Where the Sky meets the Sea

The state of Maine is beautiful. The seasons are magnificent and bold, and the treasures of the mountains, of the frosty sea, of the wildflower meadows and of the whispering pines are incomparable. When you stand on the shore and gaze out into the horizon, the sky meets the sea in a union of infinity, of past, of present and of the foggy future.

Recently, I travelled back to my college reunion in Maine where I connected not only with some of my friends and missed others,  but also where I re-connected with my college self.

My college self loved dear friends, scholarship, theater, music, and possibilities as limitless as the sky. My post college self shares all of the same enthusiasms as well as love for my husband and two amazing adult children.

Aside from my professional experiences and raising my family, I have loved a lot of people and have lost a lot of people who were parts of my soul post college and who continue to inspire me today.

The wide-eyed college graduate I once was  loved  acting, belting out Broadway songs and thriving in Classical languages. Along the way I learned life amidst the ruins – classical or otherwise- is powered by gratitude.

A year ago,  I resigned my job as principal of my dear high school alma mater to care for my  parents who, in their “golden years,” navigate the unchartered seas of Alzheimer’s and of physical disability.

Back in the day, my father was an able captain of all he touched. He deftly sailed and motored boats. So too he navigated my childhood with imagination and devotion.

On Christmas day, I would wake up to magic – stuffed animals playfully performing tasks such as fishing or singing with recorded soundtracks.

Once Dad even surprised me at my formal eighth grade dance by flying back for twelve hours from a teamster’s negotiation in Washington, DC so I would have my dad there. At the time, I did not know he was coming,  and I will never forget how thrilled I was when I saw him.

Outside of dad’s personal life, he also navigated an incredible journey as an executive for United Parcel Service(UPS). Ultimately, dads served as Director of Finance when UPS expanded internationally.in 1988.

My mom taught high school English in the Boston Public Schools and at my alma mater for over thirty years, and she touched the future. Today, she does not give  up on my dad or on teaching or on trying to walking again after three hip replacements.

Always  loved the musical Pippin and will keep trying to find my “Corner of the Sky.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take one. Take two. Take it away.

 

This past winter presented with countless blizzards and school closings, and this past spring was equally staggering in terms of my personal life supporting both my school as a principal and supporting my accomplished and aging parents as a daughter.

After assessing it all, my husband and I decided I would retire at the end of year, and we would relocate to Florida. I am an only child whose parents provided every blessing and opportunity to me, to my husband and to my children throughout my fifty years. We would work out all the details – “together” – over the summer.

My parents came home this spring for a last hurrah. The goal was to spend quality time with family and with friends and to put my parents’ local home as well as my husband’s and my home on the market so we all would be close to one another in Florida.

For about four weeks, we had a nice rhythm going. My parents, along with my husband, with my children, with my dear aunt Elaine and with my dear friend Barb attended my soul affirming retirement party at my Catholic alma mater where I had been blessed to serve as first lay principal for six years. My parents loved the Catholic sisters, my education and the school’s role in my formation. My mom also taught at my alma mater for three years after her retirement as an English teacher from the Boston public schools.

Beginning June 19, mom, dad and I were the three musketeers; we went out together five days a week. In May, my parents also visited their beloved college alma mater, and my mom was on top of the moon when she, her sister and her brother had their picture taken together during reunion.

Then,  life changed, in an instant, on a Tuesday night. After a challenging two days filled with excruciatingly long appointments and with three visits to the pharmacy, coupled with my dad throwing out his back for the first time in ten years, I got my parents settled into their home for the evening, and I took a deep breath when I returned home to decompress.

At 10 pm, that same night, however, I got a call from my dad that relayed that my mom and he had been taken, by ambulance, to a local hospital, and that I needed to come on down. I was there within a half hour, and four hours later, my mom was transferred from a local hospital to Massachusetts General Hospital, MGH. I drove my dad there in the middle of the night using my GPS. The trip was scary and unchartered. What a metaphor!

Ironically, the same day that my mom was transferred to MGH was the same day that MGH was recognized as the number one hospital in the United States. When Mom was eventually coherent, post days of morphine and successful surgery, I told her that I had not been looking to her to singlehandedly confirm for me MGH’s standing as the number one hospital , but that, given the circumstances, I was super grateful we were there.

The doctor’s post op report, after mom’s surgery, was sobering. The high level report was that mom did well and that she would walk again, but not for a bit. Mom would be dismissed from MGH to rehab, and then, she would be able to go home to Florida. I found myself understanding that I would be dear dad’s constant companion. I had not seen this coming. The role we get is not necessarily the role we wanted, but there are no small parts only small actors.

The days with my dad post mom’s confinement are both a gift and a puzzlement. He asks the same things throughout the day, and I know that he is smart and that he wants to understand. I answer him as respectfully as I can. He tries. I try. We both fail. We laugh a lot too. End scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You think you’re Cinderella, but the prince is winking at me

Once upon a time, there was an only child whose parents, extended family, friends and teachers encouraged her imagination. Who doesn’t love a castle, mice as horses and a pumpkin as a carriage? Cinderella had it all going on and if that was not enough, she starred in her own musical. Case closed.

My parents, grandparents, my Aunt Elaine and my cousins were all masterful readers of tales and co-conspirators in role play and in setting the scene. 

Details were and have always been hugely important to me. Often, I required my loved ones to play roles and to watch plays or shows with me so that I would not be afraid. Suspension of disbelief was never a problem for me. If I could imagine it, it could happen. End scene.

Even with companionship, however, I was moved by the power of word to the point of being terrified. At the age of four, I went to nursery school where I recited the Pledge of Allegiance and wept while singing “My Country tis of Thee.” Singing the lyrics, “Land where my fathers died,” overwhelmed me. I had no concept of our founding fathers but was unsettled completely by the thought of losing my father who was my first playmate and who was my most willing co-conspirator. 

Method acting was not hard for me as I pursued acting through the years. In college, I was cast as the actress who could “cry on cue.” I could and I did.

My mother was, undoubtedly, a gifted chronicler and ahead of her time when I was young. She recorded reflections in my baby book until I was four. At two and a half, I had watched Cinderella, and I was enthralled.

 My mother asked me if I liked it, and my reply to her was “you think you are Cinderella but the prince is winking at me.” As a parent, I think the remark was a little cutting. As a daughter, though, I get that your dad is your first hero.

Today, my dad,who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and who was my partner in crime in three different shopping arenas, today,  left the groceries in the basement of his condo in a “safe place” from which I retrieved them. I had asked him to bring them upstairs and to which he had responded, “no problem.”

I had laughed earlier in the day when my dad told the cosmetician at the counter where we bought my mom her “Angel” perfume and “Angel” hairspray that he felt the sky might be the limit for purchases so instead of getting upset he was just going to go with it. The cosmetician, in turn, thought dad was spritely and good humored so she gave him some free samples.

My dad has gone with it. He is quiet a lot of the time, but his comedic timing is spot on. He would be the funniest comedian if he could remember to show show up. The good news is, however, that he has always has shown up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s start at the very beginning

There are no small parts… only small actors

At the age of five, I met my dearest childhood friends who were a group of four formidable thespians. The eldest and our director was Charles. He was eight years of age. His siblings included Nanny, age 6, Jonathan, age 5 and Peter, age 3. Ours was a group that performed “My Fair Lady,” as our inaugural play, a lofty aspiration for children. I played Mrs. Pearce, the housekeeper of Professor Higgins, who attempts to teach Eliza Doolittle how to articulate vowels properly. The role was a foreshadowing for my calling as a Latin/English teacher, a director of college guidance and a principal for two schools.

Being an actress, not unlike embracing life, involves challenge; at five years of age, the challenges boiled down to not being able to read, to not understanding vowels and to attempting to maintain “character.” At fifty years of age, the challenges are slightly different; to not being able to heal the ills of my incredible parents who suffer from maladies both physical and mental, to not being able to make life easy for my loved ones and to attempting to maintain “character.” 

Character is the constant.The experience in “My Fair Lady,” was a life changing one that exposed me to the theater in a most visceral way. I memorized my lines by listening to the director, Charles, who fed me my lines and by repeating them after him. There was no such thing as a VCR or YouTube in 1969. You had to pay attention and to get outside of yourself in as convincing a way as you could.

The one performance of “My Fair Lady” was on the side porch of my friends’ home to a most select and tiny neighborhood crowd including our parents. There was no fee for admission only a willingness to suspend one’s disbelief. There was only one performance and as it happened, I made the dress rehearsal, but not the show. 

I did, however, make the shows for the next twelve years, and I played amazing roles from one of the muleteers lusting after Dulcinea (at age eight) in “Man of La Mancha,” to Sara Delano Roosevelt in “Sunrise at Campobello” to Melanie in “Gone with the Wind.” 

Talk about being a character actress. I was one then and I am one now, and after twenty-eight years in education including ten years as a principal, I can say with sincerity that there are no small parts only small actors.