DAYS

Today is Charlie Austin’s Memorial Service. It’s in Dorchester, so we will be gone much if not most of the day. It’s just been that kind of week. We’re out of here in about half an hour and I’m not sure when we will be home again, so if I don’t get to you, tomorrow will be another day.

The weather has truly skewered us. All week it has been lovely, but today — when we have a long haul into Boston — it’s raining and cold. Driving will be slow and I’m already shivering.

If I don’t catch anyone today, tomorrow I hope I can catch up. I have to admit, I seem to be falling further and further behind. It’s possible I will never catch up!

We’ve been out of the house pretty much every day … and there’s not enough time to get everything done. Apologies to all!

Hugs my friends on this gray, wet, day.

CHARLIE AUSTIN – by Garry Armstrong

Today is Charlie Austin’s Memorial Service. 

I first met Charlie Austin at a pickup basketball game in Boston. It was September evening in Boston, 1970.

I was the new TV news reporter guy in town and I was meeting people, on and off the job. One of the people on my “must meet” list was Charlie Austin. He had the reputation – even back then – as one of Boston’s finest reporters.

I’d seen Charlie on television, doing a sports piece as “Chuck” Austin. I liked his laid back style and deep voice.

I was already jealous of that voice.

“Hi, Chuck”,  I said brightly as the pick up teams chose players. I was on the bench.  Charlie was one of the FIRST picked to play.  My envy grew.

Charlie just stared at me. The poker face, I would learn, was his trademark. I didn’t know and thought I’d committed a social blunder.  I was a little confused.  It was a very long moment before Charlie came over and smiled.

“You a 6th man? Instant offense off the bench,”  he asked with a mischievous grin.  I looked at the floor and told him I was the last man sitting. He patted me on the shoulder and headed off for some serious hoops.

Charles Austin

I sat for most of the first half until the coach/assistant news director signalled me to go in. Charlie Austin grinned slyly as I ran on the court.

I made my first three 20-footers to everyone’s surprise,  especially mine.  Hey, no one was guarding me.  Half-time and everyone gathered for coke and pizza. “Nice shot,”  Charlie said to me,  wolfing down 2 slices in seconds.

I smiled and said,  “Thanks, Chuck.”  His smile turned into a deep frown.

“Don’t call me Chuck,”  Charlie said tersely.  I was confused, which he picked up. “They call me Chuck when I do sports. I hate that name. Hate it!  Okay?”

I nodded and told him I heard Henry Aaron hated being called “Hank” but dealt with it because it was a media thing about which you don’t argue.  Charlie nodded with one of his signature crooked smiles. It was back to the bench for me for most of the 2nd half until we hit “Garbage” time and my on court presence didn’t matter.

I cornered Charlie for a post game snack. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The next time I saw Charlie Austin it was business.  A too familiar scene for us in the coming years.  A shooting in “The Bury” as Roxbury was known in the media. Roxbury, a predominantly Black Boston neighborhood, had been the focal point of simmering tension and violence for several years since the assassination of Martin Luther king sparked  protests in many minority communities across the country. I’d seen it before during my network tenure.

This was different for me.  New city, new community, new faces. I was very anxious as my crew and I arrived, the last news unit on the scene. I surveyed the crowd, taking in all the faces. Local residents,  police units, clergy, and lots of politicians. I didn’t know anyone.

Charlie Austin spotted me.  He walked over and the eyes of the crowd followed him. Charlie stopped in front of me, small smile and embraced me with a “How ya doing,  Garry?”  I was startled and grateful.

Charlie’s welcome gesture was my entrée to Roxbury and all gathered for the story. We shook hands and Charlie rejoined his TV crew. I knew, from previous experience, not to roll film on the initial speakers.  Politicians with “Kumbaya spins” to the violence, the victims, and the suspects. I glanced at Charlie.  His crew wasn’t filming either.

We exchanged knowing smiles. I essentially followed Charlie’s pursuit of interviews.  It was clear he knew all “the players”. It was a strategy I’d follow for a long time until I became familiar with the city.

I learned on many stories that I’d been successful because I knew Charlie Austin.  He opened doors that were shut to other reporters. When I tried to thank him,  Charlie shrugged it off with that crooked grin.

Charlie knew about my hearing problems. He often would take me aside to make sure I had the correct spelling and pronunciation of people and places.  He did this as we both faced similar deadlines.

Charlie and I saw a lot of each other during the volatile Forced Busing School Desegregation years in Boston. It was a period that tested the mettle of many reporters. Only a handful of journalists had full access to both white and minority communities as Boston found itself under an international spotlight. The 6th largest TV market in the country had very few minority reporters.  You could count us on the fingers of one hand.

A few months ago, former Mayor Ray Flynn noted, in an email exchange, how much he appreciated the efforts of some reporters during that volatile period.  Charlie Austin topped Mayor Flynn’s list. I remember how Charlie handled the most difficult, potentially explosive situations.

Poker faced, with a small smile and a gesture that said, “I’m listening to you.”

Charlie’s humanity defused anger and bitterness on both sides of the issue. He didn’t play “the race card” in his reports. He saw the frustration on the faces of families and understood there was a common quest — regardless of skin color — for quality education. Charlie Austin’s reports, delivered in firm manner minus attitude or political agenda,  set the tone for local reporters. It helped me and others do our jobs.

We gritted our teeth when network reporters swept in, leaned on street optics, did often biased and inaccurate reports and swept out-of-town.  Charlie and the rest of us had to repeatedly clean up the messes.  Charlie led the way with his non theatrical, honest reports. He set the bar for the rest of us.

It was a very high bar.

Charlie’s friendship extended beyond work. He knew I needed something more than the job. He was instrumental in getting me involved with the legendary Elma Lewis and her “Black Nativity”  production which now is part of the fabric of Boston’s Arts and Culture community.  I played one of the three Wise Men for several years.  A short time on stage but it was a wonderful experience for me.  It made me feel like I was part of the community,  thanks to Charlie Austin.

In costume for Black Nativity

Charlie rarely talked about his many health issues.  Others thought of him as heroic but Charlie would not have any of such talk. He did proudly show off pictures of his wife, Linda and daughter, Danielle.  Danielle was the bright light in Charlie’s eyes.  His face always swelled with pride and love.

I wish I’d seen Charlie more often in recent years.  He played such a large part in my life and I never got to thank him properly.

He’s probably listening right now with that crooked grin lighting his face.

“Thanks, CHUCK!”