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An old friend of mine passed away suddenly in a car accident in March. Friends and acquaintances continue to post things on his Facebook page; he is truly missed. Though you, my readers, don’t know him, I feel that everyone should, so this is my attempt to spread word of this wonderful man.

Richard was inspiring, one of those rare and unique individuals that come along so infrequently, but touch the lives of so many. Here is his obituary, but that is just part of his story.

Richard was a gentle soul who loved to laugh, forever curious about the world. He was a much-loved teacher. Right before his death he had accepted a teaching position in Shanghai and was learning to speak the language. He loved to travel and was a master storyteller when sharing his travel experiences.

After some tough years of suffering from a rare form of cancer, he sacrificed his leg for his life, but he didn’t give up his spirit to live life to the fullest.

Because of him, I made a decision I can’t share yet, but I hope to share it soon. In the meantime, here is a poem I wrote right after he left us.

For Richard

One sudden death can produce ripples
as big as surfable waves;
some will ride their shock on
to greater things; they will heave a board
to the top of their dreams,
enjoying their own breathless ride
to its end with gratitude
and dedication, like you.

For others, the ripples will be bigger, scarier,
like tidal waves that gather their fears into a fury
that sweeps away all that they thought they had,
leaving them clinging to whatever has roots
enough to survive the disaster.

I want to be the surfer.
Let me hear the ripples of sorrow
with an attentive ear
toward my own future.
I can’t be you,
but I can choose to be like you.
Tell me, Richard —
where to get the board —
I’m listening.

Susan Desrocher

 



{February 15, 2016}   A Story of a Life through Jewelry

I inherited my grandmother’s jewelry, and there was quite a bit. My grandmother was not a rich woman, so it was mostly costume jewelry. But I love vintage jewelry so I have been wearing some of the pieces I particularly like. I have also been trying to sort through things that need repair, and the things I should just toss.

She had a lot of pins, which I have put in a beading box. One of those pins was a sword with a fake-looking “jewel” on it. To be honest, I didn’t think it was very attractive and it was clearly not expensive, so I was considering getting rid of it. Then I noticed that on the back it said, “Broadcast, NY.” I decided to do a search on Google, and it came right up! People are selling them on Etsy.

vintage brooch

WWII Victory Sword

It is called a World War II Victory Sword, and it was made in the 1940s, produced to celebrate the end of World War II. Suddenly it no longer looked so ugly to me…it had meaning. Especially because my father, her only child, was stationed overseas in WWII. I decided to keep it.

My grandmother also had many tiny lapel pins from the different community groups to which she belonged. Amongst them, and still in the box, I found a tiny Telephone Pioneers pin. My grandmother worked as an operator for many years. I left me her small pension, so this is meaningful as well.

Vintage pins

Telephone Pioneers pin

It made me think: what would someone learn from my jewelry? Hmmm…that I liked cats? Now I know why people collect Alex and Ani bracelets and Pandora charm bracelets!

Cat Jewelry

Cat Jewelry




One of Life's Big Questions...

One of Life’s Big Questions…

I have struggled to answer this question for probably my whole life, but last week I had an experience which showed me one very good answer.

One of my oldest friends lost her partner and best friend; he succumbed to a fatal illness in a short period of time. Attending the wake, I watched her standing alone to greet the mourners. I admired her strength and poise, even as I could see in the unguarded moments, the strain of the past months peek through.

I was impressed by the number of people who turned out on a week night — for her — despite more snowflakes and very cold weather, during a winter when travel had become an endurance test for everyone.

At one point I met one of her bosses. When she found out that I was a very old friend, she proceeded to tell me what a great worker my friend is: how skilled, how professional, and how well-respected. “I wish I had ten of her,” she said. “And she is completely humble.”  I thought to myself, how wonderful to not have to promote yourself because your work speaks volumes…and also to have someone you work for respect, love, and admire you so much. She gave me the heads-up about something that my friend did not know: she was going to receive an arrangement from a very prestigious client. When they found out what was going on with her, they said, “We want to send flowers.” “That is UNHEARD of,” her boss told me, “But they like her THAT much!”

My friend held a small dinner after the wake at a local restaurant. I sat at the end of one VERY long table. She was fussing over whether we had enough food and was worried that the family-style serving was not working, but not one person was greedy and filled their plate. All appreciated the food and appreciated her. Everyone knew this was costing her money she didn’t really have, and yet she wanted to show her appreciation to her friends.  She had been unable to work very much during the time her partner was sick, and she works in a field that when she doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid.

Despite the terrible circumstances, I felt happy for her as I looked down the long table full of supporters. Her life had been particularly difficult lately, but even without her recent challenges, her life wasn’t necessarily one that many people would look at as a “picture” of success. But it was clear as a summer sky to me that night.

A successful life does not have to be one with all the trappings and media accolades. It can be one where, when you are struggling, you are overwhelmed by love and support, respect and admiration in your own corner of the world. To me, my friend won an Oscar.



{January 18, 2014}   Weekly Photo Challenge: Family

I don’t usually participate in the photo challenges on this blog, I usually reserve that for my Last Train to Qville blog. But I thought the topic was great prompt to tell a family story recently told to me by my mother.

I never knew my grandfather (my mother’s father) because he died when she was 6 years old, but I have been fascinated by him, especially lately, for a number of reasons. My mother has been showing me some of the few mementos and photos of him that she treasures, including his service diary when he was in World War I. He was stationed in Paris, and his love of beauty and art is reflected in the observations he chose to record in his concise and neat penmanship and the souvenirs he saved. His letters to my grandmother were full of little sketches; my mother said he wanted to go to art school someday, but he never had the chance.

My Coffee Table -- My Mother's Childhood Toy Box

My Coffee Table — My Mother’s Childhood Toy Box

My mother has some terrific pictures of him, including one of him in his uniform in front of the Arche de Triumph. I’m privileged to have the toy box he made for my mother as my coffee table. Nothing fancy, but he made it so I treasure it. She won’t let the pictures leave the house, even for me to scan, so unfortunately I can’t show you a picture of him here, but I can try to give you a picture of who he was through words. My mother recently shared a poignant story that I thought I’d share with you about the last time she saw him.

My grandfather died of pneumonia in 1932, when he was not even 35 years old. He had a wife, a son and a daughter. My uncle, who was six years older than my mother, was able to relate the story of my grandfather leaving his childhood home in Indiana and driving his family to Florida for a job prospect during the Depression. Cars were not very rugged back then. Highways were a dream to come in the future; most of  the roads were still dirt. My uncle said that often they had to stop the car to roll rocks and boulders out of the way to get through. When they arrived, my grandfather landed a good job at a lumber yard where the owners were pleased with his ability to accurately estimate the amount of lumber needed to translate design plans into finished homes. (I assume that is where he got the wood to build the toy box I have in my living room.) The family had a small home down there with a small yard, so his risk paid off; they were doing well for the time period.

But their prosperity did not last. My grandfather got sick. He was in quarantine in a backyard shed, trying to recover and delirious with fever (I don’t know why no hospital, but perhaps that was only for the rich back then). In 1932, the big news story of the day was the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. My father adored his little girl, and in his delirium, he became convinced someone had kidnapped her.

My Mother as a Child

My Mother as a Child

(I’m not sure how old my mother was in the picture below, but I think she was a pretty child. She let me have this picture because she hates it…she hates the BIG bow!)

My mother was not allowed to go into the shed where he was, but she remembers being told to wave to him through a window so that he could see that she was safe; the thinking was that it would calm him down so he could concentrate on fighting his illness. It gave him relief, but didn’t save him. The last time my mother saw him was through a window, but thanks to her grandmother (his mother) telling her the background to the story years later, she has felt loved and special to him for most of her life. I was happy she shared the story with me.



{December 10, 2013}   A “Fun” But Scary Web Site

I saw this on another blog. I was curious and I couldn’t resist checking out the web site mentioned: See Your Folks.

My father died 3 years ago, so there was nothing to input there. My mother is in her 80’s, and I see her at least once a week. The website is supposed to tell you how many more times you will see your parents. My answer was not a number. It said:

Your mum is living 6 years beyond the age she is expected to die.

Source: World Health Organisation Life Expectancy Data (2011).

Isn’t that a slap in the face? Isn’t that a gratefulness wake-up call???

 

old family photos

My Mom and Me



{September 12, 2013}   Twelve Years (and One Day) Later…

September calendar, Sept 11th

I am a day late with this post, but I think pondering the impacts of 9/11 is not something that stops when you turn the calendar.

At my present job I work with people of different ages. Yesterday there was a discussion at work of “Where were you when…?” One of the women I work with said, “I was in school…in 6th grade.” YIKES!

After this discussion, I decided to pull out an essay I wrote right after it happened. Someone on Craig’s List was looking for essays for a story collection about the event. Mine was not accepted, but now I’m glad I wrote it. Every time I read it, I will truly remember what that felt like for me: the confusion…the sorrow. I thought I’d share it here:

Halfway through 2001, I began to seriously question my career choice and my life’s purpose. In June, a coworker lost his only son, at eighteen years old, to a freak baseball accident. One minute he was proudly watching his son play a favorite sport, and an hour later, after an outfield collision, his son was dead. Though I had never met his son, I sat at my desk and cried for him.

Then in August my grandmother died. For most of my life I had been spared having to deal with death. The frustration and pain of watching my father, an only child, deal with the death of his beloved mother weighed on me. I wanted to spend more time with my family and less time being stressed out at work. I continued to go about my daily routine with growing feelings of discontent and inexplicable anxiety.

September 11th seemed like a normal morning. Per my routine, I got to work at 8:00 am, turned on my computer, and checked my email. Most people in my department got in at 9:00 am, so my first hour every day was casual and quiet. I made a cup of tea and wandered across the hall to visit a coworker who was also an early bird. We chatted about our beloved cats’ antics: light, pass-the-time conversation.

Just before 9:00 am, our proofreader rushed frantically down the hall and into the office. He was normally a quiet man who kept to his cubby, so it was a shock to see him down our end of the hall. We stopped our conversation abruptly when we saw his flushed face. Clearly upset, he told us there were planes circling and bombing the World Trade Center.

We were stunned. What he said was inconceivable. He told us that it was happening just as he was leaving the house. He lived around the corner and walked to work; he must have practically run this morning.

All I could think of was “Find a radio!” I repeated the proofreader’s words to everyone I saw during my radio search, unknowing that I was spreading distorted news, as if we were playing the childhood “telephone” game.

Our boss suddenly appeared, rushing down the hallway. She told us she heard on her car radio that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. As the later arrivals tumbled in, in various emotional states, radios were turned on, and people clustered in offices.  Then, as we listened, they announced that a plane had hit the Pentagon. “We’re under attack!” someone yelled. It might have been me; I know I was thinking it.

I felt numb, petrified. I thought the world was coming to an end. Everything I had felt in the last few months seemed like it was leading up to this moment. Why hadn’t I done something before?

Someone said there was a TV on in the gym and another one set up in the boardroom. No one worried about not getting work done. The country was in crises. I reached the TV in time to watch the second tower crumble to the ground, and as the newscasters talked about another missing plane, I left the room to cry alone. I felt like I couldn’t bear any more.

And I was lucky. No one I knew was on any of the planes, or in the twin towers, or the Pentagon. I didn’t have to run to a telephone and try to call relatives or friends only to hear a busy signal in my ear. I didn’t have to receive any final voice mail message that they loved me. I went back to my office and stared at my computer. What was I doing here? Same as what those poor people were doing…going about my daily life. There should be a sense of comfort, strength, and pride in that. This was life.

Turned out there was someone I had never met, who I had spoken with on the phone at work, who was in one of the buildings and managed to get out and survive. We talked of it VERY briefly a year later. He said he was grateful every day. Not long after our conversation, he was in a car accident with his family. He died, but the rest of his family lived. It absolutely gave me the shivers. Rereading my essay helps me put things in perspective and remember to be grateful, every day.



{August 9, 2013}   Daily Prompt: Smell you later

shade flowers

Lily of the Valley

This Daily Prompt took me back to a springtime walk and the beautiful memories of my grandmother that came to me that day. The memories were brought on by the sight and smell of lilies of the valley at the side of the road. The sweet smell of the delicate bells flirting amid the dramatically curving leaves brought her back to me. It’s not what you might think — it’s not that she wore sweet “old lady” perfume that smelled like these flowers; her shady yard was abundant with them.

She and my grandfather built their colonial house on a lot covered with tall pines; there aren’t that many flowers that can grow in that type of shade, but lily of the valleys thrive in such a spot. She and my grandfather must have liked the pines because they didn’t cut them down to make the yard sunnier. (The people who bought and renovated her house after she died cut down most of the trees and completely transformed the lot and the house, leaving her old yard and house only a memory.) One whole side of her driveway was a swath of lilies of the valley; when we would pull in the driveway for a springtime visit, we would always pause to breathe in their sweet smell before going into the dark, cluttered house.

She must have been trying to reach me from beyond that day: hours later I was at my parents house with my younger brother.  We unearthed a box of games in the back of one of our sheds of “stuff.”  The shed is full of boxes that were moved out of my grandmother’s house when she passed away. My father intended to go through the shed himself, but he passed away before he could get it done. Now it is a chore for those left behind.

The games also brought back more good memories of my grandmother: When we grandchildren were young, we took turns staying at her house for the weekend. She kept a lot of games there for our entertainment when we stayed over, some of them games my father had as a child. They were quite old, but “new” and “special” toys to us. We used to fight over whose turn it was to stay over. When you live in a small house full of many children, you long for more space and quiet and the concentrated attention of a grandparent. She made us feel special.

Those were the days…



{June 16, 2013}   Father’s Day

I’ve written about my father a lot on this blog.  No need to go further.

I will always love you, Dad. You will always be my version of Superman.

Dad after his prom




For Father’s Day I worked on a photo collage of my father. Since he died, I think about him almost every day. My mother and I talk about how she meets people at the pharmacy, bank, and senior center that say they still miss him. He was the light in a lot of people’s average days.

My father drew cartoons his whole life; he carried more than a few in his pocket that he could whip out at any time and show people. He never had them published; he was too busy taking care of his family and living life. At the wake, we displayed a notebook full and people lined up to look at them. Since he’s been gone we have found countless poems written on scraps of paper and the backs of envelopes; they were never published. The last few years of his life, he tried writing down his stories; he said he was working on his memoirs. He never finished them.

One of my biggest fears has always been that I would repeat his life, that I would be filled with regret for not doing what I wanted to do and not fulfill my potential. He had his moments — his poems reveal it — when he felt regret and disappointment. Yet my father did a lot during his 84 years. He saved several people’s lives by being at the right place at the right time and not hesitating to act: a neighbor who cut his leg with a chainsaw; an older man who slipped underwater at the gym pool. At his funeral I talked about how he cared for a neighbor’s dog that got hit by a car, and how I remembered his feeding a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest with an eye dropper. Stray animals always seemed to end up at our door; if they didn’t find a home there, my father would find them a home somewhere else.

He made a lot of people laugh; he was adored by his family. What I have been thinking a lot about lately is that he lived an extraordinary ordinary life. I ponder how many people’s lives the “average” person touches during their lifetime? I wonder how many lives my father touched in his lifetime as an “average” man? How many “meaningful” interactions does a “lifetime” include? There are so many factors. Some people choose professions that are inherently influential: teachers, nurses, or ministers. My father was an office worker for most of his life, and yet, wherever he went he made friends. He interacted with bank tellers, cashiers, and waitresses; he made their day with his jokes, warmth, and friendliness.

I’m over halfway through my life and I haven’t saved any; I don’t think I have it in me (I’m not rational under pressure). I’ll never live up to him in that way. Although I am family-oriented, I don’t have my own family. I do know I have touched some lives because people have told me (some complete strangers that I did something for without thinking about it, others acquaintances that I wrote poems for). I’m at an evaluating time in my life: old dreams have died and new dreams seem elusive.

Though I sometimes feel I have more of my father’s faults than his attributes, I now recognize it is worthwhile to aspire to be him and not dread it. We can’t all be movie stars, writers, or teachers, but we can all aspire to live an extraordinary ordinary life.



{December 16, 2011}   Remembrance

The one-year anniversary of my father’s death is fast approaching.  Everyone I’ve met who has ever lost a loved one has warned me this is a difficult time.  I want to do something, but nothing feels good enough.

My father’s gravesite marker is flat to the ground. We are not allowed to plant anything around it, and although his marker is accompanied by a vase, there are only so many fake flowers we can put in it. My mother bought a “remembrance blanket”; she pictured a blanket of greens with white flowers interspersed (looking for something similar to that which she had bought years ago when my grandmother passed away), but was disappointed. What seemed like a lot of money to her, bought her very little.

My brothers put a memorial in the newspaper.  Again, a lot of money.  It is a lovely thought, emotionally, but no one in my family has over $100 to spend on a few lines in the newspaper.  My husband has been investigating more permanent things like a “brick” at the local senior center…definitely on the right track, but we don’t have the money right now…the anniversary of his death comes at a tough time.  The tough lesson of Christmas that we have all had to learn since we were children is to “delay gratification.”  Sometimes we have to plan and wait.

A few weeks ago one of my brothers found a rock on my father’s marker.  We wondered who had left it.  Some research indicated it was someone of the Jewish faith.  Our family is Christian, but to me, it was a touching gesture.  I liked the idea of something more permanent than flowers, and knowing that someone other than family had visited his grave felt very comforting.

At Thanksgiving my nephew told me he had recently gone to the local gym.  It happened to be the same one my father had attended.  When he signed in at the desk, the attendant asked if he was related to my father.  When he answered “yes,” the person proceeded to tell him about my father being such a pleasure and how he cheered her up with his cartoons whenever he would come in to the gym.  It touched him.  This has happened at banks, restaurants, anywhere my father went regularly.

I think the best thing of all is knowing that he made a difference to people outside our family and that he is missed by a lot of people.



et cetera
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