Tuesday, December 25, 2012

One Solitary Life

I have a section on holidays and their meaning in my book 5 Words and Then Some. Here is what I wrote about Christmas. When we lived in Danbury, Ct. this ran in our local paper every Christmas.  The source is unknown. Whatever you believe, whatever you think, something special happened over there.

                                                     ONE SOLITARY LIFE

"He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in still another village, where he worked in a carpentry shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn't go to college. He never visited a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place he was born. He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness.

"He had no credentials but himself. He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind's progress.

"All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earthy as much as that ONE SOLITARY LIFE."

Pretty amazing and powerful stuff. Merry Christmas everyone. FRAN

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tip O'Neill's 100th Birthday

Today ( December 9)  is the 100th birthday of former Speaker of the  House Tip O'Neill. I think he was one of the great politicians in our history and was someone I admired tremendously. And although I never met him, we do have a  few,small connections. He had a house in Harwichport, on Woodland Road. I grew up in Harwich and when I was in junior high and high school, I used to mow lawns and take care of the yards and do landscaping for several houses on that street, although closer to the Bank St end.  Tip didn't live there back then so I never got a chance to meet him.

And for my mother's surprise 70th birthday party at what was the Country Inn back in 1990, I called Tip's office and asked them if he could come to Mom's party and say a few words to a life long democrat and stay around for a drink and some snacks. His office said he would love to but he was going to be in Ireland that week getting an honorary degree. He sent a personal note to Mom and an autographed copy of his book Man of the House, with a note in that as well. Mom greatly admired him too and would often see him at Mass at Holy Trintity Church in West Harwich but never wanted to bother him.

Tip tells the story in his book about how he was ill prepared to give a talk one night and former Mayor, the legendary Jim Curley who was in the audience, came up to him afterwards and invited him to his house and told Tip he was going to give him several poems that he could memorize and use on any occasion and would always be prepared. One of them was "Around the Corner" by Charles Hanson Towne. Its about friendship and staying in touch with old friends. And Tip would recite this each year when he got the old gang together from Barry's Corner. I was so moved and touched by it that I used it at one my luncheons at IBM. At the end of it, there was not a dry eye at the table! And I included it in my book 5 Words And Then Some. I have a section in it on quotes to use on any occasion. I wonder where I got that idea from?

And every time I walk the Great Beach on Cape Cod I think of Tip and his efforts to bring the National Seashore Park to the Cape. If  it hadn't been for him, it probably would not have happened. I am just about finished my memoir of growing on the Cape and in the United States in the 50's and 60's and the first chapter is about Tip's efforts to get the National Seashore in place. By the way, the book's title is Cape Cod Forever.

Tip was an avid golfer and played a lot at Eastward Ho in Chatham. My Uncle Bob Larkin was the golf pro there and one day after Tip had finished a round he was in the pro shop and was talking on the phone. My Uncle Bob was over in the corner arranging some golf equipment when Tip said, "Bob, get over here. There is someone on the phone who wants to say hi to you." My uncle Bob picks up the phone, and the voice says 'Hi Bob. This is President Carter. How are things on the Cape?"

For years my mother lived in Country Meadows which is on Forest Street in Harwich.  When I was visiting her I would always go out for a run and one of the routes I took was through the cemetery in Harwichport where Tip and his wife Millie are buried. Its a beautiful spot, right next to the Harwichport Golf Course,  and there is a marble bench there with "I"ll see you at apple blossom time" engraved on it. I always stopped and paid my respects to this great man.

One of my favorite tv shows is Hardball with Chris Mathews. Chris used to work for Tip O'Neill. I would love to meet Chris someday for lunch and listen to his stories about Tip. Another great biography about Tip is Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century by John Farrell. Read these two books when you get a chance. Not only are they about Tip, but they cover most of the major events and presidents of the last century.

As I write this, I have a glass of Baileys Irish Cream on the rocks, beside me. I am toasting this great American and all the wonderful things he did. Thanks for everything Tip. Ave atque vale.

Thanking you for your time, this time, until next time. FRAN

Friday, November 30, 2012

70th Anniversary of Cocoanut Grove Fire

This past Wednesday November 28 was the 70th anniversary of the horrible Cocoanut Grove Fire in Boston. 492 people died which was the second worst fire in American history. A fire in a Chicago theatre in 1903 killed 602. This was the premiere nightclub in Boston and some of my aunts and uncles lived in Boston at the time and I am sure they had been there.

The Boston College football team was undefeated and heading to the Sugar Bowl when Holy Cross beat them 55-12. I remember my father talking about this. He was in the Army in Mississippi and was having his hair cut and the barber told him the score. My father said that the barber must have heard the score wrong. BC was undefeated and Holy Cross was 4-4 and BC was heavily favored. The barber told my father he heard it correctly and my father was shocked.

BC had reserved a large table in the center of the nightclub but when they lost they cancelled going to the club. If  they did, the BC football could have been wiped out. The fire led to reforms of fire codes in the country and major improvements in the treatment of burn victims. And earlier in the month, 6 firefighters died in a fire in East Boston when a building collapsed. So this was just a horrible month in Boston.

And many of the victims could have lived. Side doors were shut so patrons couldn't leave without paying. A window was boarded up. Other doors opened inwards and the crowd trying to escape just piled up in the front of the doors. And the main entrance was a revolving door where the panicked crowd piled up and prevented people from escaping.

The cause of the fire is still in dispute. Many blame a busboy for lighting a match that ignited flammable material but he was exonerated. It is estimated that there might have been 1000 patrons in the club that was designed to hold 460. Five people survived by hiding in a walk in refrigerator and some crawled  out through the kitchen. One Coast Guardsman got out and then went back in 4 times looking for his date, who unknown to him, had escaped. He had extensive burns over half his body, spent 21 months in a hospital and had hundreds of operations. He married the nurse that took care of him.

The site of the fire is now a parking lot in the Bay Village on Piedmont St. There are a couple of small plaques there. I haven't been there but plan on taking the train into Boston and walking over there and pay my respects.

Thanking you for your time, this time, until next time, FRAN

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

70th Anniversary of "Fighting Sullivans" Death

70 years ago today  the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa,  died when their ship, the USS Juneau was torpedoed in the South Pacific. It survived the first attack  and was limping back to port when it was hit again, exploded and sank. Their sister's boyfriend was killed at Pearl Harbor so the brothers went to the Navy Recruiting office and signed up. They insisted that they all serve together and the Navy complied. Today that would not be allowed.

There is a famous scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan where the mother is at the kitchen sink, looking out at the fields and the dirt road leading up to the house. She sees a military car coming up the road, and when they get out to tell her she has lost one of her sons, she collapses and falls to the floor.  This scene was inspired by the five Sullivan brothers. I can't image parents losing one son in a war let alone five. How did they ever cope with that?  When the brothers were at home, they used to climb the water tower on their property and wave good bye to their father  as he headed off to work on the railroad. After the boys died, when the father left for work each morning, he would look up at the water tower and salute.

One of the brothers was married and left a young wife and baby boy. She is still alive today, and the son married and had a son and daughter. The daughter  teaches 3rd grade and each year she tells her students about her great uncles. And in Waterloo today there is a museum, convention center, park and a street bearing their name. If I ever get to Iowa, I definitely plan to go the museum in Waterloo.

Yesterday was Veteran's Day. I have a section in my book about holidays and their meaning and I discuss Memorial Day but not Veterans Day mainly because I consolidate my thoughts about both holidays under Memorial Day. I went to a Veterans Day luncheon yesterday as a guest of a veteran friend of mine.  A local restaurant puts on a free lunch for several hundred veterans and  their guests. They have been doing this for years. A wonderful gesture on their part! And local school kids wrote notes thanking all the veterans for their service. They were posted throughout the restaurant. Pretty neat.

 I could not help but think of all the veterans who have served and are serving now, many of them far from home and on multiple deployments.  And I thought of all the soldiers over the last 200+ years who have gone over that hill and never came back. I thought of the five Sullivan brothers and what their family went through.  And I thought of all the soldiers in Walter Reed hospital and all the other hospitals and wonder how their recoveries are going. They all paid the price and  many the ultimate sacrifice so I could have a wonderful lunch, looking out at the water, on a beautiful late, fall day.

Thanking you for your time, this time, until next time, Regards, FRAN

Saturday, October 20, 2012

9/11 Really Hits Home

It was a beautiful fall day, with the temps in the 70's and still a lot of leaves on the trees and a lot of color left. I went for a bike ride this afternoon and I have a regular route that goes through some cemeteries and trails. I was going through one cemetery and the route I took just happened to take me by a grave site with a car parked, a lady sitting on a stone, and John Denver music playing in the car. Usually when I see someone at a grave I keep going, out of respect for their privacy. Sometimes they look up and I wave and they wave back.
  Today something compelled me to stop. I said hi to the lady, and I said "Is that your husband's grave?" No she said. "Its my son. He was killed on 9/11." My heart just sank. He was on Flight 11 from Boston to LA and that was the first plane to crash into the World Trade Towers. I was sitting on my bike, and I put the bike down and took my helmet off out of respect for her, and went over to her and we introduced ourselves. It turns out that remains were found of her son and they were  buried at the cemetery. He left behind a young wife and baby. He was visiting from California and stayed an extra day just to spend more time with his family and friends.  If he didn't change his flight, he would have left on Sept. 10.
  I told her how sorry I was and that my thoughts were with her and all her family. We hugged each other and we had tears in our eyes. She thanked me for stopping and said I was not bothering her at all. She said she loved to talk about her son. She took a book out of the trunk of her car and it was a life story of her son she had put together. Lots of pictures and stories. Her son loved John Denver and I told her how I had seen him in concert in Danbury, Ct. many years ago and  how great he was.
  Most of us watched  9/11 on tv and saw all the horrible images and read all the stories about all the heroes and victims. And over the years a lot of us have gone to the Memorial at the site in New York. All pretty powerful stuff. But I didn't know anyone that was on any of those flights or was in any of the buildings. The closest I came was we have a  good friend who was an attendant for American Airlines and she flew that Boston to LA route all the time. When I got home from work, that was the first call I made and she answered! She had not been assigned to that flight that day. But she knew everyone on the crew and she carries their names on a card and looks at it every day.
  But talking to this lady and hearing her story and talking about her son really hit home for me. I felt like I had lost a family member. Then she pointed to an urn that was right in front of her son's gravestone. She said that was her grandson. I said, "what happened." He was murdered she said. 18 years old. I didn't ask what happened. I was just too stunned. I can't imagine any parent losing a child and then losing a grandchild too. I didn't ask her about her husband. I hope he is still alive and she is not going home to an empty house. She moved here from another state to be closer to her son's grave.
  We talked about 20 minutes. We mentioned the hundreds of other gravestones in the cemetery and that each one of them had their own stories too. And we talked about how we see signs from our parents who have gone before us. I mentioned one of my sisters and how she took my mother for rides on Cape Cod and looked at the seagulls and fed them. And when my mother died 5 years ago, my sister lived in a cottage overlooking a marsh and there was an old post in the marsh, near the river, and the day after my mother died,  there was a lone seagull sitting on that post. There had never been anything on that post before.  Maybe that was Mom telling my sister that everything was ok.
  Just before I left, I knelt down, kissed my hand and wiped it across his name on the gravestone and blessed myself. I always do that on my parents' grave when I visit them too. She thanked me for doing that and for listening to her. I stood up, gave her a hug and kiss and told her may God bless her and her son and grandson. We both had tears in our eyes as I left and I could hardly see the road as I headed down the trail.
  I hope she is doing ok tonight. I have thought of her and her son and grandson all day. No one should have to carry a burden like that. And isn't it interesting how the lives of total strangers can intersect, if only for a few minutes,  and how they can affect each other. If I had gone a different path today, we never would have met. I know I am better off for having met her today. I hope she feels the same way.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Labor Day and Jobs

In my book, 5 Words and Then Some, I have a section on holidays and I suggest that we try and reflect, at least for a few minutes, what the meaning of those holidays really are. I start with Martin Luther King's birthday and go all the way through to Christmas. Here is what I said in my book about Labor Day:

" These days, I think of all the jobs that are being outsourced to other continents, how medical benefits are being cut, pensions are being eliminated or changed in midstream to the employees' disadvantage, all the layoffs being made to make companies "more profitable," and how the people that are left have to do the work of those who were laid off. I have always believed that you cannot have delighted customers without delighted employees. Take care of your employees, and they will jump through hoops for you. And companies will still make a profit."

Today we have over 20 million workers who are not employed, who are under employed or who have just stopped looking for work. But its not about just any job. How do we create careers and not just jobs. How do we create jobs with a decent salary that you can live on and start a family  and raise a family? And that has decent benefits that both the employee and company contribute to? There was a recent study for the National Employment Law Project that said that 60% of all the jobs created since 2008 have hourly wages between $7.69 and 13.83. That's better than not having a job but is that a career?

Well, I have some ideas on how to create some good  paying jobs that could result in a career. They deal with our infrastructure and energy. And I have even have some ideas on how to pay for them! That column is coming up shortly. Thanking you for your time, this time, until next time,  Regards, FRAN

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Last Dance

This applies mainly to the guys but the sentiments touch everyone. Have you ever danced with your mother? At our oldest daughter's wedding several years ago, as part of the ceremony, the father dances with the bride. That was neat too for it was the first time I had ever danced with her! But while I am dancing with her, I realized I had never danced with my mother and that this would be a great time to do it!
The wedding was in September and it was a couple of days after we had a close call with a hurricane. When my mother was married, it was also in September and it was the day after the great New England hurricane of 1944. So I went up to the DJ and told him about my mother and how she was married right after a hurricane, etc and would he mention that and say that her son would like to dance to her favorite song-Anne Murray's Could I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life. So the DJ asked for everyone's attention, and told them that the grandmother of the bride was married on a similar day back in 1944. My mother was just sitting at one of the tables and all of a sudden realized the DJ was talking about her. So she looked up and  then the DJ said her son would like to dance with her.  She had a big surprised look on her face!The DJ asked that my mother and I dance for about the first minute and then everyone else join in.
 What an emotional moment that was. Mom and I dancing to that song and the entire wedding celebration came to a stop. The waiters and waitresses, carrying drinks and plates of food, stopped to watch. All the attendees stood still. Many of them had tears in their eyes.  The MC, who had been doing weddings for over 20 years, told me later that was the most emotional moment he had ever seen at a wedding.
  A few years later Mom had to go into a nursing home. She had Alzheimers and the disease had progressed so much that aides and my sister couldn't take care of her at home anymore. The night before Mom went into the nursing home, we had a last dinner at home. Mom loved George's Pizza and chicken tenders so we had that and a glass of wine. After dinner my sister put the Anne Murray CD on and played Could I Have This Dance and I danced with my mother in the kitchen. My sister took a picture of us dancing and I keep it  now on the bookcase right next to my computer table and look at it all the time.
  Mom died of Alzheimers in 2007 and since then I developed a presentation called Alzheimer's Lessons Learned. I go around and give talks to various community groups about the disease and what we went through. I talk about being prepared if your loved one has to go into a nursing home and how emotional it can be, and I pass that picture around of Mom and I dancing in the kitchen that last time. There are not too many dry eyes!
  A couple of weeks ago  my sister on the Cape was driving around doing errands and the Anne Murray song came on the radio. She had to pull off the road and wait for the tears to stop! So guys, if you have never danced with your mother, do it at the next family event or wedding.You may never get the chance again. Mom's birthday is in a couple of days. She would have been 92. I wish she was here so I could have this dance one more time.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day

In my book, 5 Words and Then Some (available from Amazon and all fine book stores) I have a section where I talk about holidays and their meaning. I think sometimes we tend not to  think too much about the holiday we are celebrating and why its important. And that is understandable. Everyone is busy working, commuting, raising kids, etc and we look forward to a long, relaxing weekend with family and friends. And we should.

But I hope sometime in the next three days, we can pause for a moment and think of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who went over that hill and never came back. They made the ultimate sacrifice so we could remain free and be able to celebrate this holiday with our friends and families. If we get a chance, lets pause for a moment, and think of all those who went before us while fighting for our way of life. And maybe we can toast them before we sit down to eat,  And if we can't do that, silently give them thanks as we flip the burgers and hot dogs. Many of them never had a chance to get married, see their children and grandchildren born, have a cookout and a few beers.

I was in college during the Vietnam War and then got deferred so I never was in the service. I think about that a lot now. That really wasn't fair.Why should someone in college get deferred but the guy who went to work right after high school gets drafted? I didn't go but probably some poor white guy from Harlan County in Kentucky went in my place. Or maybe it was a minority guy from one of the inner cities. And maybe they didn't come back. Maybe I should have just enlisted.

I think alot about one of my high school classmates, Richard Rodgers.  He was a year behind me. He served one tour of duty in Vietnam, made it through, but volunteered for a second tour so his younger brother didn't have to go. He was killed shortly after. For years I carried his service information from the Viet Nam Memorial in my notebook at work.

So that's who I will be thinking of this weekend . I will be  hoisting a tall glass of Irish Cream in their memory. I hope you do too. Thanking you for your time, this time, until next time, FRAN

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Sentimental Journey

Two weeks ago we took the train from South Station in Boston to Penn Station in New York City for the Easter weekend.  It was the first long train ride for me, other than commuter rides, in decades. I had taken trains from the Back Bay Station and from the Route 128 station before, but never from South Station. There have been a lot of renovations in the South Station area but the main terminal looks like it did decades ago. I couldn't help but think about my father and his brothers and sisters standing there back in the early 1940's as they said goodbye to each other, hugged and kissed, and went off to the war.

When we got to Providence I thought back to the spring of 1964 when we took the bus from Harwich High on the Cape to Providence and then took the train to Washington DC for our senior class trip. That was a great time and several of my classmates have passed away already. And when we were kids, my mother, 2 sisters and I, would take the train from Hyannis to Providence, and then down to New London, Ct. We would then take the ferry out to Fishers Island, where are grandparents lived and where my mother was born. We would spend two weeks there most summers. Just a wonderful time. When the train pulled into New London, I saw the ferry there and off in the distance, looking down the harbor, I could see the tip of Fishers Island.

My mother graduated from high school in Fishers Island back in 1937 and she went to college in Catawba in North Carolina. My grandfather had family in that area. My mother used to take the ferry from Fishers Island to New London, and then take the  train all the way to North Carolina. She only came home for Christmas and the summer. When we pulled into New London I looked out at the platform. I couldn't help but think that Mom stood on that same spot, holding onto probably one suitcase. What was she thinking? She must have been excited about seeing her friends in school again and her relatives in North Carolina, but she wouldn't see her family for several months. And as the train leaves New London, heading south, you can look off to your left and see parts of the Island. Did Mom look at that same spot and think about not seeing it again for months?

And how about when Mom was coming home from college? She must have been getting excited when the train got to New Haven. Not long to go and just before New London you can see Fishers Island off to your right. Almost home! And then Mom took the ferry, and the ferry had to pass my grandparent's house which was close to the water, on the way to the harbor. My grandparents would be standing outside, waiting for the ferry, and then they would wave to each other, and my grandparents would then jump in the car, and drive down to the harbor, only a half mile away. What a welcome that must have been.

And when Mom was going back to college, the whole process was reversed. My grandparents would drive Mom to the ferry, the ferry would leave and go around the point, and my grandparents would be standing in front of the house, waving goodbye to Mom. That must have been an emotional moment. And then Mom gets to New London and is standing on the platform waiting for the train,for the long ride.

I haven't been to Fishers Island in several years. I think I will go back this year, stand on that train platform in New London, take the ferry and drive around the Island and look at those spots where the ferry came in and where my grandparents stood and where the ferry went by with my mother on it.

Its amazing what you can think of on one train ride!