Posts Tagged ‘memory’

Some of you may know that I, like Joe Biden, have strong ties to Scranton, PA.

Actually, my entire family came from County Mayo, Ireland to that hard working, coal-mining, Catholic city in Lackawanna County generations ago. My paternal grandfather owned a successful butcher shop, and his parents and grandparents before him owned cattle. They were landowners, they could read and write – I know now because it’s all on the census lists over a century ago and I’m on Ancestry.com!

They are all buried in Cathedral Cemetery, at the top of a hill, in Scranton.

What does it mean to come from a particular place?

Even though I left Scranton at a young age, my foster parents, Nell and Daddy Jim, crossed the Delaware Water Gap for a visit with the Flapper, who still couldn’t walk, week after week, year after year. What, if anything, did I take away from Scranton?

I learned early not to complain, to get on with a task I didn’t like doing. It didn’t matter if I wanted to do something else, when it was time to wash my hair for instance, I did it. The Flapper told me that the most beautiful girls in the world came from Pennsylvania! Just look at Grace Kelly! Maybe that’s why she would always pull my wet hair back into “princess braids,” and if I complained she would say we had to suffer to be beautiful.

I gained a certain confidence in Scranton, a sense of self reliance. I remember my Nana telling me that Dolly Madison ice cream was the best ice cream in the world! She would give me money to walk to the store for her, all by myself, and I’d have to count out the change at the store and when I returned. I was only eight or nine, but she trusted me.

I learned that my family expected the best in me. They gave me ballet lessons and my sister Kay was my Professor Higgins; drilling my Jersey accent out of me. .Nana proudly took me to see my very first movie, Picnic in 1955. I was seven years old. She said that children don’t usually go to the movies, but she trusted me not to run up and down the aisles. I didn’t.

Self-sufficiency and fierce independence were highly prized commodities in Scranton. My elderly aunts pickled vegetables. The steps to the cellar were lined with shelves filled with chow chow and other strange sounding things. Kay would love to tell us the story of forcing Nana to give up her ice box because she bought her a new-fangled refrigerator.

Biden had to leave Scranton at the age of 10 because his father found a job in Delaware, but his Irish Catholic roots, like mine, ran deep.

“…his (Biden’s) great-great-grandfather had moved to northeastern Pennsylvania in 1851 after emigrating from Ireland. Scranton was where his grandparents, and his parents, had met, he said. After moving away in the fourth grade, he continued to spend most of his summers and holidays there, visiting his mother’s family in the same middle-class, predominantly Irish Catholic neighborhood where he had spent his early years.

“My mother would go on to live in Delaware more than 50 years, but when you asked Jean Finnegan where she was from, she’d say ‘Scranton,’” he added.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/21/trump-biden-scranton-pennsylvania-deserted-delaware/

It’s funny, but Great Grandma Ada always says she’s from Brooklyn, even though she left it 75 years ago.

I might still be living in Pennsylvania if not for The Year of Living Dangerously.

Pennsylvania carries 20 votes in the Electoral College, and is now considered a swing state. Mr T won the state in 2016 by less than one percentage point. Its residents are from the salt of the earth; descendants of coal miners and yes, small business owners like “The Office.” They are a loyal, proud bunch, not afraid of hard work. And they can smell a con from miles away.

Here is a picture of the L’il Pumpkin’s first day at Kindergarten. As Biden would say, “C’MON”!IMG_8148




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It’s a well known fact that we adults like to highlight the trauma we claim to remember as children. My brothers would argue over who the Flapper beat more, yes in those days getting a good beating was good for you! My foster father would tell me if he messed up in school, and the nuns beat him, he would face an even bigger beating at home. They actually seemed proud of having survived such a vicious childhood relatively intact. Of course I don’t know how much of this was true, whether a beating involved a belt or a slap on the behind. By the time I was born, beating a child had gone out of fashion.

And although raising “good” children may have changed in the 21st Century, what we remember of the recent past is always up for interpretation.

Bob and I watched the recent Republican debate, for instance, in awe of Donald Trump. There he was, in all his pomp and swagger, telling it like it was to Jeb Bush. The crowd was having none of it, they booed him mercilessly. His brother George, in fact, did NOT keep us safe “before” 9/11, and when he went into Iraq “after” on a (excuse the pun) trumped up WMD charge, he destabilized the entire region. Oh the humanity – but,but, didn’t George keep us safe? http://science.time.com/2013/11/19/remember-that-no-you-dont-study-shows-false-memories-afflict-us-all/

Maybe Trump is a Democrat! I was wondering for a second if Trump was channelling Michael Moore! We all remember what George W Bush did right after his aide whispered to him, while he was sitting in a FL elementary school classroom, that our country was under attack, right? That a second plane had hit the Twin Towers. He waited for over 5 minutes while children read a book about a goat, and then he and Air Force One took off to an Air Force base in Louisiana. And by mid-afternoon POTUS was in Nebraska…

In a book about the Secret Service, author Philip Melanson will later comment on the president’s failure to promptly return to Washington: “If the president appeared less than resolute at any point… it was the fault of agents who were overzealous in their desire to protect him, administration sources have offered.” Yet, “The Service, whose first duty that day or any other day is to protect the president, has never publicly pointed out that Bush could have overruled them at any time and ordered Air Force One to Washington, DC.”

In fact, secret service literally hauled Cheney by the arms to a bunker beneath the White House, while allowing Bush to sit in a school room trying to ponder the enormity of that morning. Michael Moore, I can’t wait to see your latest documentary, “Where to Invade Next.”

Granted my memory probably isn’t as good as it used to be. Large swaths of information have been known to fall out of my brain in order to make room for another password. But like Donald Trump, I was there on that September day, running around like a mad woman, trying to find my son, talk with my daughter who was working in a government building in DC, phoning my nephew and my sister in NYC. Waiting to hear if Bob was meeting ferries with injured people from the Wall Street dock. I went to my neighbor’s empty-casket funeral. While Bush and Karl Rove were circling the Gulf of Mexico trying to decide where to land.

As much as I hate what he stands for, Trump has the illusion of power. He IS Oz, pulling back the curtain and striking at our deepest, darkest secrets. I imagine he was hit as a child, that was his generation after all. And he’s not going to shield us from the truth. He tells it like it is – he is everyman! He’s playing “it’s us against them,” in a similar Bernie vein, only he knows that he’s not really everyman, he is the exceptional man! One of the 1%. He thrives on his money and power and polls. Trump played equally well with Democrats and Republicans, with beggars and saints.

Trump thinks we can all handle the truth. He is our Putin, and we better get ready to defeat him.


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Yesterday I attended a writing seminar on the art of the memoir. Putting one’s family on the page can be a daunting task, and yet it seems I’ve been doing this my whole life. It started when I was a young wife, and found myself alone on a mountain with a baby girl. From that first published piece in the Berkshire Eagle, “Guns in the Woods,” writing has been my salvation, a revelation of sorts.

Don’t bother trying to Google it. The Bride was probably around The Love Bug’s age, a toddler in a time before the Internet. We lived such a simple life when I look back. The memoir instructor asked us to draw a map, but I was puzzled. Where was home for me? Home. It’s not so much a place, as it is a feeling. Maybe because I was never quite at home with my foster parents, always traveling back to the Flapper in Scranton.

One house alive with brothers and a sister and ideas! Another house solemn, asleep and afraid of the dark.

Another early Eagle essay described what the Flapper must have felt when she learned we were at war. I had asked her once how she found out about Pearl Harbor on December 7th in 1941. She told me she was pregnant with my brother Jimmy (Dr Jim), and she was listening to the radio on a stool at the ice cream fountain in my Father’s drug store with her stockings rolled down around her ankles. I always loved these details. Details are the building blocks of a writer’s life.

By writing, I could somehow paint a picture of that scene in the drug store.

I wish I too could have read those comic books after school at my Father’s store. I wish I could have helped him compound medicine in the back room. I wish I could have climbed up on his lap while he was reading the newspaper.

But my life, my memories of Victory Gardens are different. Being stung by a bee on the foot, underneath Nell’s clothesline. Riding down the hill in Daddy Jim’s car to Mass, and then on to Zanelli’s for a Rocky Road sundae. The dreaded tick tock of a grandfather clock in the hall. I was too young to remember that Year of Living Dangerously.

Maybe I write to reclaim it. IMG_1849

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I’ve said it myself, “I’d just like a reboot please.” Who doesn’t want a “do over” every now and again? I was signing up online for a restorative yoga class, when my computer asked me to “sign in” and pick a password. Then it had the gall, when I hesitated, to suggest I may want Safari to assign a password for me!

First of all, NO, thank you computer, but nobody else gets to pick a password for me. I already have too many passwords: one for Google, another for Facebook; one for Twitter and one for Tumblr’ then there’s Etsy, Amazon and Zillow, to name a few. And now I need a new password to check out A Place to Breathe Yoga Studio?

I admit it, my brain on passwords is not pretty. Once you hit a certain age, your memory center starts to fill up and things like birthday dates and wedding anniversaries may just slide right on down your brain stem and end up in the proverbial trash heap of spam messages.

Yesterday I had an appointment with my smart, talented hair stylist Christopher Hays. I received the reminder email the day before, but a few days before that, I had received another email – a group list serve – from Christopher. The first message was about a conflict and it suggested I make another appointment online . HA. Well I have never signed into their scheduling service online simply because I don’t want another password! I always schedule the next appointment when I’m actually there, face to face, shears to hair.

Luckily he knew that about me, so he just scheduled yesterday’s cut on his own! And since I always usually do what my computer says, I showed up!

I got up early and went to the Cville City Market for some fresh okra and heirloom tomatoes. I schmoozed with some vendors, and met a great baked plantain gal. Then I went to confession – isn’t your hairdresser your confessor? – and started to plan my Indian fresh market dinner. Because Bob and I happened to see Helen Mirren’s new movie,  A Hundred Foot Journey, about dueling French and Indian restaurants, and love and renewal. We sat among the grey-haired legions at bargain matinees everywhere.

And we didn’t get our tickets on Fandango, although the line was long and filled with seniors on walkers. We strolled into the lobby and bought our tix at the kiosk – no human interaction necessary! And I wonder…

Will we be the last generation to know how to interact without an interface? To know how to write a letter? To know how to leave a phone message?

Thankfully, I wrote down my yoga password. I’m starting my yoga journey slowly, with the best of intentions, to restore my memory.

My Reflection pre-Market

My Reflection pre-Market

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