Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice Greeting. Yule Smile...

Dog is love. 

The darkest of times will pass tonight...And as our earth turns back to the light, sending you sincere wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a hopeful, prosperous New Year.

With heartfelt love to all,


Photoshop graphic generously built and gifted to me by the fabulous Erik Sherman

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Moon Eclipse Bubbles Howl Run

 “A full lunar eclipse?  Well, we just have got to do something about that…” said Lisa.  
Right then, I should have remembered what the word lunatic meant.
It was August 17th, 1989, and the four of us were wrapping up our day quite late at the recently opened Disney MGM Studios.  It was never a 9 to 5 day for us, and it was ticking up to midnight.  Our work motto in those younger more resilient days was that sleep was for weaklings, and you can expect to sleep when you die.  So we just worked pretty much 24/7.  And when we played…
I was concluding my phone calls as crew scheduler making sure multiple camera crews reported on time the next day equipped with what they needed.  Amy, a production manager, was running down her notes double checking her gig just one more time, her feet propped up on my desk, laughing at some loony irony of the day.  She is an expert at irony.   
Tiersa leaned on the doorframe of my office.  She had just come from her realm in the executive trailer where she was gal Friday to the Vice President of the Studios.  As I recall, she was there to tell me to quit sneaking into his office and moving things round to annoy his starchy perfectionism.  He could tell things were disturbed by the shifts in the dust on his desk.  Me driving him crazy was driving her crazy too.   
And, finally, the tall blonde drink of water who could lift or throw anything as far as any guy on the crew, Lisa, strolled in from Lighting & Grip world, bored, anxious and looking for something to do that Thursday night.   
It was a convergence of dangerous females, all single young career chicks with no male encumbrances at the time.  We were too competent, tough and bossy for just any guy, so that would have to come later.  Plus working at the theme park made it pretty slim pickins’ for eligible straight guys anyway.  So we put some carpe in the diem all for ourselves.
Somebody dubbed us “The Girl Gang” because whenever there was a party to plan, amp up, or burn down, we did it.  And still made set call the next morning.
That night we were spoiling for an adventure.  The prospect of seeing a full lunar eclipse first hand just spoke to our southern pagan hearts.
Lisa owned a Ford Explorer with four wheel drive and wanted to take us “mudding” in the cow pastures somewhere out behind SeaWorld where the streetlights wouldn’t wash out the eclipse spectacle. 
And, she knew where there was a sale of good champagne at an all-night liquor store.  It turned out to be Dom Perignon.  We bought a bottle apiece and shot the corks at each other right away taking big swigs straight from the bottle.  No prissy flutes would survive the night anyway.
At the time, many roads around the theme parks would be paved beautifully but you could, if you knew where, round a corner and drop off to rutted dirt in a second.  That’s where we went off-roading. 
Lisa at the wheel, and the rest of us screaming like an asylum on fire, we bucked and rolled and hopped all over that big stretch of pasture land, holding our champagne bottles like gyroscopes to keep from spilling a drop. Bonking our heads on the ceiling of the car, we saw great grey washes of dirt and mud from puddles and probably quite a bit of cow poop shoot up from under the wheels until her Explorer looked white in the moonlight.
And it was serious moonlight.  Full, low and blazingly white with a face-shaped mottling of grey.
“I gotta pee,” announced Tiersa, and we stopped on top of a rise. That’s what passes for a hill in Florida.  Tiersa gingerly set her white dress-up shoes on the ground and scurried off a ways to take care of business in spite of being dressed still in office chic attire.  I made the mistake of going directly in front of the Explorer and Lisa and Amy flipped on the headlights just as I could do nothing but squat there and call them names while mosquitos bit my bright white butt.
But then, it began.  The moon that was laughing at us with a full round face began to change.  A red wedge gradually encroached on his cheek like a rash slowly taking over the moon’s face.  He looked down on us and it almost seemed as though his expression changed to fear and bewilderment.  What is this eating my smile?  In a short time, the moon turned red and expressionless.  Like a blush at some embarassment. A penumbra of white light backlit him like a movie star.
We sat on the bumper of the Explorer and quietly sipped our champagne looking up in awe as the shadow of the earth consumed the moon. 
Could have been me. 
Could have been any one of us, but someone howled like a wolf. 
And the rest of us chanted in our own howl harmonies.  Echoes of what may have lurked in our genetic memories as a natural reaction to the harrowing sight of a blood hued moon just burst out of us.
The red disc began to pull across the moon revealing his hearty happy face again, and we howled louder.
Until the deer-blinding  hunting lights from the trucks lined up on the next rise came on and we heard,
“Hey ladies!   What’s up?  Let’s party…Whoohooo!”  Dub in the leering, cackling, teeth-challenged, hygiene-resistant trollish laughter here.
 Some stinkers had snuck up on us.
We jumped into the Explorer like wet cats and took off. 
They pursued us a while, hooting and hollering and quite frankly scaring the hell out of us.  But we lost them about the time we cleared a low hillock and came down into a cow wallow with a sticky wet thud. 
We stuck right up to the floorboards in muck, all four wheels spinning in futility. 
We sank up to our kneecaps in it too when we stepped out of the vehicle.  Even Tiersa sunk in her white dress-up pumps which were almost sucked off her feet in the mess.   No amount of rocking or stuffing dry materials or empty bottles under those tires was going to get Lisa’s Explorer out of that sucking quagmire either.
We waded out, found a utility road where power lines snapped and sizzled over our heads for miles and made for the lights toward Kissimmee on foot.  The four of us.  The Girl Gang with our arms around each other’s shoulders, covered in mud and poop. 
And glory.
None of us missed our call the next morning.  Not a one.


Monday, December 13, 2010

December Star Party in the Sky

Cinching my robe and sliding my stiff awakening feet into moccasins every morning in the hours before dawn, I step out with my canine companion, Bella, and we walk in the dark.
As dark as we can find.

The darker the pathway beneath our feet,  the brighter the stars above. 

We look up to dizzy ourselves tracking the lights.  It's a star party and we walk the perimeter, earthbound with no invitation and imagine stories.

Everyone is dressed to the nines.  They are brilliant, Perseus and Casseopia, in diamonds flung against a flowing garment of black velvet.
Or the gods allow hints in pin pricks letting through just a smidgeon of light from the multi-verse on the other side of the black paper canopy overarching us all.  That light is too powerful for us to see.  We'd be blinded by it given the full impact of its brilliance.   A disco ball universe.

Canis Major follows Orion on his nightly hunt, as loyal and content as my dog does.  Belted by three gems at his waist, Orion's arm is extended pulling back his giant bow.
The Pleiades, seven soft sisters, crowd shyly near Taurus,  and sometimes flirt with Orion.  They are decked in milky gossamer, less boisterous, more radiant these December nights.
Castor and Pollux, The Celestial Twins load up their Roman candles and bottle rockets and fling them toward earth leaving crackling sparkling trails and tails...

It may be ice age frigid tonight, but the Geminids promise a real show for those hearty souls who will be looking up.  If you do, you'll be sharing the spectacle with me.  And, I will enjoy your company.
More celestial events to follow this month.  And I have a story to tell...

courtesy hubble.org

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Spike Driver on the Toxaway Ghost Express

Moonlight. Lake Toxaway. "In Beautiful Sapphire Country."

“Yep,” said Jimmy, “That’s where the colored spike driver dude is buried.”

Every once in a while, in the summer time when school was out, we’d ride Jimmy’s horses all over the Indian paths and logging roads that stitched across the mountains near Lake Toxaway, North Carolina. Jimmy was one of the only locals who would deal with us Floridian transplants every summer without wanting to beat the snot out of our spoiled flatlander asses, and for that we were actually pretty grateful.

Jimmy, a true native, showed us things and took us places we never would’ve realized existed.

On this day we, Jim, my brother Jon, two of the three MacClarty boys Mike and Pat and I, were out riding when Jimmy pointed out that grave. It was an unassuming lonely mound of dirt nestled into a grove of pines marked with a tiny white cross and some relatively fresh flowers.

“How I hear it, he helped build the railroad comin’ up here to the old Toxaway Inn way back in ‘bout 1900. Heard he had a pretty rough time of it up here b’cause he was the only colored man on that crew and how mean everyone was to him,” said Jim. “That’s pretty much all I know.”

“If he died in the early 1900’s, who brings the flowers?”

Jim winked and flashed a crooked smile. “It’s a stone cold mystery who keeps puttin’ them here all the time. I hear tell folks set out here all night just to see who does it but the next morning there’s new flowers and no one saw a dang thing!”

“Yeah, right Jim,” said Mike, “Just trying to get us to piss our pants aren’t ya? Cut the crap.”

Jim took off his hat, grinned bigger and scratched his head. “Just tellin’ you what I heard.”

We were riding on a logging road soon thereafter. It was narrow and flanked by an enormous rock face on one side and a gut-clenching drop-off on the other. I couldn’t look over the drop off and scraped my poor pony up against the rock face the whole time.

We discovered a great wide open cave carved out of the mountainside along that road that day and made plans to come back at night to camp out. We had to get our sleeping bags, flashlights, bug repellent and the all important beer.

Quantity not quality was the agreed upon beer philosophy.

Jim couldn’t join us on the camp out.

“Y’all just have a good time on your own. I’ve been there before so t'ain't so new t' me.”

Odd. Jim never missed an opportunity to party with us when he knew there would be beer. He probably just wanted to hound dog a new blonde-blue sweetie he was pursuing. We knew how to get back up there on foot, which seemed a little safer than by horseback anyway.

So off we rambled, three flatlander guys and a girl, at dusk. We hiked the distance to the cave beneath a red glowing sunset.

The camp fire was easy since all the tinder inside the cave was dry. It had a nice high flame and our shadows bounced and wavered on the back wall of the cavern. I wondered, between sips of Old Milwaukee, if prehistoric people had much the same visions provoked by those flickering images of sparks and shadows.

I thought of Plato.

Then I had to pee.

Camp out romance is not a delicate thing. Mike, who had a marginal 'thing' for me that summer, offered to come along while I stepped out of the circle of firelight.  He often thought my having to pee was really code for it’s time to make out.

“Ok. Mike, one condition: I have to hold your flashlight while I pee so you don’t try anything shady, like shine it on me when I’m in the process. Got it?”

With no moon, climbing down out of the cave was tricky. We got down on the logging road and I found a spot near the edge where I unzipped and squatted careful not douse my boots in hot rental Old Milwaukee. With one hand I yanked up my jeans and zipped them. With the other hand, I kept the beam of the flashlight on Mike who was laughing hysterically at my prissy modesty.

He missed me going over the edge he was laughing so hard.

The edge of the logging road crumbled under my feet and I bounced, rolled, smacked and tumbled down the drop until I came to a stop on something hard, cold and metallic. The flashlight skittered away and blinked off.

“Oh, that’s going to leave a mark,” I announced to no one in particular.

It hurt but no broken bones, just probably bruises and scrapes. I patted the ground around me feeling for the flashlight and felt long cold metal perpendicular to splintery rectangles of wood.


The tar stench of creosote.

Railroad track! I fell on a train track.

Eventually my fingers found the flashlight and I flicked it on to light the tracks, shiny, narrow and curving into the distance, hugging the mountainside. I aimed the beam upward to see how I’d fallen and couldn’t believe my luck at not having broken my fool neck.

“Mike?” No answer.

Just wind in the trees and constellations swirling around a very black sky.

Standing, I turned the flashlight off to let my eyes adjust. A little way down just before a curve in the track, I could see a pin prick of  light. It was swinging back and forth from right to left, then left to right again. Then it went still and I heard “clang…clang…clang” of metal hitting metal.

Then the light began its pendulum motion once again coming closer to me. It was a man swinging the light. A very tall powerfully built black man wearing a hat. Who was it?  John Henry the legendary guy?  My mind was fuzzy.  He held a lantern in the one hand and a huge sledgehammer-like mallet in the other.

I could see him set the lantern down, and then raise the mallet over his head and with a powerful stroke, he’d pound down on the track, once, twice, three times – “clang…clang…clang!”

A rumble began teasing my feet and, faintly, a whistle blew somewhere in the distance.

I called out to him. “Hey! Where’s a good place to climb back up to the road up there?”

His lantern behind him, all I could see was his silhouette abruptly straighten up and peer at me. He waved at me to get off the tracks.

And suddenly it wasn’t just his lantern rendering him backlit in silhouette.

It was a headlight. A train’s headlight. A cyclops monster chuffing its route down those rails at a furious pace.

He waved me off frantically but I had nowhere to go. Neither did he.

The rumble was making pebbles vibrate up into the air around his feet. The whistle pumped once, twice and then intoned the long lost distress wail...

The steam engine towered over him like a dragon, black smoke from the stack and white clouds from the runnels filled up the space behind him.

Unbelievably, the man leapt off the tracks in one smooth jump. He leapt off into the yawning void where it seemed there was nowhere to go but down. Straight down.

A punch of displaced air riding in front of the locomotive stole my breath and flattened me against the mountainside where I willed myself to sink into it. Hot exhalations of steam from the engine breathed against my chest, and the deafening squeal of wheel against rail as the engine and coal car sped by me, inches from me, percussed in a rhythmic clack, clack, clack.

The cars rolling by were lit from within and the people inside were laughing, dining, toasting each other with glasses held high with care so as not to spill because of the train’s lurch and shudder. The fringes on the windows swayed and the people, fleeting images of wealth dressed in long bustled skirts and formal suits were… happy.

As the whistle echoed, and the caboose lights rounded the curve, I flipped over onto my stomach and made a mad adrenalin-fueled scramble up the dirt face I had come down. I made it scratching with my fingernails almost all the way up when I felt my hand grasped by someone hard. He pulled me up as my feet found leverage on tree roots.

Mike was pale and angry. “What the hell? I thought you shined me and went back to the cave, and when you weren’t there we panicked! Quit screwin’ around!”

“I almost got hit by a train and you’re panicked?”

“What train?”

“The one down there. Didn’t you hear it? The tracks are right down there. It was some kind of tourist train with people in it acting out some turn of the century thing. You didn’t hear it? See it?”

All three of them looked at me in the flashlight beams with slack expressions.

"Oh and there was this guy!  A worker or something.  He was hammering the rails when the train came.  He  jumped off the cliff down there!  We gotta go see if he's ok...We have to get the rescue squad!"

"Um, by the look of your forhead, I'd say you were seeing things...Let's get back up to the cave."

A bump on my head was approaching the size and shape of a quail egg, and combined with all the scratches and bruises, I decided that pressing the issue further was futile.  And judging from the outlandish jabber issuing from my lips,  I even doubted what I saw.

A beer and half-assed first aid later, I tucked into my sleeping bag and listened for whistles. The guys took turns keeping me awake, watching me for signs of concussion. So much for camp out romance.

In broad daylight, I found the evidence of my descent over the edge. It was easy to find with all the freshly turned dirt and the foliage broken and crushed all the way down that drop off.

I sat on my rear and scooted down to where I must’ve landed.

There was Mike’s flashlight alright.

Lying right in the middle of a clay road.

Only the faintest indentations revealed where there once were ties, one after another, and where the rails must’ve been.

There was no railroad there anymore.

Just hard pack clay embossed with ghostly corrugated indentations where once there was.

Next to Mike’s flashlight though?

One lone handmade iron rail spike.  I still have it.



Lake Toxaway, North Carolina, was once a popular resort locale for the wealthy at the start of the twentieth century. The Edisons, Vanderbilts, Astors and Fords all travelled by train to the Toxaway Inn for luxurious rustic vacations on the largest man-made lake in the south.

The resort lost its luster and crumbled into memory when the dam broke in 1916 sending the lake in a tidal wave down into South Carolina sweeping folk and property along with it.

(A new dam was built in 1960, however, and the lake is back.)

That railroad spur for the privileged was built in 1900 by local crews across treacherous terrain and at great peril. One man, a black spike driver, was noted (and reviled by fellow caucasian crew members) for his practice of walking the rails at night to check for and repair damaged or poorly-constructed rail that could send a train plummeting down to its doom.

Like this one did... 
His lantern light waving back and forth is seen even now on the abandoned rail bed by those who know where to look for it.

The flowers on his grave? Still a mystery.

The porch on the old Toxaway Inn 1902

A ticket folder for the railway.  The ladies looked like this in the train...

Interesting memo from 1901 announcing the train link called The Transylvania Railroad.  Yes, it is Transylvania County.  Where prompt delivery of your baggage is paramount!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Priests, Lies and Boone's Farm Apple Wine

Beth Anne leaned over and said to me in a big-eyed giggly whisper, “”Did you hear what happened to Father Dennehy at the basketball game Friday night?”

“No, what happened?”

“Can you believe that one of the cheerleaders walked right up to him and…”

The classroom intercom crackled and a chipper and efficient voice asked: “Will you please send Linda to the officer, Sister?”

“Linda, go ahead and take your things with you.”

Slinging my shoulder bag over my arm and gathering my books, I could feel the laser beam eyeballs of my fellow classmates as they fantasized luridly. They all hoped, I am sure, that something juicy would be coming down. I just hoped it wasn’t really bad news.

It wasn’t.

It was just one of those strange Mondays when a steady stream of girls, all cheerleaders, was being called down to the office at intervals. I hardly noticed who went or when. I didn’t even notice the odd sort of attention they were giving me when they returned to class and whispered amongst themselves.

Cheerleader drama wasn’t my thing.

Beth Anne was dying to finish her sentence, but didn’t have a chance.

My eyes and nose both were producing enough snot to annihilate an entire forest of Kleenex. I had a mean cold and all I wanted to do is get through the day, walk home, and curl up with my cat and The Fellowship of the Ring on the big green corduroy couch where, magically, no one could last longer than five minutes before falling asleep. I was sick.

It was eerie walking the distance to the office down the loggias devoid of bustling kids. Everyone was in class and it was surreal, or I was woozy from my malady.

Standing outside of the office waiting for me was Father Thomas Dennehy, pacing, arms crossed, and face mottled red. I thought for one optimistic moment that  he might be waiting for one of the guys to show up for coporal punishment of one kind or another. But, no, he was waiting for me.

Father Dennehy was an Irish priest, complete with a folksy sing-songy brogue.  He was highly valued as a “rainmaker” for the Archdiocese. He could squeeze every last penny out of a congregation to build a church, gymnasium or a school using every technique possible to extract pledges and cash short of holding us upside down by the heels and shaking it out of us. Or offering penances. When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs and all that.

He begged, pleaded, scolded, guilted, coerced, blackmailed and even exerted mild forms of extortion. He was aggressive. And the Church loved him for it.

He was also well known amongst the guys for his no-hostages-taken disciplinary practices of getting their attention in a loud and physical manner and making examples. The good Father was a pugilist and enjoyed boxing with the boys to toughen them up. Many times I would see him paired off with one of the guys, bare-fisted, hopping around on light feet, sparring and ducking and lunging for fun.

But when he was not having fun, watch out.

Once Father burst into a class, pulled a boy out into the loggia by the back of the shirt, and smacked him down to the ground for some transgression. Another time he plucked a misbehaving scamp out of the school bus dragging him down the middle aisle by the kid’s hair and down the steps to the outside where he cuffed him, hard. Another boy received a shove so powerful that his head smashed into a blackboard and cracked it.

In those days, the guys shrugged it off, if not in need of medical attention. Astonishingly, I heard that many of their Dads had given permission for the Father to deliver this testosterone rage of rough justice as their proxies.

Even paddling.

T’was the way young men were broken and remolded in those days and the Dads and the Fathers were in cahoots.

Just the guys though. When Father had business with a girl, it was verbal, mean, and followed up by lengthy repetitive, almost begging for forgiveness, apologies.

And I apparently became the object of his attentions that morning.

“Sit here.”

I sat in the chair in front of his big wooden desk. The open windows were behind him and he left the door open. I was relieved that the receptionist was within earshot. Jesus was there too. A giant crucifix towered over us on a stand behind his chair replete with a depiction of our pegged and painful Savior hanging from it, His eyes cast down in agony fixed precisely at the person being interviewed by the Father.

He sat in his leather chair and put his elbows on the desk, tenting his fingers and resting them against his lips.

“Ye took yer friends out onto the golf course behind yer house Friday night and you got ‘em all drunk on apple wine, din’t ye?”

“Uh, what?”

“Did ye get yer friends drunk out on the golf course Friday night, little missy?”


And I don’t know what possessed me, but I laughed.

His hands slapped down so hard on that desktop the telephone receiver hopped out of its cradle and skittered across the surface of his blotter.

“Yer LYIN!” he bellowed, “Ye think I don't know a LIAR when I put eyes on one?  I happen to have solid evidence and the testimony of WITNESSES pertainin’ to yer activities Friday night. I know what ye’ve been up to. Ye may get what ye want by lyin’ with everyone else who will excuse yer wanton dishonest and sneaky ways, but ye can’t lie yer way outta this!”

The receptionist’s fleeing footsteps and the slam of the outer door made me lose a little courage and some control of my bladder as well. My nose dripped unattended. I had to keep my wits about me here.

“Father, I was home Friday night with my Dad. I was sick. I didn’t go anywhere.”

“No. THIS is what ye did, girlie. Ye got that older guy ye date to buy wine for you and the girls on the cheerleadin’ squad and ye all sat out there on the fairway in the dark and got drunk! THEN ye all came to the game, those girls got to jumpin’ around like they do, and they got sick…”

Dennehy had information. How the hell did he know I was dating a college guy? How did he know the golf course was a great place, second only to the beach at Lauderdale by the Sea, to hang out and get wasted?

“Not true. I was home on the couch sick watching Star Trek with my Dad, Father.”

“NO. YOU. WERE.NOT!” his voice was straining and I could see the cords standing out in his neck.

He picked up the phone receiver and waved it in my face. “We are callin’ yer Dad right now to get to the bottom of this and agree on a consequence.

And I want ye to know, missy, ye’ve lied to a priest here; t’is like lyin’ in the confessional, y’know.

Do ye t’ink yer goin’ to heaven when ye’re sich a liar? Ye better change yer ways, quit engagin’ in sinful behavior wit that delinquent boyfriend ‘o yers and get the drinkin’ under control. And especially quit yer lyin about it all! Hell is a consequence.”

“Jackson 33448”

“Did ye hear a word I said?”

“Yes, Father, Jackson 33448 is his office number. His nurse assistant is Marty. She’ll put him on the phone.”

The color of his face changed drastically to a butter colored white. He scowled and spun the numbers on his rotary phone and put the earpiece to his ear. I could hear it engage.

“May I speak wit’ the Doctor please?” Then puffing his chest and standing straight looking me square in the eye he announced into the mouthpiece, “This is Father Dennehy.”

I heard my Dad’s garbled greeting on the other end. The good Father wasted no time and asked the big question.

“Doctor, may I ask if you know the whereabouts of your daughter this last Friday night?”

I could hear Dad’s polite even cheerful voice relay the news to the now shaken man of the cloth.

“Home with what I think is just a bad cold. We watched some TV together. Why do you ask Father?”

With that, Father Dennehy stuttered and  thanked my Dad in an awkward spray of non-connecting syllables, maybe even Gaelic was worked in there, and hung up.

He wiped his hand across his now perspiring brow and said to me, “You are dismissed. Please return to class.”

So I did. Classes had just begun to change and about five of the cheerleaders were eyeing me from the commons in an uncharacteristically curious display of interest. I ran headlong into Beth Ann who, with big dramatic eyes, finished the sentence she had begun just before my interview with Father Dennehy.

“Yeah, ok, this is great. You’re gonna laugh your butt off. That cheerleader named Shelly walked right up and projectile barfed Boone’s Farm apple wine all over Father Dennehy on Friday night! Right in his face! In front of everybody in the gym! Boy was he mad!”

“Don’t I know it?” said I.

Don’t I know it.


Fast Forward - 2010.

Father Dennehy, deceased in 1999, was accused just this last September of child abuse and pedophilia by a man who served as an altar boy at the parish within which the high school is located.  There is not much more to say about it until the lawsuit is at trial.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Tale of The Rower (Inspired by Canterbury Tales)

He's tall, fit and athletic, this young man of might,

Whose arms are sure strong and his leg muscles tight,

Made verily so by rowing a four-man sport boat,

With movements sleek smooth and rhythms fair rote.

Spandex clad, hands calloused and game-face sore dire

He and his brave shell-mates seemed never to tire.

And when the splitting of water wears them far down,

Anew their strength and steel wills always come 'round.

To Nation’s fame, this hearty boy crew,

They pulled and feathered their oars and flew

In perfect oared sync down canals, bays and lakes

Inviting trounc’d nemeses to eat of their wakes.

One night when discussing bold victories physical,

He and his crew guys became quite quizzical

Of a new sport to conquer, and on which to boast

Called Parkour. In such, the urban landscape is host

Where no city sidewalk, wall or stair is barrier

To the tumbling, flipping or leaping Parkour harrier.

Instead of water, rival crews and timing to beat,

He’d with his companions, like spiders so fleet

Flip down from the rooftops and all breathless they’d run

Climbing bus stops and bike racks and stairwells for fun.

Not meant for competing, this free running art,

‘Tis control of the mind gives movement its start.

And, like rowing, to rule over nerves, fear and pain

With Parkour there’s grace and good balance to gain.

Yet after a night of flips, climbing and vaulting,

With agile young friends in the downtown assaulting

The sidewalks and walls and the nooks of the city,

Our Rower did something that brought him great pity.

At McDonald’s where all Parkour-ists had met up to snack,

He tripped on a small curb and fell with a smack.

Descending, neglecting his skills learn’t fantastic,

He fell on one hand, the angle so drastic.

And, in irony abundant no one could fair conjure,

His thumb he did break. His pride he did injure.

With thumbnail fac'd east in an unnatural twist,

The Rower did visit a hand specialist.

A surgeon who put the Rower well under,

To pin the one digit he had tore all asunder.

He awoke from the sleep with an oath on his lips

At McDonald’s, he said, he was cursed with the trips!

(Then the boy still all woozy from drugs dulling pain,

Did vow to hug mom and kiss girlfriend again.

No mem'rie he now of those words that he spoke,

But tender that strong man was sweet when he woke.)

Eight weeks for to heal and climb back in the boat.

Missing three crew regattas, that’s all she wrote.

But all was not lost, he allowed in the car,

His sweetheart apparently digs guys with scars!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Dozen Eggs and A Plan

The Beach Divas:  Eileen, Des, Mary, Mary Anne, Sue, Anne Marie, Karen,  Linda

I had a vision last weekend.

“Oh, oh! Time to go” announced Anne Marie guiding me to the car. Ever vigilant, she saw my eyes well up as I took in the stunning aqueduct-style architecture that now made up the fa├žade of my old high school.

In our day, it was but four non-descript two-story buildings with one flat-roofed bunker in between. Now, with time and the support of alumni dollars, it was palatial.

This high school was no longer a non-air-conditioned geometric collection of shoeboxes squatting in a Florida sticker patch.

My vision that night was some kind of time machine revelation; a wavy broadcast special dissolve effect that kept shaving away the renovations. My vision melted the new expensive trappings like some crazy dripping Dali painting and left only the pure depiction of the original school, as I knew it during the day. I saw us walking those open air loggias changing classes, laughing.

My fevered misfiring chardonnay-addled brain was wrinkling time for me.

I love my brain for giving me these wrinkles as I grow older.

I love my brain because sometimes the time wrinkling folds pieces in, hiding memories that do not move me to tears. They move me someplace else entirely…Another tale for another day.

Here’s how all this happened: Seven of us 50-something gal pals, fueled by cocktails and the urge to relive some of the mischief we all got into when were kids, crashed the 50th Anniversary Celebration of our private Catholic high school alma mater in Fort Lauderdale.

Actually we met up for another beach weekend using this milestone as an excuse to get together again to eat, drink, reminisce, bob around in the ocean, nap next to the pool and laugh our collective selves silly.

None of us really wanted to go to the formal activities planned to mark the 50th Anniversary of our high school. The answer to the question ‘why?’ to any one of us was a shrug and a smile all weekend. Too crowded, might not remember anybody, don’t have anything to wear…

“Maybe I am seeing the people I wanted to see right here!” ventured Anne Marie as we sat for hours on the beach enjoying a day of perfect sun, clear water and delicious food and drinks leftover from dinner by Des the night before.  Des loves to spoil her guests.

But that night the overwhelming urge to leave our mark on the 50th party eclipsed any age-appropriate behavior. We reverted to our 17 year old selves and devised a plan. We piled into two cars and drove right on in to the high school compound just about five minutes before the big event was to end.

The plan was simple.

It was supposed to be a “drive-by prank,” just like the old days when some of us cruised the crowded parking lot and mooned everyone loitering around the gym after a basketball game. The priests interrogated witnesses relentlessly for days after that to see if anyone would crack and roll-over on our fellow culprits, but no one caved.

It was supposed to be a quick rolling incident with an easy escape just like the time when some of us armed ourselves with eggs, removed our tops and drove around pelting anyone who dared look…Well, maybe that yarn goes against our “code of silence” for certain episodes.  Oops.

For this escapade, now much older and more self-conscious, we toned it down. We didn’t want to get busted and we certainly didn’t think a fleeting glimpse of our vintage body parts would amuse anyone at this time in our lives.

The only risk was to commit social suicide and none of us cared one way or another if we did.

We took a great group photograph of the bunch of us, blew it up and scribbled “The Class of ’75 WAS HERE!” on it.

Karen was designated to jump out of the car, pick a good spot and tape that picture to the gym wall somewhere obvious, and then run like the wind, vault into the car and take off.

It sure didn’t work out that way.

As if mesmerized, we parked, totally abandoned the plan, piled out and scattered. It must’ve looked like clown cars in the circus.

Anne Marie, Eileen and Des went right into the gym and greeted everyone left at the event, Mary, Sue and I walked back to the athletic fields, Eileen even reportedly got up on stage when the alumni from the 70’s were called up.

But Karen, true to her original mission, taped that photo up on the gym door like a small blonde Martin Luther nailing 95 Theses to the church in Wittenberg.

The Class of ’75 was there.

The next morning, Sunday, Karen and I actually paid for breakfast at the Denny’s atoning just a little for a “dine and dash” incident a long time ago.

That guilt thing lasts forever.

“Whut choo like some pencake puppies? I hef to ask…” said our German waitress causing us to spew orange juice we laughed so hard.

Before starting the drive north to go home, we all met up one more time at Des’s house.
Des had already been to mass and had distributed communion to shut-ins, as is her habit and mission. The rest of us hold on to our Catholic practices tenuously, or not at all.

We have each other as a result of it though.

Saying good bye is hard now. I hate to leave the little fun bubble we create when we all get together. But our little lives must go on in separate places.

Karen was speaking on the drive back home of how it is a lonely glance backward in the rear view mirror sometimes.

“Oh you mean when Anne Marie or Des is standing there all sad faced when we’re driving away? Yeah…I told Sue there was to be no crying, damnit! Mary too!”

“No, I am talking about how high school is back there in the rear view, along with marriage, raising the kids, seeing them leave, for some divorce, watching our parents age and losing them, losing my husband Danny…All those things.”

All those things growing smaller and more distant as we dash ahead running generally above the speed limit.

“But we have to drive on forward,” she said, “There’re no u-turns.”


But I know now who is in the back seat riding along.

With a dozen eggs and a plan.

 Sunrise. Lauderdale by The Sea

 Mary, Des, Eileen, Linda, Karen, Anne Marie, Sue at d'Antonio's for tapas, looking innocent.

 The little bohemian resort with great beach.  Reminded me of Mexico on the coast there.

 Here comes the sun...

These hearts in the sand were drawn in a trail all along the beach one morning.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mary Chesnut Blogged The Civil War

Mrs. Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut, 1823-1886, chronicler of the Civil War in the South, was a blogger.  

She was just about a century too soon.

And, her work encountered a few delays before it found a place on the internet, like starting out in 1905 as a book with actual paper pages and ink words.  However, her words are now available on the internet, giving her the status of blogger. 

And writer.  And author.  And literati.

And she never got paid, unless you count the astonishing satisfaction of writing because she wanted to and could.  She could not allow the vast panorama of life in her times, both large earth shaking events and small homely episodes, to go unrecorded.

No electronic keyboard, spell check, or formatting tools, she did it old school. The glow on her face as she wrote was undoubtedly from a candle flame. And the flame in her heart lit the rest of the way.

She’d crack open a blank page of “confederate paper” leather bound in a quarto sized notebook, dip her quill, and almost daily, pending illness or danger, scratch out in cursive an account of her very social life in wartime South Carolina.

Mary Chesnut’s diaries, all 45 volumes of them, sometimes spent time deep in a hole buried with the family silver to avoid confiscation by Yankee soldiers come to reap the spoils of war.

Of keeping her journal, she wrote:

"Why do you write in your diary at all," someone said to me, "if, as you say, you have to contradict every day what you wrote yesterday?" "Because I tell the tale as it is told to me. I write current rumor. I do not vouch for anything."

That sounds like we 21st century bloggers explaining ourselves.

Hers was not an academic or legalistic depiction of the politics or social conventions of the day. She wrote with a “delightful unconscious frankness” * similar to the raw and unselfconscious tone found in many modern day blogs. She wrote in her own voice, unpretentious and honest.

Of Manassas she wrote:

August 8th. - To-day I saw a sword captured at Manassas. The man who brought the sword, in the early part of the fray, was taken prisoner by the Yankees. They stripped him, possessed themselves of his sleeve-buttons, and were in the act of depriving him of his boots when the rout began and the play was reversed; proceedings then took the opposite tack.

Of Abraham Lincoln she wrote:

In the hotel parlor we had a scene. Mrs. Scott was describing Lincoln, who is of the cleverest Yankee type. She said: "Awfully ugly, even grotesque in appearance, the kind who are always at the corner stores, sitting on boxes, whittling sticks, and telling stories as funny as they are vulgar." Here I interposed:

"But Stephen A. Douglas said one day to Mr. Chesnut, 'Lincoln is the hardest fellow to handle I have ever encountered yet.' " Mr. Scott is from California, and said Lincoln is "an utter American specimen, coarse, rouge, and strong; a good-natured, kind creature; as pleasant-tempered as he is clever, and if this country can be joked and laughed out of its rights he is the kind-hearted fellow to do it. Now if there is a war and it pinches the Yankee pocket instead of filling it - "

Of her elderly husband and the African man who stayed, she wrote:

African Scipio walks at Colonel Chesnut's side. He is six feet two, a black Hercules, and as gentle as a dove in all his dealings with the blind old master, who boldly strides forward, striking with his stick to feel where he is going. The Yankees left Scipio unmolested. He told them he was absolutely essential to his old master, and they said, "If you want to stay so bad, he must have been good to you always." Scip says he was silent, for it "made them mad if you praised your master."

Of Southern gentility, she wrote:

Sometimes this old man will stop himself, just as he is going off in a fury, because they try to prevent his attempting some feat impossible in his condition of lost faculties. He will ask gently, "I hope that I never say or do anything unseemly! Sometimes I think I am subject to mental aberrations." At every footfall he calls out, "Who goes there?" If a lady's name is given he uncovers and stands, with hat off, until she passes. He still has the old-world art of bowing low and gracefully.

Of witnessing an auction, she wrote:

I have seen a negro woman sold on the block at auction. She overtopped the crowd. I was walking and felt faint, seasick. The creature looked so like my good little Nancy, a bright mulatto with a pleasant face. She was magnificently gotten up in silks and satins. She seemed delighted with it all, sometimes ogling the bidders, sometimes looking quiet, coy, and modest, but her mouth never relaxed from its expanded grin of excitement. I dare say the poor thing knew who would buy her. I sat down on a stool in a shop and disciplined my wild thoughts... You know how women sell themselves and are sold in marriage from queens downward, eh? You know what the Bible says about slavery and marriage; poor women! poor slaves! 

Of changing households in hard times and her relationships with her servants, she wrote:

Wednesday. - I have been mobbed by my own house servants. Some of them are at the plantation, some hired out at the Camden hotel, some are at Mulberry. They agreed to come in a body and beg me to stay at home to keep my own house once more, "as I ought not to have them scattered and distributed every which way." ...I asked my cook if she lacked anything on the plantation at the Hermitage. "Lack anything?" she said, "I lack everything. What are corn-meal, bacon, milk, and molasses? Would that be all you wanted? Ain't I been living and eating exactly as you does all these years? When I cook for you, didn't I have some of all? Dere, now!" Then she doubled herself up laughing. They all shouted, "Missis, we is crazy for you to stay home."

Her voice sounds so familar.  We hear her speaking as though she is sitting in the same room. She wrote what she knew and she did so to be heard.

Having had no children, she bequeathed her beloved words to close friend Isabella D. Martin to be published.  And they were.

Entitled A Diary from Dixie as written by Mary Boykin Chesnut the parts of her journals that weren't too personal were published post-humously in 1905.

Her journals became testament to a time of brutal homicidal war, the privations of a proud citizenry, and perhaps the only real truth about slavery and its nature in the South.  Harriett Beecher Stowe wrote fiction and had no first hand experience on the issue.   Mary Chesnut did.

And her journals became literature.

Perhaps our humble blogs, however flawed and quaint, will someday leave such a legacy.

*Isabella D. Martin, Introduction, A Diary from Dixie


If Mary's voice speaks to you as it does to me, don't miss the series:

The Civil War
A Ken Burns documentary for PBS. 

Mary's words glue the whole film together with elegance, wit  and eye-witness truth.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Theme Park 9/11: We Wrote the Questions

“Hey…Did you see this?” 
Michael came running into my office and flicked on the television.
  “Looks like there’s been an accident at the World Trade Center.”
We were just starting our day researching and writing the questions for a Studio theme park game show, based on the popular television phenomenon Who Wants To Be A Millionaire
We usually kept the TVs on in our offices to monitor breaking news on any subject from entertainment to politics,  history to science.  We worked seven days a week bathed in the glow of our computers and television screens delivering creatively entertaining queries for Studio theme park guests to answer for some pretty swell prizes. 
The questions we created had to be very high quality and absolutely accurate in every way.  And our little team of twelve researchers and writers rocked them out every day, brand new, shiny, fresh and fun, for the attraction on both coasts.
We were nerds in paradise and we knew it. 
And we became very close friends in the process.
“Looks like a plane flew into it, doesn’t it?” said Michael. 
And, indeed, the smoldering breech in the long grey side of the building did look like a cartoon impression of a plane’s wings and body with smoke pouring out of it. 
He was shifting from one foot to the other nervously. “My dad has offices there but I think he’s travelling now.”
Mike’s dad was in the business of eggs.  Among the many things of which Michael had innate knowledge, all of our questions regarding Judaism went through him. He was a wonderfully kinetic and funny New York Jew.
Then Shiraz bolted in to join us watching the television, buoyant and ready to start work.  Always in a good mood, and full of vinegar, Shiraz was a great smiling kid who loved food and computer games. 
“What’s going on?” 
“Looks like a plane crashed into the Trade Center, Shiraz.” 
An American Muslim, Shiraz was educated at Rutgers and his father was the Chairman of the North New Jersey Muslim Association.   He had friends who worked in the Trade Center.  He was betrothed to his intended wife in Pakistan.
“Looks like a small plane,” I said, “Why would anything larger be flying that low?”
Michael said, “It may not be an accident.”
And Shiraz said, “Let’s hope it’s just an accident…”
The news helicopters and camera feeds from every surrounding building adjacent to the World Trade Center were being broadcast on all channels as we flipped from CNN to ABC to CBS. 
Some anchor woman was talking by phone with someone near the impact point.  The man was speaking to her with otherworldly calm while the space around him melted like a Dali painting.
Images of both tall towers filled the television screens and we watched and rocked back and forth on our feet and groaned with every new observation of fire and smoke and the small dots, the tiny dust motes imbued with gravity, the men in business suits with their ties spiraling upward and the women in high heels, their hair streaming  just falling, falling…
The cameras didn’t know when to look away.
“Oh! OH! God.  There goes another one!”  I barked.
“No, NO you couldn’t have.”  Heather had joined us silently.  A native of North New Jersey, engaged to be married, the tears were springing to her eyes.  She could see the Towers from where she grew up.
“I did. It was so fast.   Just a dot speeding by, shot from a low angle from the street…LOOK!” 
The morning show anchor reporters we were watching on television, incredulous, doubted each other’s eyes just as we were until the control room could rack the playback, and yes, there was another. 
Another plane.
Blasting into the second tower in a stream of fire and a rain of paper.  A grey ticker-tape sprinkling of papers, all white and on wing like flattened doves riding the thermals down.
The four of us became instantly kinetic, turning away, turning back to see, holding each other, crying, hushing.   
And then the Pentagon. 
And then a field in Pennsylvania.
Landmarks in the United States.
A dawning realization bleached the color from our faces as all of our phones began ringing and our pagers went off in a concert of beeps and bells.
First response in a theme park is rapid, efficient and strikingly calm.  By noon, with the concerted effort of pre-trained first responders leading us in strict evacuation protocols, all the parks were clear of guests. 
Other than one hurricane, this was the first time the entire theme park complex was shut down. 
When we were done assisting with the exodus, I instructed Michael, Heather and Shiraz and the others to go home, and stay home until notified. 
Shiraz was to come to my home if he encountered any difficulty.  His face drawn with a kaleidoscope of emotions, Shiraz blessed us all with a prayer and assured me he would be just fine.  He was going to mosque.
We held each other in a collective hug, the moment distinct in its context.   A microcosm of people, just four of us:   Jew, Muslim, Gay, Christian, Male, Female, Young, Old wondering what was next.
Alone in our offices, turning off our televised windows to that morning’s horror, I sent the day’s quiz show questions electronically to the stages at both theme parks, one in Florida and one in California.
The show must go on.
 I walked out of our bungalow into the screaming silence of an achingly vivid blue sky day and drove home.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Cradle Catholic's Priests

Father Mike

“Ack! Linda. Good to see you dear.”

“Ok, Mike, what in holy hell is going on?”

I had waited until last. All the blue-haired ladies had lined up in front of Mike’s station self-consciously patting their hair and arranging their rosaries just right. They all had crushes on Mike, a bespectacled, gouty man with a Boston accent, because, I suspect, he delivered to all those dirty-souled little biddies that squeaky clean feeling that forgiveness brings.

I tried to control my decibels and failed. The whole church heard me anyway when I entered the confessional to exercise my sacramental privilege of Catholic penance. All the little old ladies hissed and sighed at the sound of my voice.

Skipping the prerequisite formalities, I plowed right in. Loudly.

It was the first time I was back in the jump-seat for maybe 30 years. God knew my peccadilloes already because I had installed direct trunk line to heaven’s mailroom without the intercession of a priest.

I cop to my own sins directly.

And, I am innately suspicious, no actually conditioned to be paranoid, of voluntarily coughing up my failings to a black-frocked human being. It gives him what he needs: Power over my life. And in the olden days, I am sure that it did. That was then. This is now, however.

Mike is a different kind of priest though. And I needed answers.

“It’s like any family, Lin, and families have rotten apples. Just think about that. I am sure your family has black sheep who make everybody miserable with what they do. So do we. Pedophile priests are rotten apples and they must be cleaned out of the barrel. And they will be. Now let’s go have a beer at the Claddagh.”

That’s what I loved about Mike. He took one look at my face and knew what was on my mind. And over Harp beers we talked and talked…

He knew I was lapsing. No, my faith was losing me, and he still loved me.

Monsignor O’Looney

“Come stand here next to me young lady. Let’s just see what we have here.”

We knew that Monsignor O’Looney was coming to class for “Report Card Day” because the nuns became all tiddly and excited dusting off shelves and spitting on their hands to smooth down cowlicks amongst the “young gentlemen.” The monsignor was their celebrity crush all-Catholic style.

We kids stood as he imperiously entered the room in full black cassocked Monsignor regalia. O’Looney would thoroughly embody his authority by sitting king-like in the front of the classroom, removing his bi-nodal Monsignor hat with the red pom-pom on top, and by going through up to twenty-five reports cards. Out loud. In front of everyone.

His Irish brogue was a buzzing drone as he called each of us up to stand by him in the front of the classroom while our grades were read off for the whole class to hear, including conduct. I made sure I had visited the bathroom before each of these events because I didn’t want any puddles forming under my knocking knees.

“Linda, Linda, Linda. Do ye t’ink you’ve been mindin’ Sister here properly?”

“Yes, Monsignor. I do t’ink I have.” Shining a big smart ass grin out to my friends, they stared at me with fear in their eyes.

“Well, according to this, you’ve been a bit of a problem child. A “D” in conduct is nothing’ t’be smilin’ about! You’re going to stop that infernal whispering and fidgeting now, aren’t you? I want to see improvement in your behavior young lady. Your grades include a C here in Math as well. You’ll be bringin’ that up too before next time…”

And I always heard the “or else” lingering in the background like so much incense smoke. And never a mention of the A’s and B’s I earned.

Somehow I don’t think this kind of thing would fly in schools now.

O’Looney was on the scene long before I was receiving his rough attention for my report cards. In fact, I was just an egg in my mom’s ovary.

When my parents were engaged, it was this very man who would not allow them to marry in the church unless my Lutheran mother signed a document promising not to raise the children in any other faith except the Catholic faith.

“Luther was a heretic, y’know?” he snarled at her during the interview.

Father Pete

“What should I do now?”

“Pete, just put your hands in that incubator and bless my daughter. Please.”

Pete had peeled rubber to make it to the hospital the day my daughter was born. He was the new/ old priest at our parish and all the others were attending to weddings and funerals the day I called for help. Still not unpacked, he just got on his rental car horse and rode like the wind…

My daughter was born a little early but her heart and her lungs weren’t working on their own. We had to flick the soles of her feet and hope she would take a deep gasp and to coax her heart to beat and her lungs to expand.

When Pete arrived, she was lying on her stomach naked but for a tiny diaper and a pink visor attached to her eyes with velcro to protect them from the glaring bilirubin lights. She looked like a midget pink Power Ranger with bruised feet.

Pete’s hands were what I remember best. They were chubby and his gentle holy fingers sported a tuft of white hair on each knuckle. When he put his hands in through the incubator ports and placed them gently on Tori’s little body, the blessing just poured out of him like honey.

Tori wiggled and smiled.

Naturally, Pete became close friends with us in the English tradition of priests home visiting parishioners. His was always a knock on the door at dusk when he was winding up his neighborhood walk that day and wanted to undo all the good he had done with his exercise regime. After a scratchy kiss on the cheek, Pete would always make his signature demand.

“Where’s my ham sandwich and my gin and tonic?”

For the first time in my cradle Catholic life, we had a priest, a real live priest friend with spiritual benefits, at every one of our family events.

As is the practice in the Catholic Church, no priest really remains long enough in parish to put down roots, it gets too emotional, and Pete was transferred to Georgia after a while. We made plans to visit him next time we headed north.

At Mass one Sunday, the new priest in a matter-of-fact tone, announced that Pete had died. It was a punch in the stomach. I gasped so loud the church went silent and all heads turned to me. I felt my knees buckle in grief. I had to leave.

Father Manning

“Have you said your morning prayers?”

“My whole day is a prayer Father.”

“But have you said your morning prayers? No? You know you’re driving the nails into His hands yourself! Kneel down here now and say them!”

“But Father…”

“The bus will wait!”

Every morning Fr. Manning would stalk the bus stop interrogating us about our prayer life or obscure Baltimore Catechism questions. It was an art form to avoid him by arriving at just the right second to board the bus before he could sneak up and pin us down.

He scared us mostly with his graphic passion for the more violent aspects of crucifixion and martyrdom.  He always told the stories of the saints who were made so by becoming lion food or for enduring the untimely ripping out of one or more body parts while still consciously professing the faith...

When I went on to high school, I didn’t see much more of him. I assumed his senility had advanced and he was being kept under a tighter rein much to the relief, I am sure, of the grade schoolers who had been tormented by him at the bus stop.

After I achieved a successful run as the lead in the school play, Father F-, a young progressive priest fresh from seminary, proposed that I do a new thing during the Mass at church.

He invited me to be the first girl ever to present the scripture readings at a full-on Mass. This was even before girls were thought of to be altar servers. This was going to break down some barriers…And I was thrilled.

For the first time in my life as a Catholic, I thought , “I can do this!”

It makes the whole Mass thing something in which I can really participate rather than passively sitting- standing-kneeling. No more hokey-pokey rigamarole through every dreary service…This was getting interesting.

So young Fr. F- and I rehearsed and rehearsed and studied and delved deeply into the theological interpretations of each piece until I felt like I knew exactly what I was sharing with the congregation perfectly.

And my father was so proud. Bonus!

The Sunday of my groundbreaking came and Fr. F- and my father proudly escorted me up to the church entrance. Suddenly, a figure in black blocked out the sun and my way in. Looking up, the butterflies in my stomach turned to vampire bats.

Father Manning.

He was in full black cassock and hat, literally shaking in anger with a look of pure disgust on his face. Looking closely, he had not remembered his dentures that morning so his face was all sharpness and angles. He spit a little when he spoke.

“This girl will not enter this church until we get something straight. She will not be allowed at the pulpit if I have anything to do with it.”

Fr. F- tried to intercede. “Alright Michael, it's ok.  Maybe she can do the readings in front of it.”

“Absolutely NOT!” His voice was booming. “She is PROHIBITED from even approaching the sacristy by church law! It would be an abomination.”

My father, now so conflicted between his pride in me and the authority of the priest confronting us, blurted the central question, “Why?”

“Don’t you know? What kind of Catholic are you? She is female. She bleeds.”


I was moved to write about these priests, both good and bad, so that I might discover some way of reconciling my profound sadness and, yes deep anger, with the Roman Catholic Church. I feel mortally wounded on a spiritual level by the Vatican’s recent misogynistic rulings. Although as a cradle Catholic with obvious past healed-over flesh wounds from which I have recovered, I cannot reconcile the obvious categorization by the Church of women as potential egregious violating wounds on the body of the faith any more.

To borrow from Someone who would’ve found all this so very wrong:  It is finished.

“Here's what the Vatican's internal prosecutor, Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, said from the news conference in Rome, when asked to explain why ordination of women was included alongside of rulings concerning sexual exploitation of children and the disabled by male… priests: ‘Sexual abuse and pornography are more grave dealings, they are an egregious violation of moral law. Attempted ordination of women is grave, but on another level; it is a wound that is an attempt against the Catholic faith on the sacramental orders.’

In a report from the AP, reporter Nicole Winfield explained that "The rules...list the attempted ordination of a woman as a ‘grave crime' to be handled according to the same set of procedures as sex abuse -- despite arguments that grouping the two in the same document would imply equating them.... Scicluna defended the inclusion of both sex abuse and ordination of women in the same document as a way of codifying two of the most serious canonical crimes against sacraments and morals that the congregation deals with. “

-From Psychology Today by Regina Barreca, Ph.D

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Make a Pie with the Pippin that Dinged You

The apple tree in question was a remnant refugee of an old orchard that had been slowly eaten up by the development of the tennis courts at the Country Club.
Once an energetic engine of a profuse amount of fruit, it had been reduced to the status of landscaping and shade-maker overhanging the parking lot.

The maintenance men abused this tree by neglect, neither trimming nor fertilizing it, probably because it dropped a serious amount of fruit on the pavement every summer that would need to be cleaned up.

They wanted it dead.

And the tennis players often complained that the tree was lobbing its destructive little orbs at their Beemers and Hummers making unsightly dents.

Shades of Dorothy in the Oz orchard.  And I think in some part, it may have been true.  This particular apple tree had a way of exerting its presence.

The apple tree, my apple tree, makes what would be the butt uglies of the apple world.  Small, worm chomped heirloom pippins with blackspot were the usual specimens.


But if you looked closely, underneath their seemingly inedible appearance, there lurked an appetizingly tight apple skin, the kind that snaps a little when you bite down.  And that skin was colored gloriously in a dappling of red with small tracers of yellow and white.  Or they were solid red with a sprinkle of yellow and green spots.

Biting down on these apples was to baptize yourself in the squirt of juice that would spring out and smack you in the square in the face.  The cream colored flesh in each was streaked with red; delicately veined from skin to core.

And they were sour enough to make not just your mouth pucker.

My brothers and I had spent that summer playing tennis there between odd jobs and campouts. The apple tree provided snacks for us that quenched our thirst and gave us a little sour rush that I swear enhanced our tennis.

One day some kids, some spoiled rotten resort kids, were under the tree picking up apples, taking one bite out of each and then commencing to pelting each other with the half-eaten fruit.

When they finished destroying the apples on the ground they started to climb the tree, breaking down branches and kicking off bark carelessly to reach for the ones I had my eye on for eating.
My hackles went up and I tore off the tennis court and started walloping those little brats with my racket.  They answered my wallops with some pretty well aimed shots with apples until I chased them off.

I had to pick pulp out of my tennis racket strings and out of my hair.  Those brats dinged me in the head more than once.  Kind of think one of them was a pitcher on a baseball team...

Anyway, it got into my adolescent head that day that I was in charge of that tree, even if it did produce some of the most imperfect fruit ever seen, and it was my duty to keep that kind of thing from happening again.

Which meant picking the apples.

All of them.

Before anyone else could be as wasteful and disrespectful as those kids.

I picked every last ripe apple off that tree and brought them home.

After one meal of fried apples, cornbread and sausage, we hardly made a dent in the inventory of sorry-ass ugly little bullet apples.  I needed to get cooking on a way to use the rest of my crop.

Pie was the answer.  I liked pie.

That's when 'ol Euell came into the picture.

Flipping through his book to find out how not to poison myself with wild mushrooms, I ran across his deceptively simple but amazingly tasty and flaky pie crust recipe, and it was on.

I made one pie as a starter and served a slice to my dad, who had dubbed himself the penultimate expert on pie .   It passed the sniff test with a raised eyebrow, and with eyes closed he lifted the fork to his mouth.  In the time it takes for his tastebuds to fire, his eyes opened wide and he blessed my efforts with a demand for more. 

I made pies morning, noon and night for about a month.  I smelled like an apple and sported an array of cuts on my fingers from peeling the little nuggets. 
Mom, my biggest cheerleader got her gal friends to actually buy them and not just out of fealty to their friendships.
The pies were GOOD!

Dinner parties were being planned around my pies.  I was being accosted all over that enclave for my recipe, what's my secret, how did I come up with the Perfect Apple Pie? 

It actually got a little weird.

When the apples were all baked up and gone, I went to the tree at dusk one evening, my favorite time of day, and just sat with her. 

"We done good," I told her.

And she dropped an apple on my head in answer.

Stack of Bibles.

    The Tree Her Own Self

Linda's Butt Ugly Apple Pie featuring Euell Gibbons Oil Crust Pie Pastry


  • Two cups of flour
  • Half a cup of vegetable oil
  • Quarter cup of milk
Filling -
  • About 4 cups of Granny Smith apples (Or sourest you can find!)
  • Half cup or so of sugar
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • Butter
  • Wash, core and peel apples and slice them into inch thick pieces
  • Place in a bowl and add sugar and spices, stir
  • The apples will make juice
  •  Combine all crust ingredients and mix together with a fork
  • Divide into two equal balls
  • Dampen countertop
  • Take one pie-sized sheet of waxed paper and lay it down, it will  adhere to the moist countertop
  • Put a ball of dough in the middle
  • Take another equal sized sheet of waxed paper and place on top
  • Roll out the crust btween the two sheets.
  • Peel top sheet off
  • Place pie tin face down on crust and flip it to line the pie tin
  • Fill pie with apple mixture
  • Dot the mixture with butter
  • Roll out second dough ball same way for pie lid
  • Cut out lattice or whatever cool shapes you want and top the pie
  • Pinch around the edges to seal
  • Some like to brush egg wash to make it golden on top
  • I like a sprinkling of sugar on top
  • Make sure to have steam holes in the top
  • Bake 350 degrees, 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly!

Photos:  I took them except for -
Pie photo thanks to Travels with Gertie who uses the oil crust recipe too.