Category Archives: Family

Reminiscence

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Where  does the time between memories go? Is it compressed and re-compressed to a quark sized particle in the brain? Is that why I have vivid memories of two mornings in a cold, mid-January over 16 years ago more clearly than any morning last week.

I was getting ready to go to a Memorial Service for a man who had been my husband’s co-worker. Late and rushing to get breakfast for Catherine, my 8 year-old daughter, I was in the kitchen when the phone rang. Of course, the phone would ring now! I swallowed my exasperation. But, it was my sister’s voice I heard and it sounded weak and raspy.  She had been fighting a winter cold and the first round of antibiotics didn’t help. I was worried about her.

“Mare, Dr. Chen called. He wants me to go for a chest x-ray tomorrow” I heard fear in her voice.

“Tee, He’s covering all bases. Catherine has had two rounds of antibiotics a few times to get rid of sinus infections.  Don’t worry too much.” I wanted to add “yet”. My sister was a heavy smoker.

“I’ll come with you.” I said. I could hear the relief in her voice as we made arrangements.

The next morning I picked her up and we drove silently to the hospital’s x-ray facility.  She was called right away. I watched her walk slowly until the door shut behind her.

I couldn’t read the newspaper I brought or any of the magazine’s in the waiting room.  I just stared out the window. About a half hour later and much to my surprise, Dr. Chen came into the waiting room and headed straight toward me.

“I am so sorry to tell you this. Your sister has a tumor in her lung very close to her heart. I don’t think it’s operable but I advise you to go to a Thoracic Surgeon, a good one and as soon as possible.. It is going to be a very difficult time” he said.

I could hardly process his words. I was holding out hope, praying. I searched his face but I didn’t see a any hope in his eyes.

“Okay, thank you for your advice.” I said as he turned and walked away.

He left me to tell my sister.

Call It Courage

imageDecember Sunrise.

When I was nineteen, I had a boyfriend my mother disliked.  We fought constantly about him.  She made it clear that he was not welcome in our home after he took issue with her about something and, honestly, I can’t remember what it was–something inconsequential. I was embarassed and chose to blame her for rude behavior forgetting that he was just as rude if not more so. No matter how I tried to convince her to accept him, she just would not.  I decided I could no longer live in the atmosphere my mother created. She was smothering me.

So without much money and only a suitcase of clothes, I left home.  I went to the only place I knew of–a hotel near the Staten Island Ferry.  It was a horrible place that usually charged by the hour and the man at the reception desk told me I didn’t belong there.  But, I didn’t know where else to go. The next day I found a house with a room for rent.  I took it.  I found a job and eventually got my own apartment.

That first step out on my own was so difficult and I missed my family terribly.  I know now that I left for the wrong reason and without either the mental or monetary preparation that would have made my first move toward independence a much more positive experience.

Yes, it took courage to leave home and a good deal of stubborness. And, after a while, I realized that my “boyfriend” never provided any emotional support during those first very tough months. I wanted to see him as accepting and supportive but he was extremely judgemental and rigid.  In the end, I was able to repair my relationship with my mother. It was my “boyfriend” who I no longer wanted to be part of my life.

Dear Dad

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Dear Dad,

I think of you often.  Just this month, I received a letter from your brother Aksel’s granddaughter in Norway.  It came via a circuitous route. Actually, it’s amazing that it reached me.  It was mailed to our old home where you and Mom brought us up and it was addresses to Gjertine, my dear sister who is gone now too. The letter languished in the Post Office’s saved mail while the current owners of our house were off on vacation.  When they returned and received the letter, rather than returning it to sender, they contacted a woman in the neighborhood who has my address and phone number.  She sent the letter to me.

When I opened it, I found that Heidi and her family had visited New York in October and were hoping to get together with us. I am so sorry I missed them and I’m going to write and tell them so. In the envelope was a picture that Aunt Henrietta had displayed on her bureau.  It was of you, Uncle Aksel, Gjertine and me on Uncle Aksel’s fishing boat.  Although I was only 8 years old then, I remember Mom snapping the picture.

I am hoping that someday I will return to Norway and visit with our family again. I am well as is everyone else. Still, after all these years, I miss you. I wish we could get together and drink coffee and discuss books and politics again.  It’s November and soon the holidays will be here and I will miss you and Mom and Gjertine even more.

I always think of you with love.

Your daughter,
Mary Catherine

Dare to Hope

Sunrise

Sunrise

I equate hope with prayer. The two are linked by a strong bond. Of course, prayer is tied to religious belief.  Hope is not. I stopped praying when I was a teen and I gave up on hope soon after.  The phrase “dashed hope” took on painful meaning after college when my visions of a confident, happy adulthood crashed with reality. I pushed hope into the wishful thinking category. If I wanted something, I had to work to get it.  There was no time to waste on hope.

I thought of myself as optimistically realistic. I took every step I could to create the life I wanted.  Sure, there were missteps and sometimes I took a circuitous route when a straight line would have sufficed but, for the most part, I made progress.

Then, out of nowhere, my sister was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. When asked about the prognosis, the doctor said–get your affairs in order.

My younger sister.  My best friend.

I read everything I could find on lung cancer and I found myself hoping that she would be one of the very few who would beat the disease.  The odds were totally against this but she was young. She was strong. She was determined. Triumphs and setbacks ensued.  I began to pray–Dear God, please help my sister. She was valiant. She fought hard. But, in the end, she became too weak to continue the fight. Then I hoped and prayed that she would not suffer any longer.

The Cedar Chest in the Living Room

The top of the chest.

The top of the chest.

How often I glance at the ornately carved cedar chest from china.  The chest that sailed from Asia to American Northwest and sat in my father’s cabin in Oregon until traveling east to New York City when my mom and dad got married. My first memory of the chest was in the living room of our apartment on Staten Island. It was the magical piece of furniture in the room meant to be looked at and to store extraordinary things. From there, it moved with us to a house not more that a mile from the Verrazano Bridge facing the Narrows across from Brooklyn. There it occupied a position of honor underneath windows facing North and West.

The treasures it held traveled with us.  A white, Angora sweater from Italy neated folded in tissue paper, a boomerang from Australia, a doll from Germany, all of which were treated like artifacts in a museum.  Occasionally, they were taken out and put on view for all to admire.  The story of how my father, an engineer with the Merchant Marines, acquired these treasures on his travels around the world was dutifully retold until I had it memorized.  Eventually, the doll came to sit on my bed and the sweater was worm by my sister.

Now, the chest is mine and it sits in a prominent place in the living room of my home on Long Island.  It hold different treasures. They, too, are removed occasionally and gazed at and one day they will belong to other family members.

The Cedar Chest

The Cedar Chest

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