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Archive for the ‘Nostalgia’ Category

Didn’t seem to be a big deal. Fellow came by yesterday. We were sitting at the kitchen table, just chatting, and he asked, “Do you know those little Tedeschi stores?” I just smiled and nodded that I did know them. Maybe my smile gave something away, I really don’t know. However, he followed up with, “What, why are you smiling?

I had to ask, “Do you know the history of the Tedeschi’s?”

“No, whadda you mean?” he asked.

Well, you know me, I’m not one to let an opportunity pass, so I had to tell the story…at least as I know it, and so I began…

Years ago, gosh, I couldn’t have been older than six or seven, we lived on the first floor of a two story house in Rockland, Massachusetts. The house was on Belmont Street, number 51 to be exact. Down the street from us was a little neighborhood grocery store. It was actually attached to the residence, but it had a parking lot that was big enough for maybe six cars. The husband and wife who lived there were Angelo and Katherine Tedeschi. There were days when my dad would take his shotgun and some shells, walk down the street and into the store. He’d yell, “Hey, Angelo, get the dogs and let’s go hunting,” and Angelo would tell Katherine to mind the store, and off he and dad would go to hunt. Remember now, this was late 1940, early ’41. If they were lucky, they would bring home a number of rabbits. Angelo would skin them and put them in his freezer. I have to tell ya, this store was just a little big larger than a two-car garage, so when I say it was ‘neighborhood,’ I mean, if you walked in there, you knew right away who was shopping. They were your neighbors. They knew you. You knew them, and it was a gathering place for neighborhood gossip as well as for picking up that night’s dinner.

It was later in 1941, December 7th to be exact, that America changed. We were drawn into a Second World War. Angelo and my dad were too old to join up, but some of the Tedeschi boys, as I was later told, went right down and enlisted. Ralph, the oldest, went into the Army as an officer. He fought in Europe and was promoted to the rank of major. To his misfortune, he was captured by the Germans. Ralph’s treatment at the hands of his captors was not too good. He was severely beaten. He was urinated on, and a number of other rather vile and despicable treatments were his wont in the camp in which he was held prisoners. He was isolated and thrown in a cell that had a dirt floor. As I understand it, he found a small stick at some point, and that dirt floor of his cell and that stick probably saved his life. You see, Ralph would diagram on that dirt floor his ideas for a new kind of market that he and his family would build when the war was over and he could go home. Different stores, different designs, different this and different that…all on the dirt floor as he was recovering from his beatings and his interrogation. Eventually, Ralph was freed from his captors by Russian soldiers. He was reunited with his family, and he began to plan.

The first “supermarket” opened by the Tedeschi family was on Market Street in Rockland. Ralph’s family, including brothers, Sam, Nick, and Bobby, as well as sister, Etta, were all part of the team. There could have been other brothers, heck, I could never keep track of all of them. Anyway, Angelo and Katherine were able to retire and watch their boys build a small empire. Stores in Braintree, Hanover, and a couple of other towns followed. Eventually, Stop & Shop, another major New England chain of supermarkets took notice. They offered to buy out the Tedeschi’s, and Ralph, as I understand it, drove a pretty hard deal, one that resulted in reasonably good wealth for all members of his family. Oh, and there was another proviso in the buyout. Ralph was prohibited from opening any other supermarket with the Tedeschi name for a period of ten years. Hey, they were all now millionaires, right, so what’s the big deal. Well, not so fast. The Tedeschi family hadn’t gotten to the position they were now in by being lazy and sitting on their collective butts. Within five years, the supermarket bug that had bitten Ralph was back and chomping away. As a result he opened some supermarkets on Cape Cod under the name of his father. They were called, “Angelo’s,” and they were big! As time went on, Ralph turned the business over to his brothers and other relatives. Eventually, another chain came and, once again, purchased the stores.

That, however, is not the end of my tale. My own Mother and Dad were in Florida when Angelo Tedeschi died. They read of his passing in a paper, and Mom called me. “Will you please go to the wake and the funeral and represent our family?” she asked. It was an honor I couldn’t refuse…probably would have gone anyway. When I walked into the funeral home, there they were, all of the brothers, greeting people who had come to pay their respects to this wonderful man who, along with his wife, had raised some pretty damned good kids. Ralph walked over and asked, “Excuse me, but who are you?” I explained that my folks couldn’t come and that I was representing the family because someone from our neighborhood had to be there. I no sooner got the words out of my mouth than Ralph grabbed me in a bear hug and carried me into the room where Etta was sitting with her mother, Katherine. “Look,” said Ralph, “It’s Dickie Bishop!” [Gad, how I hated that nickname…still do]. I spent some time with the family and, really, it was old home week. It was also the last time that I saw Ralph alive.

Years later, my wife and I were spending a vacation in Bermuda. As I was heading for the water at our little beach, a lady ahead of me yelled out to her friend, already in the water, “Wow, not like Green Harbor,” – a beach on the Atlantic to which our my family and all of our friends frequently visited. Being the smart mouth that I am, I responded from behind her, “Not like Brandt Rock either,” another haunt of our neighborhood and right next to Green Harbor. We both laughed and went for our swims. On getting out of the water, I told my wife of the brief encounter which she thought to be rather amusing. About half an hour later, I noticed one of the women talking to a man on their blanket and point over toward me. “Ah, what the hell,” I figured, “might’s well walk over”…which I did and introduced myself. “I’m {can’t remember the first name] Tedeschi,” he said. To which I responded, “Whose are you?” This rather confounded them, and I asked if they were from Rockland. “No,” the man said, “We live in Norwell.” I repeated my question, adding, “Which one of the brothers are you the children of?” It was as though the lightbulb went off, and he responded, “Do you know my family?” I allowed as how I did and asked them what they knew of their grandparents. Turned out that both Angelo and Katherine had passed on before these young people were born. “Did you know my grandfather,” I was asked, and thus, once more, I had the privilege of telling some folks a bit of their own family history. Did I embellish just a bit? Of course, because Angelo and Katherine deserved to be embellished. They, along with their children, believed in and became the American Dream.

I write this not out of a need to tell a story. I write it because another fellow came by yesterday, sat at the kitchen table, and asked if I knew the name Tedeschi. This fellow, too, is an immigrant. He and his mom, escaped from the Soviet Union about thirty-five years ago. He owns a small business, and I can see in his eyes and in his work ethic, that he, too, is pursuing this thing we call the American Dream. I think he’s going to make it, maybe not the way Ralph or his counterparts did, but I really think he stands a good chance of realizing what just about every immigrant dreams of when he or she enters the shores of our United States of America.

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Yesterday

“Yesterday when I was young,

The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue.

I teased at life as if it were a foolish game,

The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame.”

Ah, yesterday, how far back does it go? Is yesterday that time when teachers were called mister or miss or missus by every student in the class, and were called the same by other teachers? Could it be the time when children called their parents ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad,’ and ever adult was known as ‘sir’ or ‘maam?’ Or perhaps you may think of it more the time when young men burned their draft cards or fled to Canada to avoid some stupid ‘war’ in a little known place called Vietnam? Maybe your ‘yesterday’ is just that…the day of your first job; graduation from high school or college; the day you killed your first enemy soldier, or climbed down cargo nets.

For most of us, truly, it was a time when we teased at life. We were immortal and we could do anything we did without fear while the adults looked on with quiet smiles or worried frowns. We careened along dirt roads in jalopies never meant to be treated as we treated them. We went to the drive-in and as guys we fumbled our way for a quick feel of an emerging breast. As girls, you struggled to maintain your modesty and virginity; and “Can’t we just be friends?” was a mantra heard by many a young stud while the big screen blazed away.  Our braggadocio was the stuff of dime-store fiction novels. Cigarettes were cool and high school and college athletes always got the prettiest girls.

“The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned
I always built to last on weak and shifting sand.
I lived by night and shunned the naked light of the day
And only now I see how the years ran away.”

Oh, what great plans we had. We would rule the world. It was our oyster just waiting for us to come along. However, just like so many before us, reality began to set in. First, it was a junior high classmate whose undiagnosed illness caused him/her to drop dead on the soccer field. Wait, that’s not supposed to happen. He/She was going to be a star…no, it’s not supposed to happen…but it did. In high school, a purloined case of beer, a car with a speedometer that said it could go 120, and a 150 year old oak tree met in a troika that took the lives of two more classmates. And now, it became more acceptable…but that was them, that wasn’t you.

If your choice was college, you hoped just to get away…go to college and be somebody; who you were going to be was somewhat unclear, particularly as a freshman with all those grownup upperclassmen who paid you no heed. All of a sudden, you’re a senior and graduation day rolls around. You’re ready to take on the world. Then you get an entry-level job and find out that a degree isn’t all you thought it would be or do what you thought it would do. You’re just another slob in the workforce.  You’re no different than the person who went to work right after high school…except you might be making a little more money. it was Monday through Friday – thank god it’s Friday. What happened to Saturday and Sunday, and it’s back to Monday again, just waiting for Friday.

You don’t like your job. It’s not what you thought it would be. You look for something else and give it a try, only to learn that it’s the same old grind…or maybe not. Maybe, just maybe, you find something that fills you with a passion and devotion you never, not in your wildest dreams, thought you’d possess. And the years rush by. You don’t live by light nor do you shun the naked light of day because you are so enthralled with what you are doing, you have no time for high school or college classmates. You marry and divorce, but the job is everything. It fills you up and you are left with no time for anything else. This, too, could be your dream.

I ran so fast that time and youth at last ran out,
I never stopped to think what life was all about
And every conversation I can now recall
Concerns itself with me and nothing else at all.

You grow older; you reached your goals or not; you retire or perhaps you drop dead, past the usual age for retirement, but “I enjoy work and they need me,” never realizing that ‘they’ can hardly wait for you to leave. Let us assume the best…that you do in fact retire from a job that brought you some fulfillment. You look back and see, if you’re lucky, that while it has all been about you, somewhere, you married again or even stayed married, had a family; even coached a neighborhood team of some kind or other. But in hindsight, it’s all been about you and the world that revolves around you.

You find that you have been so busy being you that everyone and everything else has been on the periphery, that you are no different from the rest of the world. Yes, you have loved; well, you have loved as you believe love should have been. Your love, however, if you are true to yourself, has been subservient to you and everything you wanted…a selfish love…a love of you, what you are, what you have always been.

There are so many songs in me that won’t be sung;
I feel the bitter taste of tears upon my tongue.
The time has come for me to pay for
Yesterday when I was young…

Now you are old. The things you always wanted to do are no longer possible. Your dream of growing old with your partner and doing the things you both talked of doing can no longer be done. The children have grown and moved away…nor do they remember yesterday. Your partner becomes ill and dies, but those are not the only time you feel the bitter taste of tears upon your tongue. You also cry for yourself because the time has come for you to pay for yesterday…when you were young.

 

[I have had something of a love affair with this song since I first heard Roy Clark sing it. While it is not one hundred percent applicable to my own life, there are certainly parts of it with which I can associate, particularly the last stanza. All of the plans that we had made, cut short and cut down by cancer; all of my stupidity of continuing to smoke despite the warnings, quitting only when there was no choice. Perhaps I would change the first line to read, “There are so many things that won’t be done.” I can do that now that I’m no longer…young]

 

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July 4th 2015. Independence Day in the United States of America. Songs will be sung; America the Beautiful; the Star Spangled Banner; dances will be danced to Sousa marches; and, of course, fireworks displays will light up the skies all over the country. It’s a beautiful day and evening for Americans everywhere, right? Well…yea and nay. There are some of us, still thankful to Sam Adams and The Sons of Liberty; George Washington and his skills as a soldier; the Marquis de Lafayette and his French connection, but who also find Independence Day to have a tinge of sadness to it.

People die on the Fourth of July, just as they do every other day of the year. For their families who remain, the Fourth is always tinged with sadness; with memories of better days. Maybe they remember Dad in that ratty old apron, standing at the grille, his face red from the heat, smoke, and ash. He always wore a smile, though. “Who wants an overdone dog? Burgers are ready; come and get ‘em!” Dad hasn’t been standing by the grille for about five years now…one too many burgers or whatever, the heart attack took him pretty quick; now it’s Buddy who’s manning the grille. Oh, Buddy’s the oldest; guess that’s why he took over. First two years, we didn’t have the cookout, but then Buddy said Dan wouldn’t want us to just sit around, listening to patriotic songs and think about him…so…Buddy got it going, and it hasn’t been half bad. Mom’s still kinda quiet but she’s getting better and she even laughs once in a while.

There are a lot of Americans who are in that same position. They lost a loved one on a holiday or they buried a loved one on a holiday or, as in my case, they celebrated an anniversary on a holiday. July Fourth of this year would have marked our 58th wedding anniversary. We got to celebrate the first fifty together and would have made fifty-one if the cancer had just given us twenty more days. I’m sort of glad it didn’t; be even more difficult to die the day you had been married. However, be that as it may, life goes on. People are born; others die, whether it’s on a holiday or not. People used to kid us about giving up our independence on the Fourth of July. One of us would always remind people about the fireworks we created on that same day…whoopee. I never really thought of it as losing independence as much as gaining a partner in a pact that celebrated our independence from everyone else; as two, we made one, and that was a good thing.

So, for those people out there for whom the Fourth of July is tinged with something other than joy, I hear ya; I’m part of your circle. That doesn’t mean that we should hunker down and forget about celebrating America’s independence. After all, think about some of the Brits. I don’t think they’re setting off fireworks and having their backyard barbecues and celebrations today. Shit, they got stuffed. Think about that one for a while. Who knows, maybe Dad’s got the heavenly grille going and serving hot dogs and hamburgers to General George and the Culper Ring, and he’s probably wearing that same ratty apron.

Happy Fourth everyone!

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This is part two of my friendship series. If you enjoyed reading about Sy, I hope you’ll enjoy these three characters.

It’s now possible for me to talk about Sy Sheehan without mentioning some of the other people with whom I worked. Since the A&P was the first real job I had, it also provided an opportunity to learn about the people who had committed their lives to the company.

Among my favorite people was Herb Foote, ‘Herbie’ to his friends. He was the bookkeeper, head cashier, and a real prick about having register tapes and money in the draw equaling exact amounts. Many was the time when Herbie would politely rant – he never raised his voice – about an overage or shortfall on the register. As I progressed through the ranks from bundle boy to shelve stocker, to taking in a load of groceries and marking them with the prices for other shelf stockers to deal with, I would also be called on to run a cash register now and then. Back then, as many as four people might use a cash register, but if you were the last one on it at the close of business, you were the one to catch Herbie’s wrath. He would quietly fault you and your acumen until you almost began to believe that anything wrong really could be your fault. Herb would always wind up his oration by admitting that it might not have been your fault, but you were the last one holding that cash register’s fate in your hands. Yes, there did come a point where it was all any of us could do not to laugh at Herbie’s rants and raves. He used words like ‘accountability,’ and ‘responsibility,’ and these are the words that remind me of him. He was meticulous in his attention to detail, and it’s very possible that Herbie Foote was another in my line of A&P mentors to whom I’ve never given enough credit.

Dick Murray was the assistant manager under Sy Sheehan. Tall, blond, ready smile, and a true ladies man, Dick was always ready with a witty remark for customers or fellow employees. He could stock a bakery faster than any man I ever saw. Loaves of bread, rolls, coffee cakes, and other assorted bakery items would literally fly out of the cases in front of Murray, but somehow, they always seemed to land in the right spot, right side up, and appearing as though they had been placed in position by loving hands rather than being flung there by Machine Gun Murray. Don’t get me wrong; Dick had his serious side and he could let you know in no uncertain terms when he thought you were slacking off.

The most terrifying experience I ever had with Dick Murray occurred about three years into the job. I was working at the speed checkout register; you know, the one for ten items or less. We were smart enough to make the aisle for that register sufficiently narrow that a shopping cart would not fit through. As I was busily checking the customers through, Dick came over and whispered, “The fire chief is going to come through your register. He stuffed four package of meat in his coat pocket and has one and a few other things to check out. I want you to ask him if he’s sure he doesn’t have four more package of meat to be paid for.” I whispered back something to the effect, “Are you shitting me; this guy knows me and my family; I practically grew up knowing this guy.” “He’s shoplifting,” replied Murray, losing his grin. “Just do it.” Sure enough, the chief came through with just one package of meat. Sure enough, I asked him if he wouldn’t like to show me the other four packages. Sure enough, he got pissed; and sure enough, there was Murray, placing his hand on the chief’s shoulder and asking him to step to the office. The last I saw of the chief was his coat flailing behind him; then I saw Murray walking back toward the meat department, four packages in his hand. The chief never came in the store again, and I realized that ‘hail fellow-well met’ Dick Murray was much more than a grin and a glad hand; he had a pair of the sharpest eyes in the store and could spot a shoplifter just as easily as he could stock a bakery. Dick  taught me how to pick up on the movements of those who would steal and how to approach them in a friendly manner while confronting them with what they were intending to do.

Bob Kenney was a quiet Navy vet who ran the deli counter. He kept the milk stocked, the cheese cut, weighed and priced, and even found time to grind the coffee beans for the customers. By chance, he also became a good friend. I said that Kenney was quiet. He’d nod but not speak unless spoken to; his mouth was always closed and straight across…no smile, no scowl. One day, I was cutting and pricing some incoming groceries in the downstairs part of the store. Muller’s macaroni came in a tightly packed cardboard box. If one wasn’t careful, it was easy to slice the packages as well as the cover of the box. Perhaps it was that caution that caused the box cutter to slip and create an inch and a half gash in my wrist. The blood was rather plentiful, so I went up to the meat locker to get some gauze. The funny part was that two butchers were busy slicing up hinds of beef when I walked in. Both took one look at my wrist and damn near passed out. Kenney had seen me come up, holding my wrist. He grabbed a clean apron and wrapped it tightly around my wrist. He took me to his car and then to Dr. Anthony Sabino, our family doctor. The nearest emergency room was in Weymouth, some miles away. Dr. Sabino couldn’t stitch the wound because of its diagonal cut, but he did manage to stop the bleeding and bind the wound.  I remember him saying that another eighth of an inch and I would have hit the radial artery. While I didn’t know what that meant, I have a better understanding of the dangers today. Kenney stayed with me the whole way. Driving back, we stopped at a drug store for a soft drink. It was at that point that the blood loss began to tell and Bob stopped me from sliding off a counter stool and passing out on the floor. He then got me home, helped into the house and told my mother what had happened. Bob Kenney and I were very good friends following that experience, but something I’ll never get over would be the look on the faces of the two butchers, aprons and hands covered in cow’s blood and damn near passing out when they saw my wrist.

Three good people, friends one and all. Thanks guys, thank you for the memories.

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They go back to the seventeenth of April 2010.  I was 75 years old. Joan had been dead nearly two years. Perhaps it was, I thought, a cathartic that would help me through what was a rough period. I no longer smoked nor drank. Juli wasn’t here yet, although we were e-mailing back and forth about what it’s like to care for someone who was dying or died…she was a helluva support person to have at that time and, for that matter, she remains a great source of support to this day. So, in effect, I cannot tell you why I began to write a blog or what I intended to write.

Today, a little over four years later, there are 835 essays on this blog. Why that many? Hell, how do I know? Some have contained language that would make a stevedore blush; I know they’ve made one former college president say, “I never heard you talk like that,” and that’s okay. Perhaps I still possessed a certain amount of professionalism when I was working for/with him. I’m quite certain that Indra Nooyi doesn’t walk into a Monday morning staff meeting at Persico and ask everyone how their ‘fucking” weekend was; you know, there are just certain circumspect things that one does not do in polite company. Most of us know “the words” but most of us also know when they are inappropriate and respect that.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, the 835 posts. They’ve ranged from criticism to instructional and everything in between. I’ve talked about bullying and domestic violence to Congress and my personal feelings about death. Speaking of domestic violence, I had a comment just recently from a woman who had read one of the articles. Although she didn’t say so directly, I had the feeling that she might be a victim looking for more help about how to get out of a bad relationship. There’s the problem…I write about these things; I have worked with people in the past who were active in helping folks like her; I offer advice but will never know if they take it or are even in a position to take it. It can be frustrating as all get out because I rarely have any way of knowing. After my friend and I finished the series on alcoholism, we felt we’d have done a service if we helped one person. When the last piece was published, three people came to me at the gym on that same morning and said, “Thanks.” Wow, how do you think that made us both feel?

Do I write this stuff to be noticed? Yeah, probably, but I really don’t think about it that way. Sometimes I just get so riled up at the stupidity of others that I take my vengeance out on the keyboard. When I’m writing about government, it’s often because I don’t believe that we, the American people, are getting a fair shake and that the government seems more about pleasing the people who have money and power and don’t really give a damn about the farmer in Iowa or Nebraska, or the poor in Detroit or East Bumfuch, West Virginia. Maybe the Republicans have a point; maybe the federal government is too big for its britches. Maybe we do give the states more of a say in how they govern themselves. Then, of course, we have to worry about who runs the states and how many of those votes get bought by the rich to the detriment of the poor.

Then there are the times when I start to write and I just can’t get the whole thing going. Here’s an example of that: Carol Flynn of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was just standing in a checkout line at Walmart when she noticed a young mom put three packages of diapers back because the store discount only covered one package. Flynn stepped up and, although she had no idea who the mom might be, she grabbed the other three packages and paid for them herself. “Maybe you can pay it forward some day,” she told Katie Kanefke, the mom. According to the report I saw, Kanefke reacted with “I couldn’t believe it. I was just so surprised. I was like, ‘I don’t even know you.’ If you ever needed a sign that God’s there for you in the hardships and struggles, this is it. It’s pretty awesome.” Perhaps Carol Flynn should run for Congress but then again, she’d probably take one drink from the Congressional water fountain and want to sue Kanefke for the diapers plus interest.

A Minnesota Air National Guardsman was driving when he noticed flames coming from under the car in front of him. At about the same time, the driver smelled a strange odor. Both cars pulled over. The driver’s SUV doors locked when he put the car in park, trapping him inside. As the fire intensified, Michael Joahannes, the driver tried to kick out the passenger side window without much success. Robert Renning, the guardsman, rushed to the car and literally bent the passenger’s side door in half, shattering the glass and enabling him to pull Joahannes to safety. He didn’t believe that he was a hero, but that this was something anyone would have done. My question? Was it something anyone could have done? The Minnesota State Police plan on nominating Renning for a Good Samaritan Award.  He’d sure get my vote!

Where do you take a piece like that? There are good news stories all over the place. They have to be strange to make headlines. You may have heard the expression, “If it bleeds, it leads.” It seems that still holds true in some media outlets…and that’s too bad. It’s my personal belief that the evening news, in particular, with all of its blood and gore, is just so depressing that people carry it into their dreams. There was one study done a while ago that suggested people not watch the 11 o’clock news if they wanted a decent night’s sleep. When some gangbangers get shot, I can just see the one who did it watching the TV and saying, “Yeah, that’s me. I did that. I’m famous. They don’t know who I am, but I did that; that’s me.” Screw that; don’t give the son-of-a-bitch the satisfaction.

I’m going to continue to write for as long as I can. You don’t like it…change the channel, as they say or give me a shout and tell me you don’t; same’s true if you enjoyed it. If you have topics you’d like to hear about, start your own blog. As the late Robert B. Parker told me many moons ago, “The only way to write is to write.”

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A gentleman with whom I am acquainted – well, I assume he’s a gentleman; never know these days – teaches philosophy at a local private school. For a number of years he was the headmaster of said school, but then he decided to get a real job – as I have been told on too many occasions to count by teaching faculty from here to hell and gone – and became an “educator.” Since I went neither through a liberal arts curriculum nor did I attend a Jesuit institution…the only two collegiate programs where philosophy seems to be a mandatory requirement…I was never exposed to philosophical thought. After several conversations with said gentleman, I began to realize just how sadly lacking my education has been. Were this to happen today, I could probably turn around and sue my undergraduate institution for not providing a compendious educational program, but to attempt this after having been absent the classroom for more – well more – than half a century, I would doubtless be throwing good money after bad. That is not philosophical thought; just common sense.

All of the above having been said, I am going back to school! “So what?” you ask, to which I respond, “When you stop learning, formally or informally, you’re dead and just too ignorant to lie down.” It’s never too late to learn. There are several reasons I believe this, the first of which is that I would like to be able to discuss philosophy on a more intellectual level with my acquaintance. Another reason is that, as was said earlier, without philosophy, my education is lacking and incomplete. I plan to take the same approach with journalism at some point, sadly having been denied the opportunity to pursue any formal training in that area. There may well be other subjects available through the Internet, but right now I’m settling on those two. A third reason for doing this is that I find of late, television programming is (a) idiotic; (b) idiotic; (c) idiotic; or (d) all of the above. It is with a certain degree of guilt that I must also admit that my reading list has begun to lapse into the mystery/murder/thriller genre, and it would be nice to get away from that for a while.

I will not pontificate on what I have learned to date. To do so would be to prove the adage, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Abraham Lincoln appears to have a quote for every occasion; that is another of his great ones. Let me just say that now that school has adjourned for the summer, I will have a few months to study philosophy and perhaps be able to carry on a reasonably less pompous conversation with my acquaintance when he returns to school and to the gym next year. Oh, that’s right, I didn’t tell you; we met at a gym. You meet the most interesting people in some of the strangest of places. Think about it…talking philosophy in a gym; discussing labor law…in a gym; conversing about politics without coming to blows…in a gym; I have even managed to get my utility company to bill me electronically…by speaking to someone at the gym,  thus proving that nearly all things are possible given the proper environment.

One of the things that I find truly amazing about the Internet is the amount of course work in various field that I can study without having to enroll or pay money, that last being perhaps the primary reason I do not hold a terminal degree from Grand Canyon, Southern New Hampshire, or one of the many online programs that are available; well, that and the fact that I’m on a fixed income. However, I’m not certain I wish to take online courses that are going to tax me beyond my limited abilities. To gain the basics of understanding of a subject with which I have no familiarity may well be as far as I wish to go, but go I will because, in this case anyway, I know someone who is an authority on the subject…and I’m a brain picker!

Think about this for a moment: You have died and on your first whatever in Heaven; I will assume you have gone to Heaven and not any of those other places, but on your first night, you are given the opportunity to dine with five other people of your choosing…and…there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion following dinner. Yes, I know, if you’re dead you probably won’t eat, yadda, yadda, yadda…give me a break, will you please? Who would you choose? Remember Mitch Albom’s book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven? This isn’t like that. You pick five people; they may be people you have admired because of their contributions to the world…Mohandas Gandhi, Budda, or Confucius. It might be you’ve admired great warriors like Genghis Khan, Hannibal, or Alexander. I have to tell you that I would be very hard pressed to pick just five people with whom I’d like to exchange ideas. Recently, I watched – yes, back to television again, but this was Netflix or Amazon or one of those – a piece on Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Their fight for the rights of women might have put one of them at my table, but then I watched a piece on Jefferson and…well, you know what follows. Our world has been filled with those who could rightfully demand a place at your table or mine. What about our own ancestors; would they be a choice? If you have an interest in philosophy, would you have Epicurus, Aristotle, John Locke, or Plato at your table?

I can [and will…as always] offer a bit of advice on how to choose your dinner companions. Years ago, I taught a course in creative problem solving. The first step in what was known as the problem-solving wheel, was to identify all of the “messes” that required your attention. From that, your job was to identify the problem that first required your attention; which of the messes had to be cleaned up first before you could move on. In selecting that problem as the most important, I asked students and teams of students to answer one question when they felt they had identified the problem that they would attack. The question was, “Why?” If you can answer the question, why, five times in a row and receive a satisfactory answer each time, chances are you have the correct problem to attack. Perhaps that’s the question you should ask about your dinner partners. Why do you want Abraham Lincoln, for example? After you have given your complete answer, ask the question again and again and again, and one more time. If he stands the Five Why question, then he probably belongs at your table.

I leave you with this advice…use the Internet wisely; find out who attends your gym; and stay tuned for more about my foray into philosophy.

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I read the Irish sports page every morning. I’ve heard it called the Jewish Tally Sheet, but for the most part, it’s called a sports page; I know that’s what my Italian friends call it.  It doesn’t matter; when you reach a certain age, the first thing you look for in the paper is the obituary section. You figure if your own name isn’t there it’s probably going to be a reasonably good day.

It’s always nice to learn that you didn’t die yet. I mean, there are some people I see walking around who just might feel better dead. You’ve seen them; they’re the ones who have “that” look on their face that indicates they don’t give a damn anymore. The world better get out of their way ‘cause they’re coming through. They’ll beat the crap out of you with their cane; they just don’t care. I remember the time when I had exited an elevator down town and one of them jabbed her umbrella down on my shoe as she said, “Outta my way, buster!” She couldn’t have been more than five feet tall; had that blue hair and a wizened up monkey face, but by God you better not get in her way.

There are several interesting things about the “sports” page. Have you ever noticed the photos that are used? The photograph is of a beautiful young woman, probably in her early twenties. Then you look at the obit itself and learn that “Mary Jones, 93, died on Sunday.” Ninety-friggin’-three! Who the hell is trying to kid whom? The other thing I notice is the way in which people die. “Charles Espenoza, 79, passed peacefully on Sunday…..peacefully, my ass! And ‘passed;’ what did he do, fart on his way to the Promised Land? Have you seen the obits of those who have “crossed to the other side?” How’d they do that? Somebody comes along – Charon or Acheron – and rows them across the river? I don’t know what to say when I see, “entered into rest;” No, he’s not resting; he’s all the way gone and coming back – as far as we know – is not an option. He is not taking a power nap.

Obituaries contain all of these wonderful words and phrases. The one that gets me is “passed peacefully;” Who the hell wants to “pass peacefully;” I want to “pass” fighting like hell and screaming, “Hey, not yet, it’s too soon…if I’m gonna go, somebody get me a bottle and a couple of cigars.” Screw this “peacefully” bullshit. I also love the ones that talk about, “Survived by his wife, Margaret with whom he shared 58 years of a loving marriage.” I’m sorry but if you had 58 years of bliss, you weren’t married; there had to be some point along the way when you two fought like cats and dogs. Hell, fighting is fun, but the making up is even better.

I saw one this morning. It was a local obit for someone in their late seventies as I recall. “Loving mother of…” and it listed someone in Homer. Alaska, someone in Florida, another on the West Coast, and I’m thinking to myself, “When the hell was the last time you saw them?” One of my kids lives in Michigan. I haven’t seen him in about seven years. He has his own family and job to worry about. He comes back for my funeral; I’m going to go haunt the son-of-a-bitch for wasting air fare. Don’t get me wrong; I love him dearly, but I can think of a lot better uses for his money than to come back and see a box of ashes. “Oh, can I see Dad? Open the box and sneeze…”Hey, nice to see ya, Dad; damn, you just blew everywhere, didn’t ya?” Gimme a break!

When I see “…died at home, surrounded by family, it conjures up an image of some poor bastard lying in bed with a hoard of greedy people staring – “think he’ll get another breath out…or was that it? – and wondering just what’s in the will. “He didn’t have a will? Holy Shit, how’re we gonna split things up? How about those that say, “…formerly of 51 Belmont Street, Rockland, 295 Gardener Street, Hingham, 60 Wild Harbor Road, Falmouth, 102 Lenox Street, West Newton, 62 North Avenue, Rockland, and…” and the damned thing goes on to list not only towns but street addresses. Hey, wait a minute; you’re paying for this thing by the word. It might be cheaper just to take out a full-page ad so you could show more pictures, including that one in the center showing the poor old bastard in the casket. Then you surround it with snapshots of the guys life…from birth to retirement party.

I joke about the obituaries but, of course, they are very serious business both to those who remain, and, ah, not so much to the deceased. I don’t care for those who say something like, “…died following a long battle with cancer.” My wife died of cancer. She lasted a hell of a lot longer than the doctors told her she would, but she didn’t battle with the disease. It took possession of her body and slowly, inevitably, destroyed her, piece by piece. There is no ‘battle,’  because in war, sometimes you might win a battle; you don’t win anything with Stage IV cancer that’s already metastasized.

I’ve lost enough of my friends that I should probably stop reading the obits. Lately, it seems that I know more and more of the names. It’s bad enough when you see the name of one person you knew from years ago, but when you start seeing two or three in the same paper, perhaps it’s time to read Dilbert or Mother Goose and Grimm, or some such. Well, there’s one good thing about one’s own obituary; at least I won’t have to read it!

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The late Academy Award winning actress, Bette Davis is quoted as having said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” Now that I’m only a couple of years away from when she died – she passed away at the age of 81 – I’m beginning to understand precisely what she was saying.

Getting or growing – your choice – old is a process, along with everything else. If you are diagnosed early on with a terminal disease, you never have the chance to experience what some might call the torment of growing old. My friend Jerry – and at my age, I’ve forgotten his last name – died of some damned thing called poliomyelitis. I saw him on Saturday night, when the store in which we both worked closed. He was fine; no problems. Evidently, he woke up Sunday morning with some aches and pains; by Tuesday, he was dead. He never had his chance to grow old. Neither did my friend, Joe Thompson. Joe quit school in our senior year to join the Marines. On the way back to camp one night, on some Georgia road, Joe and three of his buddies wrapped their car around a tree. Joe hadn’t hit 20 yet.

It’s been said that only the good die young. Personally, I think that’s bullshit; you die when you die. Life, at least to me, is a big gamble. Every day the dice get rolled somewhere and you live or you die. That is, perhaps, a bit morbid, but it’s one way of looking at it. I’ve also been known to say that every morning I pull back the covers and put my feet on the floor, the Devil says, “Oh, shit, he made it through another night.”

Depending on the “expert” with whom you speak we begin the process of sarcopenia anytime between the ages of 20 and 50. Gotcha with the big word, didn’t I? Don’t worry I also had to look it up. It’s the age at which we begin to lose muscle mass. Sure, it’s possible to slow the process through strength training, and I suppose if you’re Mark Maguire, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, or a few others, you can even reverse the process, but (a) I would prefer to grow old at the regular rate, (b) I’m not certain I have the money to pay for that ‘stuff,’ and (c) I’m not all that big on injecting myself if I don’t have to do so. If you’ve ever had to inject yourself with insulin or Lovenox or anything like that, you know what I mean. The point is that as we age, we can’t lift the things we once lifted. We can’t do what we once found fairly routine. I well remember being in the gymnasium at Babson, watching a group of students playing basketball. One of them yelled over, “Hey, Mr. Bishop, wanna play?” Certainly, I was too wise to get into that gig, but they did convince me to take a shot. I stood where I had remembered standing in high school – my ‘spot’ on the floor from which I once had been a deadly shot. It was about 25 feet away from the basket and just off to one side. I took my shot and it fell about five feet short of the rim. I laughed; they laughed, but it was a clear indication that when you’re in your late fifties, you don’t shoot hoops the way you did at 17.

As I say, aging is a gradual process. If you’re lucky (and smart), you exercise to stay healthy; you eat right to stay healthy; you don’t smoke; you don’t drink to excess…everything in moderation – even moderation itself. With luck, cancer steers a wide path around you, although many of us find the basal cells of our sunbathing youth and they must be removed. When I grew up, smoking was an acceptable habit, and so in middle age, were its consequences…COPD and emphysema. Quitting helps but the damage is done. You can’t run as far or as quickly…if you can run at all. You learn that the meals that tasted so good also took a toll on your heart. If you’re lucky, you survive the first attack, and if you listen, there may or may not be a second and more severe one.

Time moves along and the print on the newspaper gets smaller and a bit more indistinct. You see an eye doctor and he may tell you that he can improve your vision or that you’re condemned to bi- and then trifocals. In my case, procedures had advanced whereby, laser surgery removed cataracts and my vision was restored to the point of buying eyeglasses off the rack. Some folks aren’t so lucky. Their vision keeps fading until it’s all but gone. The same is true of other senses. Hearing seems to fade…very, very, very slowly but it fades. Hearing aids become a part of one’s wardrobe along with greater caution when crossing the street.

One morning, we wake up and something seems to ache as we’re getting out of bed. Hell, which can happen any time from 10 on, I suppose, and if you’ve been an athlete, it happens the morning after every game. At some point, the ache or the pain doesn’t go away and you realize that the cartilage which once was there is either torn or worn away. The doctor says it’s the onset of arthritis, that you need surgery, or that, “we have a pill for that.” If it’s your back that’s hurting, they have injections for that or you can go ‘under the knife’ and pray for the best. You see, aging today, is not the same as it was in the day of your mother and dad. And it most certainly isn’t the same today as it will be 50-100 years from now. If you followed Star Trek, you may remember when Bones, Kirk, and Spock, returned to earth in the late 20th Century to rescue one of their crew. They found him in a fairly modern hospital, yet Dr. McCoy called the doctors of that period, “barbarians” and “butchers.” I can honestly say that I’ve seen some of that in my lifetime. My left leg has a six inch scar from the first knee surgery; the second – a year later – has two one inch scars on either side of the knee. My youngest child, whose knee surgery was done about 20 years later, had three tiny pinholes which we can no longer see. What next, you ask? What’s next is already here. Doctors are growing cartilage to repair or replace that which has worn down or gone altogether. Gall bladder surgery, which once left a nine-inch scar on one’s chest, is now accomplished with a miniature vacuum cleaner that leaves a barely noticeable mark. But still, we age.

Despite medical marvels and advances, the human body is not built for longevity. Our organs begin to function less than optimally no matter what we do, take, exercise, or eat. Sure, it can be slowed down; sure medical science is making fantastic strides; sure this and sure that, but…we still wake up with a new pain here or a new ache there every day or week or month. The beauty of it is and if this is the case just think of how fortunate we are. We’re still alive to see the beauty that is the world around us. Yes, for some, we awake to see the ugliness that is around us, but I guess I’m luckier that I’m in the first group. I watched Juli’s morning glories open again this morning; the purples, the blues, the reds, and yes, even the whites open to signal the beginning of a new day. And yes, I don’t feel particularly well because of my aches and pains and other problems…but I’m alive to see those flowers come alive; to see the blue jays come and grab the peanuts Juli has tossed out for them; to see the squirrels, chipmunks, and wild turkeys come to eat the grain and see that she’s thrown out. It all reminds me of just how lucky I am to have made it to this age and to think of how sad it is that so many of my peers have not.

Life is a treasure; a blessing. Getting old may not be for sissies, but it sure as hell is for the experience of seeing just how much beauty there is in it and how fast it’s changing. If life in the 1800s and early 1900s plodded along like a horse, and if life in the 1950s move along slowly the automobiles of the time, the 21st Century, by its end, can certainly be a time when, instead of our progress being measured arithmetically, it will be measured in exponential growth. I would love to have a crystal ball to stare into to see just what I won’t live to experience.

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Dream with me for a moment or two.

What would you change if you could have come from a different womb? Would you wish to be born to someone other than the parents you have or had…or perhaps never even knew? At this time, when we are enthralled by the birth of George Alexander Louis as the third in line to the British throne, let’s take a look backward at where we might wish we came from and how it might have influenced our lives. I’ll dream with you and insert my own life because I surely don’t know where the hell you came from. If I had been born to parents of great wealth, it would have been a miracle. To the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t one millionaire in the whole damned town. That, of course, could have been deception at its finest, but the people who attempted to pass themselves off as wealthy were not people I would have wished as parents. It’s my understanding that my Dad had come from wealth. That’s why he quit school in the ninth grade. He rather enjoyed the life of a playboy and dabbled in tennis and golf “at the club” until the business went down the toilet in the late 20s and early 30s. By then he was married and had no marketable skills. This meant that he went to work for Bethlehem Steel at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy. During those depressed years of the early 30s, my sister was born and that had to put more of a strain on the family. A year later, the nation put their faith in Franklin Delano Roosevelt as their new leader. It couldn’t have been an easy time for my folks but during my life I never heard them speak of that period other than to hear them say what a great country this is and what a horror WW II was for so many of their friends. Three years later I came along. On my 5th birthday, Hitler invaded Poland – I really had nothing to do with that, honest – and a couple of years later we were launched into the Second World War. Working in the shipyard and because of his age, Dad was exempt from military service. He never talked about it but in some ways I think he resented that.

The key question here is would I rather have been born to different parents. The answer is that despite some reasonably tough times growing up, my parents were always loving; that to me is the key. Mom and Dad both enjoyed a drink, but neither was a drunk. I never recall any shouting in the house although I do remember their headboard striking a rhythmic beat on their wall a few times. After I was old enough to understand, I don’t remember whether I thought it was gross or just thought…”you go, Pop!” So, no, I can’t think of any other parents for whom I could have wished.

Would things have been better if I had grown up as a Ford, or Carnegie, or the son of a Wall Street baron? Hell, I don’t know. Had I grown up in a palace with parents whom I rarely saw and with tutors who taught me from an early age that I was the be-all and end-all of humanity, would I feel differently? Certainly, but I don’t know anyone like that, not to the extent that I would ever ask them. What I had was great; we had food on the table each night and ice cream on Sunday. Because my great aunts lived in Cohasset, we could get a pass to Sandy Beach – where the water was so cold that walnuts became raisins – and where Mom would do the weirdest damned stroke I’d ever seen. Dad had been some kind of a champion club swimmer and taught us by example until we could almost stay with him on the way to the raft about 50 yards from shore. Those were good times.

I grew up being bullied by older kids and picking on younger ones. It didn’t happen often but it happened. Did that happen to the kids of other parents? Yeah, probably it did unless, of course, you were brought up in a glass bubble and not allowed to associate with “that kind of rabble.” We didn’t consider ourselves rabble of any kind; we were just kids who came from loving homes who didn’t mind getting into a small amount of trouble. Seems to me that despite all of our advances, kids today don’t get into small trouble; unless someone dies, the trouble isn’t trouble at all. It that’s progress, I’m just as happy that I grew up when I did.

So, if I wouldn’t change my parents, is there anything I would have changed? Oh, yeah, you betcha! I certainly would have been more serious about my education. My folks hadn’t finished high school; my sister was satisfied with a high school diploma before she left for a modeling career in New York, and I had no intention of pursuing a college education until Mom pushed me into it. I know they cashed in a life insurance policy to pay for my first year, so I guess I would wish that we might have been a bit wealthier…but we made it. I barely made it through college and it wasn’t until I was married and going back to grad school that education became important to me. Hell, if the graduate school dean wasn’t a friend, I probably wouldn’t have been allowed entrance; not with my record.

I’d like to have made more money in my life but then, “the love of money is the root of all evil,” and we survived. I’d like to have been a more loving husband; I just don’t think I loved my wife enough. I’d like to have been a better father; I don’t believe I loved my kids enough either. Perhaps my memory isn’t as great as it once was, but I believe that we could all always do a better job of loving our spouses and doing more for our kids in terms of affection.

Another change I guess I’d make is that I would have kept in closer touch with some of those people with whom I first work and with whom I’d grown up. We grow; we change; we drift away; we get new jobs and new challenges; we make new friends; we may move far away; we find new loves and build our own families; we lose track and that’s okay, because those same people who might wish they’d stayed in touch have done exactly the same thing. Then one day, you see a name in the obituary column and memories return. As you age, the obituary page becomes mandatory reading. Then you get a call from an old classmate who wants to have lunch. You go and you aren’t certain about the subjects you discuss. Eventually, you end up talking about who’s dead and who’s alive; who has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel; how many kids you each had and what they’re now doing. If the classmate was a real friend, you don’t try to play the “my kid’s better than your kid” game; you just talk. Then one day you look at the Irish Sports Page as you’ve come to call the obituaries and you see your friend’s name. You wonder what you missed in that last conversation; what should have been said but never was. Then one day, your name is in that page…and you really don’t have any reason to be concerned about what it was you might have changed.

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Beware the writer who begins with no idea of where he or she may be going.

Such will be the beginning, the middle, and the end of what you have had the courage to, so far, pursue.

It’s alright to grow old. So many people don’t have the opportunity to make that statement. I once held an eight-month old baby who two weeks later died of crib death. He was a handsome baby, big and strong. He had a great smile and an even funnier laugh. When Justin laughed, everyone around him either smiled or joined in his laughter. It doesn’t take much to make an eight-month old laugh, and it’s such an innocent laughter. It’s too bad he never lived to grow old. What would he have been? Would he have made what society calls “major contributions to the well-being of mankind,” whatever that might mean? Would he have been a serial killer and blight on society? Or perhaps he would have just been a man; a man, who lived his life, was wounded in some military conflict, got married, had kids, owned a house, made enough money to send his kids to college, grew old, and died. We’ll never know.

Who is to say what sets one person apart from another. Why, for example, was it Jonas Salk who discovered the cure for polio? He came from Russian Jewish parents who were immigrants and who possessed little formal education. Why did he decide to pursue scientific research instead of medicine when he was, of all things, attending a medical school? Certainly, back at the time of his studies, the practice of medicine would appear to have been more lucrative than the pursuit of scientific ‘discovery.’ Perhaps he had taken to heart what President Calvin Coolidge had to say, that, “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” But why Salk? We’ll never know, but the fact that he did has saved millions of lives.

Are we failures if we don’t make “contributions” to society? Will we die earlier than others? What is a contribution, anyway? Is being the best father or mother you can be a contribution? How about being the best husband or wife? Better yet, in today’s society, how about being the best partner, male or female? Why are some lives snuffed out at eight months and others go on for over a century?

Let me twist a bit here and tell you what I believe. I believe that there is some Power greater than any of us. You may call that Power, for want of a better word, God. You may also call the Power, Allah, Elohim, Jehovah, or any other name by which you wish to designate your particular Power. One of our children was born shortly after my wife’s father died. My wife was talking with her about her grandfather when the child was about five. “I knew him; I met him when I was coming down,” the child said. It was a statement that both terrified and horrified us. Our daughter was dead serious…scary stuff.

I firmly believe that the Power puts us on earth with a purpose in mind for each of us. We have no idea what that purpose is. Perhaps it is merely to entertain or be good to someone or some people for a few days, weeks, or months. That may be that being’s sole purpose. If that is the case, then it must also be that the being is also responsible for bringing unbearable sorrow when it leaves. My wife and I had nearly 51 years together. When I tell others that she died of cancer, they invariably say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” While I never take the time for a long discussion, I will usually respond with, “Please don’t be. Death from cancer is very unpleasant.” I suppose that death by IED or car crash or anything else isn’t all that great, particularly if you’re in your twenties, but watching someone waste away from cancer isn’t exactly a joy to behold either. Anyway, in our time together, Joan worked at a job that might have been considered more difficult than my own – I worked at an income-producing job. She worked at raising three kids and instilling values in them, and did one hell of a job doing so. She did Girl Scouts and mini-boy scouts. I did Little League. We both spent 25 years in chlorine-filled swimming pools with our “jock-wannabes;” We saw all three go through college, fall in love, get married, and have kids of their own. Did we make a contribution? Is that why the Power put us here on earth? Why did the Power take my wife back before ‘it’ took me? Am I being punished, or do I still have another job to do? When I die, will these questions be answered for me, or will the light just go out with answers remaining only as questions? Is this really Philosophy 101?

I’m getting along in years now. I’ve made it this far, but the stairs get higher most days; the print on this page is kind of blurred, even with my ‘computer glasses’ on. Exercise is a great help, but I notice on those days when I don’t, I feel a little more tired, and that becomes a concentric spiral downward. I do hope that there is something left that is expected of me. Might be nice to stick around and perhaps even learn what that something is.

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