Yes, it’s a beautiful day! More and more I was able to internalize this attitude.
It was an upward climb to get to this point with no guarantee of where I’d wind up. As a society, we’d come through the Me Decade and The Age of Narcissism. Economically, the Clinton Presidency was a boon in so many ways. Investments were at an all-time high. It seemed like no matter what I did I was falling steadily behind in progress when it came to my income. My family seemed unaware of some of these realities and, though they offered togetherness in family events, were unable to solve my dilemma moving forward. I knew it was up to me.
In my late fifties, I was now moving toward retirement age and was beginning to see that I could indeed be somewhat secure as I approached those years ahead. That sense of security meant a lot to me considering the challenges I had thrown at me. It would ~ of course ~ mean taking another leap of faith to a new area and hopefully picking up a part-time job after I started collecting Social Security. It was a leap of faith that I would, once again, have to take alone and trust my intuition. Having jumped off those cliffs again and again, I was now getting to trust my ability to not only survive but to make the most of the challenges. I let go of any expectations that others would ‘understand’ my situation.
One last trip I wanted to take was to England where my son, JP, was living. I hadn’t seen him in a while and, just as I needed to connect with each of my other sons, I was feeling that I needed to do that with him. This wasn’t easy with JP, as there were long periods of time where JP was traveling all over the country and Europe, and wasn’t in touch with family.
My air travel had taken me to Arizona to see my oldest son and his growing family. I was able to visit the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Flagstaff and Jerome while I was there. It was as if I was visiting another world. Absolutely beautiful! It brought to my mind what a beautiful country we have and how grateful I am for all those who work hard to preserve these beautiful areas and keep them accessible to all of us.
My traveling adventures also included car trips to my other sons’ homes by car over to Ohio and up to Oneonta NY and Vermont. I loved the freedom of hitting the road and playing some of my favorite traveling songs or listening to books on tape. Usually I’d plan to attend a special event in their area so I wasn’t dependent on being entertained by them for the whole time I was there. I wanted to allow for their privacy while also assuring my independence to go and do on my own.
My hopes to get to England were becoming more of a possibility and I finally set the plans into action and targeted the Spring of 2001. This was my first foreign trip! Pretty exciting to be stepping out on my own as a 59 year old woman.
I hadn’t yet purchased my Nikon digital camera and relied on the then popular ‘throw-away’ cameras. The internet was just becoming a growing phenomenon and recording memories in photo albums was still the way to go. Later, I would scan the photos and now am able to add some of them here:
I stayed at Henley House Hotel in Earl’s Court for three nights when I first arrived. http://www.henleyhousehotel.com/
Most of the time I enjoyed walking around the area to Harrods where there was a memorial for Diana and Dodi Fayad that I wanted to see. Their story and tragedy touched my heart.
Diana Princess of Wales died in a car accident in Paris. With her at that time was Dodi Fayed who also died, son of the then owner of Harrods, Mohamed Al-Fayed, who later erected two memorials for them in the upmarket department store. The memorials have generated controversy,
My son, JP’s, home was in Balham and I stayed there for a few days. The tenants in the apartment building were all men according to JP. There was only one bathroom for all the apartments and you needed to plunk British coins into a meter in order to fill the tub with hot water. The tub was old fashioned and you could sink down into the water up to you chin. It was an old building and the ceilings were high leaving you feeling somewhat exposed. I never got to meet any of the men who lived there and quickly returned to JP’s apartment after my luxurious bath. Each apartment had an outhouse in the back where you would carry a lit candle so you could see what you were doing at night time. A mixed bag of charm, challenge and being in the “here and now” in a foreign land.
We traveled to the National Theater to see the Cherry Orchard (Anton Chekov) and discussed the theme of social change at a nearby pub afterwards. Another night we went Piccadilly Circus and saw the movie ‘Meet the Parents’. I thought it was hysterical and couldn’t keep myself from laughing out loud while JP kept a straight face and once in awhile cracked a smile – more in amusement at me than the movie.
We took the London Underground to get to the movie and when we were ready to return home we found that the workers who kept tubes running had gone on strike (for one day only) without any warning while we were in the theater. Apparently that was something that happens often in London. We had to find another means of transportation for our return trip so we took a double-decker bus and we sat on the top tier! Then we finally hailed a black cab for the rest of the trip home to Balham. I don’t think I would have covered as much ground or had so many great experiences if it weren’t for JP’s knowledge of the area.
While walking through the little villages of London I couldn’t help but see people who resembled the English side of my sons’ family on their father’s side. We went to Kew Gardens and JP brought along his gardening encyclopedia. I learned that he had done the landscaping and topiaries for the ‘Art in the Garden’ show at the Orangery in Holland Park We then got to go to the opening night of the show where they served wine and cheese while everyone was viewing the art and enjoying JP’s work. It was fabulous and I was so proud!
The National Gallery was free and was a fantastic place. They had the Image of Christ collection there and the paintings were deeply moving beyond words. As I sat there and meditated on it, the painting by Guercino ~ The Incredulity of Thomas moved me to tears.
It seemed to me that navigating London and the underground was much simpler than navigating NYC and the subways there. I was able to set aside any fears I had about being in a foreign country and being a woman alone by my determination to experience all that I could. The pubs that featured great fish and chips, Caffrey’s beer and Scrumpy Jack were all part of that experience. Walking was my main means of getting around. The Panorama tour and a boat ride on the River Thames included all the sights once more from afar; Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, etc.
The last part of my trip was spent in Liverpool, the Home of the Beatles, where we stayed with the mother of one of Jim’s friends, Sam. I traveled there by Rail and was lucky enough to see Platform 9 ½ of Harry Potter fame (I have the entire series). I’ve included a few pictures of the Liverpool visit. The photo with Eleanor Rigby makes me think of the Beatles song and how the world is filled with lonely people. It brings to mind the thought that we need to be there for each other because when life is messy we all could use a little support and friendship.
“All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?”
The final encore of my visit to England was on the London Eye where I got a total aerial view through the raindrops while I said farewell to what turned out to be a fantastic experience and visit with my son.
It was during the summer of 2001 that JP contacted me to let me know he was coming home to the United States and was going to settle in Vermont. I met him at Newark Airport and, as he departed the plane, I welcomed him back. I felt more at ease now that I had all five of my sons on American soil. This became more important to me as I looked back on the aftermath of when we were attacked on 9/11 and were forever changed in our feelings of security and safety.
September 11, 2001 began as an absolutely beautiful fall day. My hours at the College, which was on the Hudson River on the NJ side across from NYC, allowed me to take it easy in the mornings and drive to work during non-commuting times. In Bergen County, this was a major perk as driving during peak commuting could mean a difference of 20 min to a half hour added on to one’s travel time.
I was finishing my preparations for leaving when the news announced that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Live reports showed gray smoke billowing out of a window and my thoughts were that it was a small plane. While driving to work, the second plane hit the World Trade Center and reports were becoming more intense and alarming. By the time I reached Englewood Cliffs the main road leading to the entrance of the college had become very congested with many people panicking and trying to get around cars that were blocking the intersections. No one was observing the traffic lights so I kept in the line of traffic and inched my way to the entrance where I needed to turn.
When I pulled into the parking lot, I turned off the radio and took a moment to sit quietly in the silence. It was surreal! I looked around and up at the sky. It was the clearest, brightest and bluest sky I’ve ever seen and – if it weren’t for the knowledge of what was happening right across the Hudson River from where I sat – I’d have thought it was a perfect day.
We started canceling classes after the towers collapsed and it was determined that we were under attack. At first it appeared that everyone in the World Trade Center had perished.
We found out later that my sister-in-law, L, was at ground zero, given that the bank she worked for was located on the same block as the World Trade Center. Everyone had to exit the building where she worked, leaving everything behind, and make their way on foot away from the falling debris. She was covered with white ash and wound up in Chinatown where she was offered a place to sleep for the night in their hotel room by a newly married couple. Ten years later, my sister-in-law died from an aggressive form of Pancreatic Cancer at the age of 60. Whether it was related to the trauma she experienced at ground zero is a question that will always remain unanswered.
I wrote a poem on September 22, 2001 and submitted it to the local newspaper:
THEY HAVE NOT DIED IN VAIN
If we see life a bit clearer and appreciate its beauty
And glory alongside its horror and sorrow ~
They have not died in vain.
If we’ve reached out to those we love and
Opened our hearts a bit more in trust ~
They have not died in vain.
If we’ve learned beyond a doubt that politics and religion
Can be dividers of people as well as reconcilers of people ~
They have not died in vain
If we now know that God’s grace and love resides in the
Hearts of individuals regardless of race, creed or country ~
They have not died in vain.
Freedom or fear; Love or fear; Courage or fear ~
Everyday battles fought in everyday lives.
If we can believe that the way we live our lives;
The way we treat each other;
And the way we respond to hatred and evil
Will bring about change in this world ~
Then they have not died in vain.
(Dedicated to the Victims and families of September 11, 2001)
© Mary Lou Q
Two things happened as a result of 9/11 ~ We were all shaken out of our complacency and illusion of total safety, and the country split in two regarding what was the right course to take in addressing that loss. Were we attacked because others envied us as a country? ….. or was our aggression towards other oil-rich countries in the Middle East a part of the reason for our vulnerability?
The next two years leading up to the Iraq Invasion involved a period of time where people didn’t hold back on what they felt about those who disagreed with their position. Some jumped on the bandwagon of the steady drumbeat for war – believing everything they were told about the causes, the perpetrators, which groups/nations were responsible and what actions were needed . It was a time where opposing positions, no matter how reasoned, were dismissed, shut down and shamed.
This intensity grew over the next two years leading up to Shock and Awe. “The invasion began on 20 March 2003, with the U.S., joined by the United Kingdom and several coalition allies, launching a “shock and awe” bombing campaign.”
I remember that day well. My siblings and I were in the hospital keeping watch over our mother who was coming to the end of her life here on earth. I can remember standing in her room with my siblings and being totally dismayed that they began rejoicing when the moment of the invasion began. I was horrified at the thought that this grand display of ‘fireworks’ and explosions which appeared live on the television screen in the hospital room like an entertainment was, in fact, the destruction of the homes of innocent men, women and children whose lives would be devastated forever. The validity of pretense for the Iraq Invasion was later put into question when none of the reasons for this invasion materialized as credible. The 9/11 Investigations never implicated Iraq with any involvement in the attack upon the US.
I recall feeling the need to be alone as this was happening throughout the day and I went down to the hospital lobby which was isolated and quiet that evening. I sat in front of the huge ceiling TV screen and watched the full coverage, with sadness and sorrow, of when that moment became a reality:
My siblings and I took turns keeping watch over our mother as it appeared that she was growing weaker and moving closer to our final goodbye here on earth. We were able to sleep in her room overnight. She was unable to eat or drink on her own without the assistance of one of us or one of the staff at the hospital. This was the hospital where all of us were born, three of my sons were born and where my father had died 15 years earlier.
When we were all informed that we needed to prepare for the last weeks of her life, together we all decided that instead of letting her linger in the hospital and then perhaps be moved to a hospice/nursing home setting, we would bring her home to die. My sister, who was a retired nurse and only working on a per-diem basis, could be there some of the time and I could come some of the time and stay over at the homestead. There was a hospice nurse who was assigned to our mother’s care and she was very helpful in easing our concerns by letting us know what was to be expected as the time drew near. Each of our brothers were able to assist with the turning and lifting as we went about meeting the needs of our mother on her last days.
On one of the days I was caring for my mother I went outside to sit in the backyard. It was a beautiful Spring day and I noticed that the Hyacinth’s had bloomed and had created a beautiful scent that reminded me of my childhood days playing in this very same yard. I decided to pick a few and bring them in to put in a vase for my mother’s room. I opened the windows to allow the mild Spring breeze to blow the curtains and circulate the wonderful fragrance. I wasn’t sure if she knew I was there as she lay silently in a semi-conscious state. On impulse I began to read out loud from the book I was reading hoping to share a closeness and awareness in a calming way. It was a comforting time where I felt graced by her presence and blessed with this beautiful day.
Another time, during the middle of the night, I awakened and heard my mother saying something from her bedroom. I went in and stood by her bed to offer her a drink of water. Everything seemed to be fine and she seemed to be more alert and thanked me for the water. Then she looked over at the end of the bed and said ‘Oh, there’s that young man again!’ and she smiled in that direction. I looked over at the foot of the bed and saw nothing – yet I felt a peaceful calm ….. I smiled in that direction. Who knows if we both had a visitor from the spirit world with us that night? I like to think we did.
It was difficult for me to be at work during this time. The atmosphere hadn’t improved there and I didn’t have the emotional energy to give it much attention anymore. During a sibling discussion about the caregiver needs of our mother at that time, the question was raised about whether I could do it full time instead of sharing the responsibility with my sister who felt it was getting to be too much of a trip for her to come from LI. Her retired status as a nurse offered valuable insight on the days she could come to stay. However, I felt that I was only able to share shifts with her while continuing to meet my responsibility at my place of employment. I felt that my getting closer to retirement put me in a vulnerable situation and that taking too much time off and/or any family medical leave could be used against me. Family medical leave was without pay though supposedly your position would be there when you return (hopefully). My being the only person in my office made my absence more of an impact on the campus. Therefore, if I were to be replaced for an extended absence it could mean losing my job.
The call came while I was at work. My sister simply said “She’s gone”. I went and told my supervisor and immediately left for ‘home’ where my siblings and I gathered around our mother’s bed. We were told to take as much time as we needed before we called the funeral home.
As I was riding home from my job to be with my siblings I looked about me. The air was filled with fragrance of newly blossomed flowers. There were children playing in the park and I could hear their happy voices and the sky was the bluest of blues. A Spring day of May 7th, 2003 ……. it reminded me of the Resurrection and that Life does go on.
Often, the time when sibling relationships are most strained is at the time of the death of a parent. It’s a time when blaming and scapegoating can tear apart relationships if you don’t step back and resist jumping into the drama that’s taking place. I saw this all unfold during this experience as a family. Each person grieves and reacts in their own way. Respecting those differences and understanding the realities and personalities of each person involved helps to keep emotional conflicts from escalating into hurtful clashes. One person’s way of doing things might not be the way that another person agrees with or feels comfortable doing in that way.
About a month or two later we had an estate sale. It was one of those moments where emotional drama and expectations came into play. Looking back now and observing those events from the lens of passing time, I’ve decided it could be best to just donate items to Goodwill or the Salvation Army unless you have a professional who comes in to organizing and run the event. The emotional and physical effort of having an estate sale can only add to the already vulnerable state of family dynamics. No profit from sales is worth the risk of damaging family relationships. It can be really hurtful when some family members make undue and harmful assumptions about others in the family.
It’s my hope and wish that my sons will keep and cherish some of the ‘things’ that I’ve valued ……. My artwork/sketchbooks, my ‘better’ writings/poems over the years, the family photos I saved of all of us through the years. There are only a few furniture items that belonged in the family; the old buffet of my father’s parents, the sewing chest of my grandmother Dempsey, the Nippon teapot and cups, etc. I hope each of my sons will take the time, either in their own solitude or together (if possible) to decide the best place for these items. It would be wonderful to have any of my grandchildren wanting to learn about their grandmother. This is the main reason why I sat down to create a blog ~ www.meinthemiddlewrites.com. This way, even after I’m gone, they’ll be able to go to it when they feel spiritually drawn to do that. My hope is that each of them will live out a life of substance and good will.
I was blessed with the births of three more grandchildren in the early 2000’s. This was a time of getting to know each newcomer and spending an extended visit with each of my sons and their families. My intuition told me that keeping these extended visits to no more than a week was the smart way to go. I’m glad I respected each family’s privacy and abilities to live their own lives in their own way.
Over the next two years the housing market was booming and the economy was looking promising in America. While actively planning for the move to a more affordable area to retire, I learned that the retirement package I thought would be there from the College had been changed with healthcare benefits no longer included. Although it may sound like penny pinching to some, when I look back on how I avidly marked each year that I’d hung in there and calculated how much each additional year would add to the final monthly benefits on my traditional pension. Although in relative terms it might not be very much, every little bit meant a lot in my circumstances. It has since proven to be just barely enough to get me through.
The decision when to make my move was made for me by the landlord of the apartment I was renting for the past eleven years. They were selling their house so I too would need to find another place to live. The impending sale of their home sped up my decision to find a place to settle at that time rather than wait another year when I would be 65 years old.
Instead of my beginning to search again there in Bergen County, where I knew rents were way too high, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and start putting my plans into action. The impending sale of the home I was renting my apartment in sped up my decision to find a place to settle into my retirement years.
Searching for a place on the internet was fun and so convenient because any condo I was interested in could be explored thoroughly from my computer before I set out on a long ride to have a showing with a real estate agent. I still had the thought that there was a possibility of a part-time (or possibly full-time) position somewhere “out there” for me – even as a woman in my sixties. Thinking of a college town where I could take advantage of the interesting programs offered for retirees made that focus even more appealing. It just didn’t make sense to me to look at an area for the sole reason of affordability without some family nearby and without the hope of a improved quality of life. I was seeking a balance of affordability, quality of life and close enough to some family members.
So, after surfing the internet for a bunch of condos located on the southeast, I decided to visit Newark, Delaware and see a number of condos I had researched. After a few day-trips back and forth I made the decision to go ahead with a very cute condo at Waters Edge. It was a true learning experience as I had to research everything about buying a condo and had no one who I could ask to take the time to walk me through it. The process proceeded all the way through to the point where I had put down a deposit of $1,000 and was getting ready to close the deal.
I then woke up in the middle of the night and had a major panic attack for the first time in my life. What was I doing? I was sinking every bit of savings into this condo while I still had lots of doubts about it! The next morning, I phoned my brother, R, in tears and told him my fears. He advised me to get out of the deal even if I lost the down payment. I phoned the agent and told her I needed to back out. She was not happy and told me she wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get my deposit back. I told her I didn’t care. I wanted out of the deal. Luckily the young couple selling the condo understood and let me out of the deal without any problem.
From there it appeared that I would need to go even further south to get something in my price range. I had family who were living in the Central Virginia area and who loved it there. My next adventure was an overnight trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of the University of Virginia and of Thomas Jefferson. The more I explored around the city, the more I felt the area had promise and was what I was looking for. The realtor took me to see some affordable condos for sale and nothing appealed to me. There were a lot of apartment complexes that were being renovated into condos in order to take advantage of the booming market. Something told me to follow my gut and- instead of returning back without some kind of commitment to housing – I made an appointment to see two fairly decent Apartment Complexes with the thought of renting instead of buying. At the first place, I didn’t get approved based on my income. The other has become my home over the years since.
In 2007 the booming market began to decline and then fell rapidly. The value of homes decreased enough to cause many foreclosures and led to the 2007-2009 Recession in the United States. Needless to say, I was relieved I hadn’t locked myself into that mortgage on the condo.
The area I settled into has a rich connection to the nation’s history and Virginia is the birthplace of eight of our first presidents. It turned out to be a very positive relocation for me in that Charlottesville, Virginia is recognized as one of the best places to retire. The city itself is the home of the University of Virginia and the campus is beautiful. The outlying area beyond the city is also absolutely beautiful and provides activities that are inexpensive or free for those on a tight budget. The senior center in the area offers a lot of connections to activities and education that might add to one’s well-being. There’s an attitude of welcome and supportive assistance that I find to be refreshing in a sometimes dismissive world.
After an interview with the Registrar at UVA and not hearing back from her, I felt the sting of being dismissed from consideration. I resigned myself to the fact that I was no longer employable in a fast paced registrar’s office. Maintaining a positive attitude gets you so far when you’re a senior citizen in the competitive job market. So I changed my way of viewing the inevitable and I began to see a less hectic, more fulfilling, life becoming possible for me in this new area.
It all turned out for the best when I was hired as a ‘part-time’ sales associate at the Monticello Museum Shop. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello gift shop turned out to be the place that gave me an inside edge on learning all about the area while meeting a great group of friends. It was so exciting to be a part of the team at Monticello. We got to meet visitors from all over the world. Most memorable for me, personally, was the Naturalization Ceremony when President George W. Bush gave the speech. Also, I was working in the gift shop when First Lady Michelle Obama, Malia and Sasha, and Michelle’s mother visited the grounds. We were all very impressed with her visit.
We were all ‘part-time’ sales associates and were scheduled randomly throughout the week. It turned out that it was really a full-time day in the gift shop. We worked 3 to 4 days a week depending on the season. The rotation of our schedules gave us a chance to meet and get to know each other while we covered the registers. We also had a lot of social events both at Monticello and elsewhere on our own time. Some of us still get together for each other’s birthdays. This gives us a chance to try out the different restaurants and wineries in the area.
One time when I was scheduled up at the Mountaintop Gift Shop I was working with T who was a retired UVA counselor. We got to sharing about our lives and T, after hearing some of my story, said it would be good if I had some closure on my divorce. I agreed and shared how the relationship between my sons and their father was strained, and any efforts attempted in working together as parents were met with ongoing frustration. She counseled that it would be beneficial to me if I wrote a note of closure to Don ….. a message of forgiveness and gratitude for the good things that were there in our marriage, especially our five sons. He was now married for the fifth time and settled in the South. I was able to find his address through the internet.
I went home filled with feelings of forgiveness and moving forward, forgetting what I’d learned about Don’s personality in the past. I sat down and penned a note from my heart, acknowledging the good times and our shared parenting of five wonderful sons and wishing him well in the future.
It wasn’t long after that when a large UPS package was delivered to my doorstep. Arriving home from work, I walked up to my door and saw the package waiting there for me. Suddenly, I had a feeling of apprehension and dread. The box contained framed pictures of our children and grandchildren that were given to Don by our sons and that he had collected over the years as memories of the past. There was even my oldest son’s baby book that I had filled out with all the memories of his first year. I had thought that I would never see it again and that it was lost along the way with all the moving. It really shook me, as there was no personal note explaining why the package was sent to me. Just Don’s return address on the box.
I was ready to let it go when about a week later there was another large box on my doorstep when I returned home from work. There were more framed pictures and items bringing memories of our sons. Again, no note.
This time I was very shaken and called my oldest son who told me to pack up everything back into the second box along with a note telling Don not to send anymore to me and that if he had a grievance with his sons he’d have to take it up with them.
That was the last time I entertained any hope that closure would ever happen. I was happy to have the baby book back because there were so many beautiful memories that I had written there. Perhaps the best way to look at this experience, as painful as it was for me, was to realize that this was Don’s way of helping with the closure for both of us and letting go.
At the same time that I had been preparing to make my move to Virginia, my sons were also making life changes and moving forward with their lives. My oldest settled in Arizona working in law enforcement, staying in one place to raise his family. I loved visiting there and exploring the possibility of retiring there. My second son and his family settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia after I had moved to Charlottesville Va. They also set roots there to continue raisng their four children. My third son settled in Brooklyn, NY with his wife (both teachers) and their son. They helped me navigate the NYC area and we had lots of good times. My fourth son settled in Vermont and continues to write, grow his own food and work on the home that he built over the years. My youngest surprised all of us by taking a leap and moving with his family to the UAE as a teacher. It’s turned out to be an amazing experience for them and all of us.
President Barack Obama
In 2004 at the Democratic Convention, a young man gave a speech that inspired many Americans. It turned out to be the speech that would propel him to a destiny that will forever remain a great moment in history.
As I write this, President Obama has just left the White House after eight years of service to the people from 2008 through 2016. I won’t go into the ugly, divisive environment that lurked beneath the surface in our country during those eight years. It was an environment that included some of my family members. I chose to stay above the fray and not to descend into the depths of the extreme partisan rhetoric that existed. It sprouted all over; within families, on talk radio and across all the 24/7 TV shows.
When I would try to listen to the vitriol and understand both sides, I would hastily retreat from what I saw as pure manipulation and the stirring up of the worst of human nature.
I saw the verbiage as a brain washing and chose to observe all this from a distance. This mean-spiritedness has grown steadily from the early eighties on and has caused an unhealthy atmosphere in the nation. It saddens me because it has brought a polarization within our country and within our families that ends up having each of those involved judging other people from a place of fear and distrust instead of finding a common path toward each other.