A DANCE IN A GRAVEYARD – Marilyn Armstrong

The year I was fifteen, I started my senior year of high school. That September (1962), while I was sitting and watching television, I found a rather big, hard lump near my right ankle. I checked the other leg. No lump there. It was a painless lump. Mom had me visiting a surgeon just a couple of days later.

It turned out to be non-malignant, an osteochondroma. It was, however, pretty big. Big enough so in the short time between seeing the doctor and getting into the hospital, it more than doubled in size.

It had thoroughly wrapped itself around my fibula and the surgeon had to remove a piece of bone and replace it with a pin. I was in no mortal danger, but I was going to be on crutches for at least half a year.

Jamaica High School was (is) huge. Five stories including the basement (swimming pool level) and top floor — the tower where the choir and chorus rehearsed. There were no elevators. No handicapped access. It was also extremely crowded, no place for someone on crutches.

High School, really

Thus I came to be assigned a home tutor. I was not her only client and for reasons of her own, she decided to introduce me to another of her clients.

Mary was older than me, 18 years old. Which, at 15, seemed very mature from my perspective. She was a schizophrenic at a time when the drugs to control schizophrenia had not been invented. She was not at all violent. In fact, she was wonderfully sweet, a brilliant artist … and her view of the world was, to say the least, unique.

She loved cemeteries. Especially at night. One night, we went to see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which had just been released.

“Would you like to go?” she asked.

“Sure, why not.” I was always up for a movie. But this one, I didn’t much like. I still don’t. Just … not my cup of tea. Too creepy.

But my night of creepiness was far from over because, after the movie, Mary invited me to visit one of her favorite places … the local cemetery. Through which she happily danced, kissing each of the stones while declaring that these were the happiest of all souls.

Thus began my interest in cemeteries and tombstones. And the end of my brief relationship with Mary. I’m pretty strange in my own way, but that was a bit much for me.

We have great cemeteries here in New England. Old ones with wonderful tombstones, amazing old inscriptions. Come visit.

LATE SEPTEMBER’S STONE FENCES — BUT WHERE’S AUTUMN? – Marilyn Armstrong

September 30, 2019 – Autumn Leaf

We are still really weak in the fall foliage department, but there’s a bit. Here and there and a lot of yellow.

Stone fence in the fall
Sunset by the stone fence

AUTUMN’S ON THE WAY – Marilyn Armstsrong

September 16, 2019 – Autumn Leaves

Garry came back from the grocery and said that it looks like fall is showing up! So I’ll get some new pictures soon … if it doesn’t rain constantly. Last year, it rained almost every day through the end of September and then it got very warm and humid in early October. Instead of Autumn, the leaves just curled up and fell off the trees.

It started raining almost as soon as Garry got home, but if it will stay dry for a couple of weeks and give us some chilly nights, there will be pictures. Meanwhile, a look at previous Autumn seasons. We’ve had some really fabulous ones … and we’ve also had a bunch of duds. Let’s hope for a good one. I need a good Autumn. It would definitely lift my spirits!

BEAUTY – A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Beauty

Most of my really beautiful pictures are landscapes. This is probably because we are a bit short in the magnificent building department in south-central Massachusetts.

These are favorite and I think they are naturally beautiful. And all from nature with perhaps a little touch up from humans.

Attean View – Jackman, Maine
Attean View – October – Jackman, Maine
And in the mid-October, we have autumn on the Canal

Happy holiday to all who celebrate and a great weekend to everyone!

REMEMBERING WARM SUMMER DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s sleeting. It’s the followup to the snow that just ended. I’ve heard the freezing rain is next on the agenda and my feet are cold.

My feet are cold all winter. The rest of me is okay, but from the ankles down, permanent frostbite. It seemed like a good day to think about the river and the bridge and fishing along the Blackstone on a warm summer day.

Garry and I took a lot of pictures last summer. I went backward in time and processed a few new ones. It’s not that I don’t like winter. In a lot of ways I do, but it is difficult to do a lot of things. Like, walk up the driveway without falling down.

And although we are careful with our car in the winter, it’s surprising how many people don’t seem to realize how dangerous the ice flying off the top of their cars is to everyone else on the road. Today, on the way to the hospital we had to pass two big trucks while chunks of ice were flying off them. Several big SUVs were carrying a lot of ice and snow too.

Seriously folks. You live in the north and it is winter. Clean your car! If we can do, so can you.

Maybe time for a little dreaming.

The deep green of the trees. The quiet shine of the river. Reflections of the sky and trees. Kids with their fishing poles.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I’m sure I’ll complain about summer, too. I was born to live in the Caribbean. Meanwhile, I’ll relish my memories of warmer days.

WEATHER WHINES

Welcome to New England where our most popular regional sport is politics. Football, baseball, basketball and hockey cannot compete with the joys of arguing politics. That this year is politically the worst experience since we drove out the British only means that all our other complaints will have to wait in line until the political rage has been satisfied, at least temporarily.

When politics and sports are finished, we move on to the single sport in which everyone, of any age, can actively compete.

Weather. Or more accurately, complaining about the weather.

Lake Otsego

From bitterly cold to stiflingly hot, we’ve got the weather to cover it.

Winter is too long, too snowy, too icy, and much too cold. I couldn’t agree more. Everyone is cranky and whiny from the first flakes through final melting. Of course, mud season, the inevitable followup to the heavy snow, is no one’s favorite, discounting the dogs who revel in it.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Spring? What spring? Where are the flowers? Why can’t we get a decent spring season? Is this the punishment of a malign deity?

Until the lilies bloom, New Englanders are cranky.

Pink petunias

Some time during May, summer drops by, usually in mid-afternoon. The morning is comfortable until the temperature goes way up and the humidity moves in. The leaves on the trees droop and it is definitely summer. Always too hot. Muggy. Humid.

Or, maybe it’s not hot enough.


“Hey, how come it’s June and we still need heat?”  

In summertime, those triple H days — hot, hazy, and humid — give us a collective headache. Everyone complains. Relentlessly.

Autumn is New England’s winning season. It is everyone’s favorite time of year — except it’s much too short. There are oceans of dead leaves to shovel. We rate our autumn by the brightness of leaf and you can stand on line in the grocery and hear people commenting that “this one isn’t as good as the year before last. Does anyone remembers 2012? Wasn’t that a doozy?”

We live in the “Snow and Long Commutes” region. Especially the snow. And Worcester.

On a bad year, heavy rains from a tropical storm can push all the way up the coast. Those drenching rains ruin the fall foliage. Which makes everyone cranky.

And whiny.

We recover if the Sox are in the playoffs, but become downright grim if they aren’t.

Speaking of whiny, I know people on Facebook who, in the middle of a summer-long drought during which we haven’t gotten a drop of rain, will rant furiously on the day the drought breaks. I bet they’d be even more whiny if their well went dry . That would be a serious rant!

New England. What’s not to love?

THE SNOW BOMB OF JANUARY 2018 AND THE BLIZZARD OF 1978 – GARRY ARMSTRONG

THE BLIZZARD OF JANUARY 4, 2018


Duke watching snowfall

The snow began before sunrise this morning. Expressions like “Snow Bomb” were coined by meteorologists to describe its impact. It was quite a storm. I know because I was out there shoveling, then taking pictures.

Aldrich Street

Originally, we thought we’d get off with under a foot of snow, with most of the storm hugging the Atlantic coast. Storms don’t watch television and rarely listen to the weather reports. To no one’s surprise — at least to no one’s surprise who has lived in this region for any length of time — the storm didn’t stay on the coast. More accurately, it did serious damage to the coast and significant damage inland, too.

Footsteps — mine — from house to road
Mailboxes and the house

This was a big storm. Not as big as the Blizzard of 1978, but very few storms will ever match the power of that one. This was big enough to take down power lines and cause the worst flooding in Boston anyone can remember. This, on top of the longest period of deep cold in the almost 150 years of recorded weather history. And the cold is coming back without giving us a break to clean up the mess from the storm.

Shoveled
Our winter home

There’s about a foot and a half out there on the ground. It’s hard to tell exactly how much. The wind has been powerful — strong enough to knock down a grown man and bitterly cold. The good part? We don’t have the massive amount of snow on the roof we sometimes have because the wind blew it around. At least we don’t have to worry about the roof collapsing.

The shoveled walk, until next time

I shoveled the front walk because we have small dogs and they can’t maneuver in deep snow. Even Duke who is comparatively long-legged found himself bogged down. Bonnie and Gibbs have to stick to shoveled areas. I’ll have to go back and shovel again after dinner.

Tractor in the snow

It’s dark now. The storm is almost over, or at least that’s what they are saying on television. The winds will die off and we’ll be cleaning up for the next few days. We have a full tank of oil and plenty of food, so until we get plowed, we’re home with the dogs.

Our house and woods in winter

You know how great retirement really is when you realize … you don’t have to go anywhere. The world is snowed in and so are you, but it’s okay. We aren’t on a schedule. We don’t have appointments to make. We are retired. And aren’t we glad we are!


THE BLIZZARD OF 1978 – THE BIG ONE! – GARRY ARMSTRONG


This is the time of year when big snowstorms hit this region. It was one month short of forty years ago when a massive winter storm moved into eastern Massachusetts. It had already done significant damage all over the Midwest, but its dangerous journey was far from over.

On the afternoon of February 6, 1978, thousands of people were let out of work early so they could get home before the storm hit. Too little and too late for many people, the storm hit harder and faster and more intensely than anyone imagined possible.

High winds and a high tide along the shore did enormous damage
High winds and a high tide along the shore did enormous damage

Traffic was heavy and the snow began falling at more than an inch per hour. It continued to fall for more than 24 hours. More than 3,000 automobiles and 500 trucks were stranded in rapidly building snowdrifts along Rt. 128 (also Route 95). Jack-knifed trucks and drifting snow soon brought traffic to a complete standstill across the state. Fourteen people died from carbon monoxide poisoning as they huddled in trapped cars.


There are so many incredible scenes that remain clear in my memory from the great Blizzard of 1978. I was  in the middle of it from the beginning, one of the few reporters who was able to get to the TV station without a car. I lived down the street and was able to plod through the snow to the newsroom. I found myself doing live shots all across Massachusetts and in other parts of New England.

Seen from above, the daunting amount of snow residents had to dig through to get to their cars is apparent on Farragut Road in South Boston on Feb. 8, 1978. New England was hit by a blizzard with hurricane-force winds and record-breaking snowfalls the previous two days.
Seen from above, the daunting amount of snow residents had to dig through to get to their cars is apparent on Farragut Road in South Boston on Feb. 8, 1978. New England was hit by a blizzard with hurricane-force winds and record-breaking snowfalls the previous two days.

I would like to give a special shout out to my colleagues who ran the cameras, the trucks, set our cable and mike lines, kept getting signals when it seemed impossible and worked nonstop under the most dire and difficult conditions. All I had to do was stand in front of the camera or interview people. I recall standing in the middle of the Mass Turnpike, the Southeast Expressway, Rt. 495 and other major arteries doing live shots.

weather-map-blizzard-of-78

There was no traffic. There were no people. Abandoned vehicles littered the landscape. It was surreal. Sometimes it felt like Rod Serling was calling the shots. The snow accumulation was beyond impressive. I am (or was) 5 foot 6 inches. I often had to stand on snow “mountains” to be seen. My creative camera crews used the reverse image to dwarf me (no snickering, please) to show the impressive snow piles. No trickery was needed. Mother Nature did it all.

Downtown crossing right after the storm
Downtown crossing during the storm

Downtown Boston looked like something out of the cult movie “The World, The Flesh And The Devil”. The end of the world at hand. No motor traffic, very few people — just snow, as high and as far as the eye could see.

Ironically, people who were usually indifferent to each other became friendly and caring. Acts of generosity and compassion were commonplace, at least for a few days. Those of us working in front or back of the camera logged long hours, minimal sleep. Drank lots of coffee, ate lots of pizza, and intermittently laughed and grumbled. There are some behind the scenes stories that will stay there for discretion’s sake.

The Blizzard of ’78 will always be among the top stories in my news career. It needs no embellishment. The facts and the pictures tell it all. We have since had deeper snowstorms, but none which packed the punishing winds and extensive damage as that monumental storm.

No additional hype or hysteria required.