Beyond Old Windows: A Teacher's Thoughts Between Centuries

Family Stories

December 2017

I am heartbroken to tell of Rick's passing ... he died unexpectedly on Christmas morning. The past fifty years spent with him at my side, always holding my hand, ended suddenly. 


In time I will write his story, but for now, I can only say that i am holding tightly to my memories of our years together. 


Please hold tightly to your love ... hug each other often, and never leave the room without an "I love you" shared.

Rest in peace, Kay, and walk with Bob in the light.

Two family deaths this year:our brother Bob passed away between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and our sister Kay left us soon afterward, in January.

May they joyfully reunite with family and friends who have gone on before them, and bring peaceful guidance to those who are left behind...

Kay and I, at Ro's  birthday party

 

This page offers a place to reminisce, to save the old stories for the new generations...here's a list of titles:

  •  Stephen's Story    September 1983 - October 2008

  • Dad through the ages, a family man.      July 28, 2010

  • He Called It "56" - Bob and Kitty's American Dream  1940 - 1999

  • Recognizing a Gift ... in memory of Patch, who later left us from that very spot...

  • August: a month that invites memories, and offers time to reflect

 

                                  ... Stephen's Story...                                         ...        ...  son ... brother ... nephew ... cousin ... grandson .....       ...       ...          a little boy ... a soldier ... a hero ... a memory         ...

Stephen (shown here with his two younger brothers and four of his cousins) was born seventeen years before the millennium turned ... Days after his eighteenth birthday , in the first year of the twenty-first century, Stephen witnessed the terrorist attacks on our country. He was a senior in high school, and no doubt viewed the television coverage with his classmates, as most American students on the east coast did. 

 Stephen decided then that, following his graduation, he would join the United States Army and the effort to stop the terrorists that the United States had been warily tracking overseas ... The attacks of September 11, 2001 on the Pentagon in Washington DC and the World Trade Center Towers in NYC, and the plane full of hostage passengers that crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania, followed earlier attempts at terrorism in the states ... and yet, America was stunned to see it happening, live, on televisions, in homes, in schools, in workplaces across this country. 

A year later, Stephen began his basic training, earned a marksmanship medal, and was sent to his first overseas post in South Korea. With his skills he was assigned to a tank patrol of the border, during the year that the leader of North Korea was testing nuclear missiles over the Pacific Ocean. Stephen's family held their breath, said their prayers, and waited for his return.  The Korean conflict is not yet over, though many Americans are unaware of that.

When Stephen came home safely from the assignment in Korea months later, we all breathed a sigh of relief, said prayers of thanks, and celebrated his return.  But within the year, he was sent next for simulated desert training, and then deployed to Afghanistan. He was assigned to a unit in a small Afghan village. After a number of months passed, he came home for a three week visit. His mother was retiring, and he met all of her co-workers, who were impressed with her handsome, friendly, dedicated soldier-son. He spent some time with his two younger brothers and other family members, and then headed back to his station in Afghanistan. He was now twenty five years old. Again, we prayed for his safe return.

But this time, his return was somber. He and his three team mates were patrolling the village streets, there to safeguard the villagers' voter registration for an upcoming election. Stephen, as a gunner, was in the gunner's nest atop the Humvee vehicle.  He had reassured his mother, as he had done so often, that he would be safe ... that he was well trained ... that his unit worked well together and that he would do his job as assigned ... protect the voting rights of the Afghan citizens, and guard them from terrorist attacks in their land. He was keenly dedicated to protecting the American way of life.

"I'll be alright ... I've been well trained ... don't worry about me, Mom."  But she did. His brothers and she said goodbye in the early morning hours, with hugs that would become treasured memories.

Stephen and his unit went out on patrol the first day Stephen returned to his base. Before their patrol ended, they encountered an I.E.D... an improvised explosive device ... a deceptively simple description of a deadly roadside bomb planted by the terrorists who had declared war on the United States and its freedoms and form of government, the country and way of life that Stephen had sworn to defend that day in high school seven years before.  On that day, all the training, all the skill, and all the weaponry could not prevent his death. He and two of his three partners died in the explosion; the fourth was seriously injured. At 25, he was the oldest of the four. The youngest was 18, Stephen's age when the terrorist attacks took place in 2001.

The general who came to speak at Stephen's funeral mass told us that, in the gunner's nest, Stephen was in the most vulnerable position, and would have died instantly in the concussive explosion. He did his best to comfort Stephen's mother and family. He spoke of bravery, awarded the purple heart and other medals posthumously to Stephen, and said that each time we saw an American Flag, we would be seeing Stephen.

 Stephen's wake was held at his high school's gymnasium, as large crowds were expected to come and honor this young man who was the first from his small city to die in a war since Vietnam. People attending the wake were given flags, respectfully ushered into the gym by the school's young ROTC members... they looked so young ... so vulnerable.

His funeral mass was held in the same parish church where he had been baptized 25 years earlier.  It was a full military funeral, attended by thousands of citizens who lined the streets of the small city where Stephen had grown up with his brothers. Flags hung from every telephone pole within his little neighborhood. Citizens, school children, elders ... all carried flags that day. Fire and Police were in attendance. The white caisson bearing his casket was drawn by a  pair of draft horses from a nearby farm, and accompanied on foot  by a military honor guard The local schools had released their classes, and teachers and students lined the mile and a half route from the church to the cemetery. Dozens of flag-bearing motorcycles brought up the rear of the procession: members of the Patriot Guard Riders had come from all over to attend Stephen's funeral and to assure his family safe passage to the cemetery.

The square that hosts the post office was named the next spring in honor of Stephen, and a street sign was erected bearing his name. The town's VFW post was renamed for Stephen's family members, four of which had served in the armed forces since WWII. 

His gravesite is quite near the  Veteran's Post, where his family and friends gathered after the funeral for a Mercy Meal, as is the custom in this country that he loved. 

And I set a white covered " table for one" in my classroom now, in May for Memorial Day, and in November for Veterans' Day. It is a table that many veteran's groups set, left empty for those members who didn't return.  I teach my students about the Veterans' holidays, their origins, their original names (Decoration Day and Armistice Day) and I ask them to thank  their friends, neighbors and relatives that are Veterans. We talk of the Poppies that are sold on the holidays by Veterans who did survive the wars, but who are still rebuilding their lives, decade by decade, day by day. 

And we talk about "What it Means to be American." We talk of Stephen.

 Written with love, sadness, and happy memories of Stephen

by his "Auntie Tooey"

Terry Palardy, November 5, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

The White Table for One

SPC Stephen Robert Fortunato, U.S. Army

K.I.A. Afghanistan 2008

****************

      Dad through the ages, a family man.      July 28, 2010                           for  Bob, on what would have been his 97th birthday

His parents were born in the nineteenth century in Scotland, and emigrated in the first decade of the twentieth century ... a new life, a new century, in a new land.Bob was born their third child of four, and this family picture, taken around 1915, shows the first generation of American-born in our family, showing Bob as the youngest with his older brother Hugh and sister Helen (and her beautiful doll ... which I loved as a child and think I found again at Sedler's antiques in town ... but alas, I was not able to purchase her at today's four figure price ... and she was found soon by someone who could.) His younger brother Jim (who would also grow to be a Boston firefighter) was born a few years after this photo was taken. That seems to be a family tradition ... formal photos taken just a bit prematurely ... as you'll see below in his next generation's photo ...

 Bob and Kitty had nine children between 1941 and 1959, and they raised them in his beloved City of Boston where he had been raised ... but eventually moved, with six of the nine still at home, to the small town of Georgetown near the North Shore (you can read about that promise to his bride, made in 1940, on this page, titled "He Called it 56.") 

The photo with the second generation is missing the youngest, Jack, who was born just a few months later ... and In this photo, Jack is in all of our thoughts, pictured in a heart insert taken the following spring ...big brother Bob leaned and left an anticipatory space for Jack in the picture.

There is a lot of variety among Bob and Kitty's children ...strawberry  blond hair,light and dark brown hair, eyes of brown, and hazel, deep and bright blue, and Kitty's own green ... There are some similarities in this second American-born generation's career pursuits ... two are teachers, three secretaries (and one also a fire dispatcher), one nurse, and two business executives... although we grew through different decades than each other, each of us was treated and respected as an individual, and for that, we are all grateful.

In the third generation of Bob and Kitty's family, we see a remarkable likeness between Bob and his grandson Rob ... who is being held here by his grandfather and is following in his  footsteps (as did Rob's father, Bob's son in law Rick) as a firefighter, among other pursuits. The likeness continues on through their years ...( Rob's present stature as a young man in his twenties bears a remarkable likeness to his grandfather in Bob and Kitty's wedding portrait.) And, true to tradition, this portrait, too, is missing the youngest members of the third generation of the family: Brian, who was born shortly after the photo, and his younger sister Kim, who was born a few years later, the last of the third generation ... But the seven young boys are here, all with a different future ahead of them.There are as many more, older third generation American-born grandchildren not shown here, and the first, Jim, followed his grandfather Bob's firefighting goals as a sailor in the U. S. Navy, whose job, in his own words, "was handling jet fuel. We brought it aboard ship from oilers that ran alongside of us and would issue it to combat aircraft on the flight deck. Like every good sailor, I was trained as a shipboard firefighter and was qualified as an on scene leader for run of the mill fires below decks and for aicraft fires topside..." 

Now adults, they have begun a large fourth generation (my own grandchildren among them) ... and a fifth generation has just recently begun, with Chloe: the great-great-granddaughter of Bob and Kitty.  Chloe is the daughter of the daughter of the younger son of the oldest daughter. The third generation grandchildren have chosen many different careers in their own time. Some say this group will ultimately retire from positions that don't yet exist, and their children, the  fourth generation, will work in positions technologically not yet thought of, and their jobs will change rapidly in this century ... and their children, Chloe's generation, will see the 22nd century's changes, no doubt. There will be many, many more generations before we see another millennium change ...

So happy birthday, Dad ... "Grampy" to your older grandchildren, "Papa" to some of the younger ones ...  you were 75 years young in the boys' photo above ... you lived through two world wars, the great depression, more wars, the civil rights revolution; you oversaw the safety plans involved in the urban renewal of your beloved City of Boston, you helped make arrangements for your brothers who were lost in the line of duty, which broke your heart but not your spirit, and then you buried your middle son who was the victim of a fire in another state, You understood and anticipated the eventual use of electronics and witnessed the technological evolution. You were in a long sleep during the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, praying no doubt with and for those hundreds of brothers/firefighters who went on ahead of you ...you joined them there a month later ...  and you were there with them in heaven to welcome your grandson U.S. Army Specialist First Class Stephen who died a hero's death in Afghanistan seven years later because of those very attacks ... You would have been 97 this year ... you made it to 88 ... you lived most of the 20th century and lived to enter the twenty-first ... you "crossed the bar" from the second into the third millennium ... yet your birthday will always be marked by me and mine as "about 150 days before Christmas" no matter the year ... time to start making hand-made toys and gifts ...  for despite having nine children and dozens of nieces and nephews, no child was ever without a full Christmas Stocking (and always with an orange in the toe...).  Santa always had help from the firefighters, like you, and still does today.  Firefighters across the country today are great supporters of of the U.S. Marine Corps.' Toys for Tots program, and we carry on that tradition ... God Bless, Dad and Mum, and thank you for the blessings you always offered us.

 Terry Crawford Palardy 

July 2010  

****************************************

 

He Called It "56"      Bob and Kitty's American Dream, 1940 - 1999

Thirty miles north of Boston on a dark rainy night in the fall of ’64, my brother-in- law pulled into a rest area on Route 95 South, and invited all of us to hike with him to see what was to be our new home. He had no idea of how to find the house my parents were considering My sister told him to forget it; the weather was too stormy for a walk, never mind that they weren’t sure where the house was, nor whether anyone would be in it.

“It's supposed to be the only house between here and the next intersection - we can find it – it can’t be far and your dad said no one lives there anymore.”

She wasn't willing to set us loose in the dark rain, so he went on alone. Gone about 20 minutes, just long enough for the rest of us to start worrying about unknown hazards here in the country… Wolves? Bears?  More likely skunks and poison ivy, which we'd soon enough learn to anticipate.

 When he returned we had a hundred questions for him -was it big? Was there a yard? Or garden? Was it a farm? And of course, were there any kids in the neighborhood?

 Drenched, he answered over the unending questions…  “No point in going to look at it tonight…  I saw it – it’s big enough alright, but very dark, locked up tight, no one is there … it is a big old white house, two and a half stories, with a front porch … and there is an old garage and a long shed, and a concrete block building with no roof in the backyard … no outhouses at least, unless that's what the cinder-block is for…” He loved teasing us, turned and grinned at us, told us it was probably a bomb shelter begun and abandoned, then chuckled and started the engine. We headed back onto the highway, back to the city, back to the sorting and boxing and packing and wondering….

 The next weekend found us loading a small open trailer with dressers and bed frames, bed springs, mattresses, appliances, dishes, suitcases, taped cartons, bicycles, tools and the myriad of clutter that a family of 11 had accumulated in 24 years in the city.  Dozens of trips back and forth up and down route 95 … on one of the final trips in the weary dark of the second night, the top drawer of the girls’ night stand flew away unseen,  filled with and suddenly emptied of its contents: lace scarves, white Easter gloves, hankies…  Sunday finery so familiar to the Catholic city families, all unknowingly lost on the side of the highway, never to be seen again, and hardly missed among the many other drawers filled with city memories.

In and out of the old white house we trooped like a colony of ants, carrying and passing and opening and emptying and removing and flattening and re-stacking the tower of boxes.  We barely had time to look at the structure, nor to roam the land as the enormous pile of articles in Boston waited for each next trip and transportation north.  A few of us took turns waiting at the house while others rode back to load the next set of boxes. We couldn't all fit with the boxes in the back seat.

 We had left behind an old house in South Boston, the first floor apartment of a two family house that had been our home since the early years of my parents’ marriage, the house we shared with our aunt and uncle and cousin and Nana upstairs, a house that had a play area outside that measured 8 feet x 25 feet,  just wide enough to hold the swing set, and the length of the ground crossed by a wide plank boardwalk that rode above the mud, safe passage from the front to the back door. Out front was a four- foot square garden where my father grew roses. The backyard of the city house had a shed filled with the trash cans of our families and the ash cans of our coal furnaces …  and was crisscrossed with the laundry lines that dried our clothes summer and winter, frozen or not. But the best thing in that urban backyard was the lilac bush, happily fed by coal ash and blooming fragrant and beautiful every May. It, like the house itself, was old and venerable and had seen many generations of city families come and go. My dad had grown up in a similar house across the street, #4, before marrying and moving into #5, where their first five children grew to high school age and some beyond. The oldest two were married from that house. But Nana had passed away, our cousin upstairs had been married, and it was time for Aunt and Uncle to sell and move; we would move as well. 

 This house in the country had a lilac, too, long neglected but happily discovered outside the parlor window, next to the front porch - a real front porch, long enough to hold a few rocking chairs, a table and a reclining lawn chair for naps.  It would eventually need rebuilding, as the floor sagged and the screens were missing. The front lawn of the house had two little ugly trees, bare of leaves and oddly shaped, but we later learned that they bore Bartlett pears in the late summer months, most of which were enjoyed by the red squirrels and wasps. In time those trees contracted a disease and died, and when they did and we removed them, a ring of old-fashioned roses and Tiger Lily emerged spontaneously in their sunny place.

 More than the porch floor sagged; the bathroom almost required sea legs, it was so rippled and timeworn.  Space was at a premium even with the increased number of rooms; three of our family had left the nest while still a city family, but we still numbered eight. The second door between the parlor and the bathroom was blocked off and a cabinet to hold towels was hung in its space, and a washing machine was brought in to productively occupy the space underneath the cabinet.

Room by room we moved into the house, cleaning and painting and wallpapering and eventually paneling over worn plaster walls. The kitchen proper had an original brick fireplace still open and working with an arched Dutch bread oven and a narrow warming closet to the left. There were at least five other fireplaces that had been walled over, which we left undisturbed. The little kitchen held a sink, stove, fridge, and much later, clothes dryer, though for years the laundry still hung outside, catching fresher breezes than any available in the city.

 The tarpaper structure considered an open garage sat to the right of the front porch and was the first thing we had to remove. How it had stood so long was a mystery to all of us. We had a great bonfire that spring and set a picnic table on the level spot remaining. The long, one and a half story shed resembled a small ranch house. It was my father’s own space, where he collected everything that “might be needed one day,”  but the back wall was caving in under the pressure of the hill behind it. We moved as much dirt as we could without undermining the foundations of the wall, believing the dirt had probably been displaced by the concrete block foundation of the 50’s style bomb shelter. We cleaned up the inside, reserved half of the space for Dad’s miscellaneous assortments of tools, nuts, bolts, and electrical components, and installed some inexpensive paneling at the end of the first year in the house, and held my second sister's wedding reception there. Over the years, baby showers and teenagers’ birthday parties followed in that setting.

 For a year or so, we used the bomb shelter to store bicycles, and occasionally the dogs we'd adopt, but soon realized how unstable the open-roof walls were. With a few blows of a 10 pound sledge, they came down, block by block. We left the lowest layer of blocks and the cement floor and covered it with heavy sheets of rolled plastic in the winter, filled it with water and had our own skating rink for hockey practice, something the youngest brother enjoyed until he outgrew the sport. Years later, the front portion of the “rink” was removed to make room for a ramp and garage door in the side of the shed, forming a parking garage for the car and the riding lawnmower. The back quarter of the rink was left for basketball practice, for the grandchildren were soon frequent visitors.

 That first winter, though, even before the shelter was converted to an ice rink, our new location held other pleasures for us. Beyond the house, behind the shed and shelter was a wonderful wooded hill that sloped north toward an open meadow and forest lands bordered by route 95. Seventeen acres of meadow and forest made this home an “estate” to this city-born family. We loved coming home from school and sledding for a few hours before supper. The north-facing hill held snow well into springtime. The neighborhood kids matched us almost perfectly for age, kid for kid, and had truly Noman Rockwell moments with us that winter, and for many winters to come: sledding, sharing hot chocolate, hanging wet mittens by the Franklin Stove we’d installed in the kitchen fireplace, and emptying melting snow from our boots into the bathroom tub.

 My parents’ 25th anniversary was celebrated on the front lawn that first summer, and my sister’s wedding followed that fall. It was definitely feeling like home. Each season brought new activities, new chores: that first fall we optimistically pulled what seemed like miles of dead vines from stone walls, finding out soon enough that poison ivy is powerful stuff, dead or alive. Winter found us shoveling a very long gravel driveway by hand, and finding the firefighters sometimes helping us uncover the fire hydrant that stood at home at the foot of the city fire chief's country driveway.  Springtime brought hoeing and planting and endless indoor cleaning, and summer brought watering the garden and long walks to the town beach. We rarely thought of visiting the city. Days, weeks, months and years flew by in our new setting. We'd marry, move away, start a family, but be home for Sunday dinners.  Relatives drove from Canada and Danvers and Boston and much farther south, to visit frequently, and Sunday cookouts became a ritual; somehow the food always stretched far enough to include everyone.

My parents rented the house for two years, and when the landlord began building his own small ranch house next door, eventually adding more kids into the neighborhood fun, they were able to buy the old house and two acres from him. This was the first home my parents owned, and eventually they owned it outright. Frugal people, living conservatively, they paid the mortgage off and retired securely, safely tucked in.  Such satisfaction for them; when my father, born and brought up in South Boston, married my mother in Danvers, he promised to “Take you home again, Kathleen," and owning this house on the North Shore was his 1940 promise come true. They planted vegetable gardens, and flower gardens. Later, when weeding and watering and harvesting became more than they could manage, they kept the flower plots and shared the fertile vegetable garden with my husband, who planted blueberries. And they fed the birds faithfully, year in, year out.

 There are, no doubt, hundreds more pages of family history not yet written of the many life events that we experienced at “56.” Sadly, though, time takes its toll. Illness, ignorant of conservative, responsible living, strikes indiscriminately. As they aged, my parents needed more direct assistance in managing their daily lives, keeping the books, cooking the meals, getting to church, and to medical appointments. Cancer, heart attacks, and stroke: none of these illnesses could stop them, for their friends and children were able to help them to compensate for those losses and help meet their newly emerging needs. But finally, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's struck, and took from my parents their freedom, their independence, and ultimately, their home and neighborhood. It was time to let go of the house, as had surely happened in its past. We’d found it empty, after all.

 It stood empty again, for about six months, while Mum struggled on in a nursing home and Dad just a few miles away in his daughter's home. He made the decision to sell carefully, deliberately, just as he made the decision to move out of the city so many years ago. But this time, he wasn't able to consult with Mum, as he always had in the past. She was here, but in critical ways she was partially gone. It was heart wrenching. He turned to his family, who worked through the pain and the losses with him. He shared our homes with us. He celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary in her nursing home, one month before her final day. He lived for two more years after her passing. More than half their married life together was spent at “56.” He dealt with the closing of the house, the sorting of his treasures in the shed, and hers and theirs in the house. It was a painstaking labor of love, shared with his son-in-law and daughters who lived nearby. Day by day, pacing slowly, sorting thoughtfully, the job was accomplished. The house was ready for a new owner. Dad asked him, would someone live in it, and enjoy it ... he was assured it would be so. And so it was, while he still lived.

 They are both gone now … but assuredly together in another sphere. So many memories of them remain with us; times we shared there at "56," and times they shared with us in our homes as well. It was comforting for him to be driven by the house in his last years, to see it as he knew it, a happy, bright yellow place in the neighborhood, as strong as he could have it be, the focus of many of his memories. He smiled as he rode past other yellow houses as well.

 No doubt the old house, experiencing its own losses and frailties, will one day be gone as well, but its place will remain, a new house will emerge, and another  history will evolve.

 lithograph: Winter Scenes by Currier and Ives ... as close as I've seen to '56

 by Terry Palardy, May, 2002

:Afterword:: The house stood for a few more years after Dad's passing, as the person who bought it assured us that it would be lived in and enjoyed, as it always had been. But as the land around it was developed, and the water table changed, and the cellar, dry for centuries, began to fill each spring, it's time had come. It's been replaced now with a similar style house, and the old shed, which had remained a few years longer... like dad himself ... has recently been replaced by a two story garage connected directly to the new house. The blueberries remain, but the lilacs, like the pear trees with which they once shared the front lawn, are gone as well; their offspring, valued shoots replanted at daughters' houses, live on, and continue to bloom, fragrantly, abundantly, and treasured for their memories .. the seventeen spacious acres are now occupied by half a dozen houses and a dairy farm... the sledding hill is no more. But the site still retains an essence of large family gatherings, memories, and love.

A single brick from the fireplace rests with them at the cemetery... and their own lilacs bloom on just a few miles away at my old house, and are brought to them each Mother's Day in May ...

. Terry Palardy, April, 2010

Recognizing a Gift... in memory of Patch, who later left us from that very spot...

On the night after Christmas, in the darkest week of the year, with a chill winter wind gusting around the neighborhood streets, Patch and I went for a walk...

Patch saw it first, as we rounded the corner from the brightly lit square to the darkened stretch of Park Street. I'd left my glasses at home, sure they would have frozen to my nose in the post Christmas cold if I'd worn them. But even without them, I could see the motion, far ahead between us and the solitary street lamp. It was near the corner of the library green, making its way acoss the street, a slow lumbering, then a nervous skitter, a pause, a shift in position, another flutter, another few inches gained. Its every cautious move was matched by my dog's nervous shivers and tugs on the leash. "C'mon," his pulls told me, "Look at that! It's right there, c'mon!" I had all I could do to keep my feet under me, as we were in the gutter now, on smooth ice, the cleared sidewalks behind us, and swirling patches of dry snow dancing ahead of us.

 I tried to calm Patch, but he was clearly engaged in catching up to this ... this what? Was it a bunny? The size was right, about the size of a man's shoe, I thought, but the color was off... too ... not enough brown ... too ... was that blood? It looked reddish, but it was staying far enough ahead of me that the color was simply a blur of dark shadow. A squirrel? They weren't usually out at night, not in the street, and not moving so slowly. I remembered the night Rick and I saw the coyote, its mate had been hit around the corner, and it was alone, rummaging in the trash cans of this side street. Could this be its pup? Too small for that ... if it were this small, it wouldn't be moving alone. It must be a bunny - or a possum, it could be a possum. They're lighter in color though, unless ... could that red be blood? Maybe it was hurt ... that could explain the odd lurching.

I tried to turn the dog in what I  hoped was a wide-enough arc away from it, watching closely, wondering whether in its pain it might turn and run at us instead of away. Still the dog tugged at his lead, physically communicating "C'mon, oh boy oh boy, closer and closer, what fun, what fun!" He would toss his head toward me, his eyes finding mine in the dark, his mouth an open smile, excited, grateful for this wonderful walk, ready to enjoy the unexpected bonus activity of the chase. And then he would eye it, watch it, bow to it, scamper toward and then away from it, always in sync with its own motion. I listened, but my ears heard no sounds, the wool hat pulled low to my collar, blocking any tell-tale sounds. Bunnies make no sounds, what about possum? A squirrel surely would have sat up and started chattering at us by now. I couldn't see a tail ... had it lost its tail? What could it be? 

The wind railed behind us, I felt it through my gloves where the leash flattened the wool against my skin. I let the wind push me ahead on the next icy puddle, skating a bit, trying to hold my balance against the dog's forward pulls, like a water-skier leaning back behind the powerful motor boat. He remained focused on the thing ahead of us, we were closing on it, when suddenly, it took a great leap forward, as though the wind had warned it ahead. Something was wrong, I'd seen its underside, and there was no lightening in color ... it was as blood red as the rest of it. Another leap ahead as the wind pushed me on, the dog frantic now to catch up, seeing its prey moving out of range. The gusts died down then, and the poor thing rested, shivering slightly on the side of the road. 

I had reached the end of the frozen puddle and now, footing firm and back in control, I led the dog to the other side of the road, keeping a safe distance, partly to allow the thing some peace, and partly to protect the dog from an unpredictable attack. We walked in front of the library now, abreast of the thing, where it had settled at the base of the lone street lamp. It seemed to cling there, nestled around the curve of the pole, barely twitching in the cold breeze. 

And in the bright light shining directly above it, I could finally see what the quarry was ... a piece of red wrapping tissue, about the right size for a gift box, about the right shape for wrapping around and between a pair of shoes, about the right size to provide an adventure for a cold, excited dog being walked on a dark, icy street, on the night after Christmas. 

 "We take our gifts where and when we find them," his eyes seemed to say. We walked on home, safe, not troubled by rabid animals or coyotes or bone breaking ice patches or skin-chafing, biting wind. We were both breathing quickly when we opened the door and stepped into the warm house. "We're home," I called to the rest of the family. "We had a good walk..."

Terry Palardy, December 26, 2003 

 

Afterword ... Patch and I had many evening walks around our neighborhood; once, years earlier, while walking with Rick, he led Rick home safely after Rick had fallen and hit his head and found himself disoriented. But one warm end-of-winter day, Rick and I were walking Patch together between us, on his lead as always ... in the square, a little girl admired him for the handsome Dalmatian he was, and then we rounded the corner ... and on the very same stretch of road where he and I had our harmless Christmas week adventure just a few months before, Patch's adventures ended. He was attacked by another, larger dog who had broken off his lead. Patch defended us, but was quickly seized and defeated by the larger dog.  I don't think I could ever again have a dog, and be responsible for what would happen to him. But Patch will always be in our memories, with that soft white coat, scarce black spots, happy open-mouthed grin, and those great brown eyes... He came to us as a pup, on Rob's 6th birthday, in 1993.  He left us on St. Patrick's Day, 2004, and am sure he joined family when he did.

 Terry Palardy, 2010

August: a month that invites memories, and offers time to reflect

"Back in the olden times..." I used to love hearing stories of the olden times, and realized early that my childhood would once become my olden times, and tried very hard to hold on to those memories, so that one day I could retell them ... I wish I had started the telling earlier, and am sure I have lost some of the early good ones.

Stories like the summer days Dad would pile us all into the second hand 55 Chevy (aqua and white, of course) and drive south of the steaming city to Hull, where we would spend the morning ocean side at Nantasket Beach ... the real beach, not the amusement park. Oh, we saw the rides ... but they were never operating in the morning hours ... and we were on our way home by noon. As the waves came in and pushed us a bit further north each time, we had to stop and check the shoreline for our pile of belongs, and bring ourselves back to the spot. Once in awhile, a long stream of incoming tide's waves would find us body surfing farther and father north. Occasionally, one of us would be separated, and wander back onto the shore disoriented, and unable to find the pile and the family. We had a rule then, and it always worked... if you're lost, stand still, and someone will find you. If you walk around in circles, we'll no doubt be walking in another direction and never catch up with you. I still follow that rule today, and it still works ... I am always found if I stand still. (Years later, when I took my young daughter onto a beach crowded with many little girls in pink bathing suits, I would tie a helium balloon to her pony tail, and always be able to find her in the crowd...)

It was sometimes my job to remind Dad of when noon arrived ... he taught me to take a small stick or pencil, draw a plate-sized circle in the sand, and stand the stick up straight in the middle. It of course would cast a shadow in a north-westerly direction. In the early morning, the shadow would be long enough to reach the outer edge of the circle.  As the minutes passed, the shadow would imperceptibly shift a bit to the right, moving eastward as the sun itself moved westward. If we had a watch, I would mark the passage of each hour, refining my sundial. But a watch wasn't necessary, because curiously, the shadow would also shrink in length, bit by bit, as the time passed.  When the shadow was just a stump at the base of the stick, I knew it was noon, and would remind Dad. We would all gather up the towels and blankets and pile back into the car, careful to spread the driest towel on the back seat to catch the drips from our hair and suits. And we would ride back to the city, wipe the now dry sand off our feet, put on our sneakers, and go off to the neighborhood park for the afternoon. And Dad would kiss Mum goodbye and head off to the fire station for the evening shift. I don't remember lunch ... it must have happened, but I truly don't remember stopping between the beach hours and the park hours to eat, though I'm sure we must have done so.

At the park, the recreation workers would have board games like Parcheesi, checkers, Chinese Checkers (which usually involved pebbles rather than shiny marbles, as they were likely to disappear into pockets for shooting marbles later in the evening in the neighborhood.  And there was another game, I forget its name ... sometimes we could use the cribbage - length wooden board with shallow bowls scooped into the wood and move the pebbles bowl to bowl, one by one ..."Mancala," maybe?  But sometimes someone else had the wooden board, and so we would scoop holes in the dirt under a park bench and play the game there, finding our own pebbles and taking the pretty ones home.

Occasionally, on a very hot day, the workers would have Hoodsie cups and would distribute them with their wooden "spoons" or popsicles with their sticks, which could then be used in another game ... I forget what we did with those, but we used them ... we used everything we had, and none of it came with batteries, and anything lost or broken was easily replaced with another found something and imagination.

By August, routines were set, everyone knew how to rotate through what would later be called learning stations, taking turns with minimal arguments monitored by the "rec workers" (usually high schoolers earning a little cash for the summer. They were like lifeguards, without water ... bandaids and Mercurochrome, keys to the bathhouse, whistles around their necks ... but no water to guard. That was across another street.

Carson Beach had a long brick bath house that had once been used to detain World War II prisoners, or so we kids told each other ... there were free cold showers in the stalls, where we could rinse off after swimming in the calm, fairly warm ocean waters of the city beach. We competed in the water with jellyfish, and enjoyed watching them beach themselves as the tide went out, not realizing that within an hour or so they would become a dried remnant of themselves ... When we were a little older, we felt the need to rescue each jellyfish that beached, and returned them to our swimming area tenderly, only to watch them beach again. In time we gave up; as older kids we just stepped over them, oblivious to the the inevitable end of their life cycle.Though the adults continued to caution us not to touch them, no one was ever stung at Carson Beach.

 We would go home as the sun left the eastern shore and the breezes were chilled by the late afternoon shadows of the city, and we would play games in front of the house until the street lights came on. I'll write of those games another time. This story belongs to the ocean, August, and kids who had independence and responsibility... "back in the olden times..."

Terry Palardy, August 27, 2010

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