Archive for the ‘trail markers’ Category

Despite the craziness, there was always music…

For as much as the home I grew up in was full of its own type of craziness and dysfunction (see previous post), our saving grace was music.  My parents were great music lovers, and I can barely remember a time that some kind of music was not playing in our house.  Both of my siblings played the piano beautifully (me, not so muClassical Musicch), and even though our old upright grand converted player piano was out-of-tune and permanently on sustain, the music that came out of it still rings in my heart.  My sister played everything from Chopin to show tunes.  My brother favored Beethoven. especially “Moonlight Sonata.”

One Christmas, we gave my dad a ukulele.  We all sat around, my sister on the flute, me playing maracas, and my brother on some goofy kazoo, playing Christmas carols.  Ah, family togetherness!  See what the music world missed?

I’ll never forget the year my sister bought a stereo record player for our family.  This was not a little “suitcase” record player: this was a piece of furniture, with a record player on one side, and an FM radio on the other.  It was always playing, especially at Christmas.

My dad purchased every “50 Great Classics” and  “25 Enduring Favorites” album that was sold on television, along  with the Firestone Christmas Albums that came out each year.  He loved the Mills Brothers, and the famous barbershop quartet, The Buffalo Bills.  We sang along with Mitch Miller and watched every musical variety show on TV.  Only recently did I learn that my dad conducted a community choir in the town where they lived before moving to my hometown.  He had a deep voice, similar to that of Bing Crosby…  I can’t hear “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” without thinking of my dad.

Now, my mom, while a lover of music, couldn’t carry a tune if it had handles.  I think her problem was that most songs were out of range for her low voice.  She was the victim of our teasing, but she laughed right along with us, and was ever-present at our choir concerts.

Stereo I would come home on Friday night with my latest purchase — a “45” of a top song that week — put it on the stereo and sing into the mirror holding my hairbrush as a mic.  Oh yes, I was that girl.

In my bedroom, I had an AM radio with a slim “pillow speaker” connected by a jack.  It could pickup clear-channel stations from as far away as Indiana (WOWO, Fort Wayne).  The music coming from under my pillow drowned out the arguments from downstairs.

Looking back, I believe that music was God’s gift to our family.  It brought peace, joy, and unity amidst fractured times. It brought solace and comfort.  It echos still with pleasant memories.

Surely music is one of God’s purest gifts of creation.  We use it to express our love to Him.  That’s because He first used music to express His love for us, and He has placed it deep within us.  In the book of Job, God tells us that He laid the cornerstone of the earth’s foundation, “…while the morning stars sang together.” (Job 38:7)  What would we give to hear that tune?  Do you suppose Adam and Eve did?

And in Zephaniah 3: 17, we see these beautiful words:

“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (NIV)

I didn’t always know it was you singing.  But thank you, God, for the music.

(c) Copyright 2015 by Mary E. Egidio.  Permission is given to share, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.  

My Brother, My Friend*

*I wrote these thoughts one year ago, and shared them at my brother’s funeral the following day…

I’ve heard it said that your sibling is your first best friend, and that was certainly true for me and Dave.

Dave and MaryWe shared a bedroom in the early years, since our sister was 13 years older than I was.  I slept in a crib with the side taken off, and he slept in a twin bed.  But most nights, I ended up in bed with him.  My earliest memories are of us making shadow animals on the wall in the room.  I was probably 4 or 5, and he was 8 or 9.   He invented a contest, called, “see who can keep their hand up in the air longest”.. . but, of course, he had the wall on his side to help!

I adored my brother; followed him around our neighborhood.  If you’ve ever seen “To Kill a Mockingbird”, with the brother and sister Jem and Scout, that was us, only without nearly as much drama.  I distinctly remember him challenging me to jump across a creek or do something scary – simply by saying, “Come on, you can do it..”  then he’d count…   “One…” “No, I can’t, I’m scared!”, “Two…”, “I can’t, I can’t…”, “Three!” — and I’d jump!

When I got to school, on the first day when roll was taken, I’d inevitably hear, “Oh, you’re Dave’s sister.”  I was proud to say I was.  Little did I know how high he’d set the bar.  He was a National Merit Scholarship finalist, and I didn’t learn until much later that he’d been accepted at several high-profile universities, with big scholarships.  But my mom convinced him to stay closer to home instead.

As school kids we had separate bedrooms, as our sister had moved away, but that didn’t stop him from sharing his music through the wall.  When he was in high school he introduced me to the rock classics of the late 60’s: Santana, Cream, Credence Clearwater Revival, and other groups of the day. I was so proud when the band he was in, “The London Dock”, won the battle of the bands at our town’s sidewalk festival.  He was the keyboard man.  They did a mean “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

As we grew up and went our separate ways, we had less contact with each other..  but he always made the effort for important days.  He came to my college graduation, gave me away at my wedding.  And when my children came along, he never forgot their birthdays or Christmas.  They call him “Unkie Dave.”

And after we moved to Florida, I’d get a phone call when a hurricane was threatening.  In 2004, when four of them when right through our county, we talked a lot.

But it was Facebook that really helped us to connect, talk, and share our lives again.  He was able to see my kids and our grandson grow up through pictures and videos, and I was able to see his posts about music, animals, the things he loved.  (in the days and months after his passing, I connected with many of Dave’s Facebook friends who never actually met him face-to-face, but felt profound loss with his passing)

It’s been such a joy in these days to meet  and connect with the people he loved and who loved him.  His family, his co-workers, his Facebook friends…  And to hear your stories about my brother, and to know how much you loved and respected him.   He was a life-long learner, and it sounds like he shared that love of learning  and laughter with all of you.  Hearing your stories about him has challenged me to be more passionate about the things I love, and to make good use of the time I have left on this earth.

The last time I was in our home town was in 2003.  My daughter and I made a road trip from FL, and I came back for my 30th reunion and to see Dave.  One afternoon he took me for a hike on one of his favorite trails.  It was a beautiful day, and we had a great time talking and just enjoying nature.  At one point we had to cross a small stream, and he stepped across easily with his long legs,  and reached a hand back to help me jump over.  He didn’t have to count “one, two, three” this time, but my mind flashed back to those days when we wandered the neighborhood.

Now he’s made the crossing ahead of me again.  Easily.  Peacefully.

His last post on Facebook, on June 25th , (the night before his death)  was this..  “having given some folks their ‘fair share’ of harassment, I move along…”

And I’m waiting on the other side.   We all are.  Wishing, in a way, that we could follow.  But knowing we have to stay around for a while longer.

There won’t be anyone else in my life like Dave.  He was my first best friend.  I’ll miss him.

 

Life Is What Happens. . .

“I can’t believe we’re actually going to do this.”

It was Friday night. We were enjoying  a light dinner together at one of our favorite restaurants, talking about our plans for the upcoming week.  On the following  Thursday we would be flying to the Dominican Republic for Steve’s brother’s wedding.

We had spent the last month gathering appropriate wedding attire for a tropical beach ceremony.  Our travel plans were set.  We’d gotten out our passports, I was planning to brush up on my Spanish.  Mostly, we were looking forward to being with family, meeting our new sister-in-law, and making new friends.  At least, that was the plan.

But later that night, shortly after midnight, Steve woke me from a sound sleep.  “I’m sorry to wake you up, but I’ve been having chest pains for about an hour.”

In the span of a few hours, we exchanged wedding attire for hospital gowns, and passports for insurance cards.  Rather than Spanish, we were brushing up on  medical terms, and learning some new vocabulary:  troponin levels, EKG’s, cardiac catheterization, stent.   We still spent time talking with family–by phone– and made some wonderful new friends in the caregivers at the hospital.  Oh, and we even have pictures!  Before and after pictures of his heart, giving evidence of a once-blocked artery, now able to do its proper job.

The whole experience reminded me once again that life is what happens while we’re making other plans.

We’re not the first people on this earth whose plans have been upended.  The Bible is full of people who were rerouted on God’s highway.  Everyone from Joseph to Moses to the crippled beggar in front of the Beautiful Gate, suddenly found themselves on a different path than they’d set out upon. Through their experiences–detours and all–they gained a deeper level of trust and obedience.  They grew.  And we did, too.

I know that many good people experience difficult circumstances with sometimes devastating outcomes.  Why we were spared from what could have been far worse, I cannot say.  I only know this experience, and those of the past year, have caused us to appreciate so much more the family, friends, blessings, and opportunities that God has given us, by His grace and mercy.

Wedding or not, I think that’s the best gift anyone could receive.

Copyright 2013 Mary Egidio — Permission is granted to reproduce, but with attribution and not for commercial gain.

Thanksgiving

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone at our house.  I think this one will go down in the books as one of the most unusual.  It was unusual because this year, both of my children are married, and their spouses were with us for dinner.  That was especially joyous, since their work schedules usually make it impossible for all of us be together at once. 

I generally insist on having Thanksgiving dinner around 1 pm.  This allows time to play games in the afternoon and eat turkey sandwiches later on. But the pie baking got delayed (my fault!), which caused the turkey roasting to be delayed (no, we don’t deep fry turkey at our house, thank you!).  We had to juggle oven times to get all the side-dishes properly cooked.  My new daughter-in-law shared her grandmother’s sweet potato casserole and macaroni & cheese recipes, but an error in the cookbook resulted in several phone calls and a longer-than-expected cooking time.  Of course, a fussy grandbaby only added to the general confusion.  Just as frustrations were beginning to build, in walked our son-in-law — off work earlier than expected and able to join us for dinner — a wonderful surprise.  The meal was hours later than intended, but as I looked around the table  at my family I realized all these delays were for a good reason. 

Yes, the turkey was tender, the gravy was tasty, the stuffing — which included sausage — was interesting, the sweet potato casserole and macaroni &  cheese were yummy.  The pie crust was appropriatly flaky.  But as long as we were all together, it wouldn’t have mattered if we were eating pizza or peanut butter sandwiches.

I know all too well that even on Thanksgiving, many families deal with issues far more serious than an ill-timed dinner.  Past hurts, broken relationships, missing family members, health and economic problems can all combine to create deep sadness, or explosive interactions.  Others face the holiday alone, hoping for the generosity of strangers to fill the void.

I don’t know what future Thanksgiving dinners will be like at our house.  It may be a while before all of our feet are under the same table together.  At some point, I’ll no longer be the kitchen manager, but hopefully I’ll still be able to put together a decent pumpkin pie.  No matter the circumstances, I hope I can always find a reason to be thankful, and rejoice in God’s blessings of family and love.

“Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known among the nations what he has done.  sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts.”  Psalm 105: 1-2 (NIV)

Copyright 2011 Mary E. Egidio

Love’s Pure Light

In order to save my ceramic nativity set when my daughter was small, I crafted a play nativity set out of plastic canvas and yarn.  Elizabeth would spend hours rearranging the pieces and acting out the Christmas story.  I would laugh to myself when I would inevitably hear her say, “Hey Mary, can I hold your baby?”

I just couldn’t picture the work-roughened hands of a shepherd cuddling an infant, or a royal king stooping down to embrace a poor child in a manger.  It made perfect sense to her, however, that if these people were going to make a trip to see a baby, they wouldn’t want to leave without holding it.

She wasn’t really so far off.  When you see a young baby, it’s only natural to admire them and comment about how cute he or she is.  But if you actually pick up that baby, a whole other phenomenon takes place.  Somehow, holding that child, gazing into his or her eyes, connecting with that uniquely God-given personality — that baby just gets into your heart!  Perhaps the shepherds and wise men were drawn in the same way to embrace the infant of Bethlehem and experience the miracle of His love in their hearts that first Christmas.

As we make the journey to the stable in Bethlehem again this year, let’s not just gaze on the Child in the manger and turn away unchanged.  Let’s embrace the Child of Bethlehem — the pure light of God’s love — and let Him shine into our hearts and make us new.

Don’t leave without holding the baby.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

Copyright 1999 – Mary E. Egidio — (Originally published in “A Christmas to Remember — Advent Devotionals“) Permission is granted to share this post, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.

Body Language

My dad died of lung cancer in 1974, at the age of 63.  I was 19 years old. My mom was a Registered Nurse, so we kept him at home as much as possible, until the last hours of his life.  In his healthy days, he was six foot four, a robust 250 pounds or so – nicknamed ‘The Chief’.  At the end, he was down to 180 or less, looking more like a refugee. 

I was in college, living at home, studying at a ‘branch’ campus of a school I hadn’t planned on attending until the cancer changed my plans. I wasn’t too happy about the arrangement at first, but my mom needed the help, and I was the only one of my two siblings available. So I was elected.

Our lives got into a routine in those days.  I took care of the cleaning, while she took care of his personal needs, for the most part.  Eventually, the Cancer Society arranged for a part-time LPN to come in a few mornings a week to give some relief.  The nurse was at least ten years older than my dad, but was a hearty Scandinavian who had already spent hours putting up quarts of home-grown peaches or baking pies, and would leave our house to work the evening shift at the nursing home.

He taught me to cut his hair, while he coached, and eventually trusted me to shave him with a razor.  “So Frank, how did you go deaf?” he’d tease, as I’d hesitantly trim the hair that grew from his ears.

In my free time, Dad and I would play cribbage — of course, he taught me.  My last birthday gift to him was a new cribbage board, on which I’ve since taught my own children.  Or we would watch baseball together.  One of my last memories with him was watching the 74 World Series — the Oakland A’s with their handlebar mustaches and retro uniforms.

Toward the end, when he was mostly confined to his bed, I would help him walk down the hall, or eventually, stand up beside the bed on a walker and walk in place to prevent pneumonia.   While up, he’d peek out of his bedroom window and make some comment about the weather or the neighbor’s car.   We would massage his legs and push against his feet, to keep him from developing ‘drop foot.’  This man who had been a career army officer, and had marched his share of miles, was now unable to walk on his own.

I have to tell you that in his healthier days, my dad had problems with alcohol.  He spent most of his free time at the American Legion, and I can remember my mom making me call there and beg him to come home.  As I got older, I began to realize that every family didn’t have the fights and the yelling.  I learned to be ashamed, and I hated him for it.  In fact, I can remember wishing he would wrap his car around a tree.  Somehow, in the last months of the cancer, that all changed.   We talked, and laughed, and had fun together like normal people. And while the cancer was slowly eating away at his body, God was using it to heal my heart from the anger and hurt.

Ironically, one picture that is indelibly etched in my mind is my dad, every Christmas Eve, sitting in ‘his’ chair in the living room, opening the family Bible and reading the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke before we went to bed.  We were devout Catholics, and this was the only time of year I can remember the Bible ever being opened in our home, other than to enter a death or birth in the ‘family record’ pages.  Despite the annual Christmas ‘fight’ (anyone from an alcoholic family knows what I’m talking about), Christmas Eve was kept sacred.  “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world was to be taxed…”  A tear still comes to my eye when I hear those words each Christmas.

I can only remember one of his drinking buddies ever coming to see him.  Of course, he was shocked at Dad’s appearance and didn’t come back. We learned that cancer was a pretty lonely experience, at least in those days.

At some point, we called my brother in California and suggested he might want to come home.  The two of them spent hours talking, my brother sprawled out on my parents’ bed beside Dad.  Dave took a job as an aide at the local hospital and planned to stay around for a while.

Then one Friday, totally unannounced, an old family friend appeared at our door.  He was a Catholic priest who grew up with my mother.  My grandmother and his mother were the best of friends.  He lived miles away, in New York state, but here he was at our front door.  He came in, visited with my dad, heard his ‘confession’ and performed a home mass.  He didn’t just bring communion, he said mass.  After he left, my father wrote a letter to my sister, who lived a couple hours away in Buffalo.  He told her there were angels in his bedroom.

The following Monday evening, Dad took his last breath. Seeing him in the hospital bed, so still, we realized how frail he had become.

My dad taught me how to make a pie and fry a chicken, how to sew, and how to understand football. He instilled in me a love of good music, from ’50 Timeless Classics’ to the Mills Brothers to barbershop.  He gave me an understanding of human nature.  I carry with me his sense of humor, and the appreciation for a story well told. I’ve tried to pass these things, although not always successfully, to his grandchildren, whom he never knew.

Thanks, Dad. If it hadn’t been for your life, and your death, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

Rite of Passage

This week,  I watched my first child give birth to her first child.  To watch the person to whom you gave birth give birth to another person is both the most frightening and incredible experience.

As I watched her progressing through her labor, mostly in silent concentration, I believe a unique bonding took place.  Or at least, I think that’s what her eyes were saying.  I like to think they were saying, “I can’t believe you went through this to have me!”  But maybe they were saying, ‘Why didn’t you tell me this would be this hard?’  or “Is this payback for all the times I called you the meanest Mom in the world?”

That strong-willed child, the one who insisted, “I want to do it my-telf, mommy!”, steeled her will, dug in her heels, and determined to get through childbirth without an epidural.  She impressed the doctor and the labor nurse with her fortitude and strength, despite giving birth to an 8 lb., 11 oz. boy.  “Women have been having babies without epidurals for hundreds of years.”  This was her mantra throughout her pregnancy.

Because her labor nurse was an incredible woman from Zimbabwe, with a strong accent and ‘hands on’ approach, it reminded me of how women around the world have entered into this rite of passage into womanhood for centuries.  It was often a communal experience.  We could have just as easily been in a straw hut or a rural farmhouse.  Instead of computers and fetal monitors, we could have been putting a knife under the bed to ‘cut the pain’ or boiling water in the kitchen.  If it’s all the same to you, I’m glad we were in a well-equipped hospital with trained professionals.

I especially loved watching how her husband loved her and encouraged her through the process, in absolute awe of her strength.  I loved seeing his unbridled tears as his son appeared.  I loved seeing the little footprints that the nurse inked on the backs of his hands, after recording them on paper.  I loved that he allowed us to share in this beautiful experience, and how it has drawn us together even closer as a family.

Now I’m watching in awe, as she’s making the transition from pregnancy to motherhood.  And once again, I’m astounded by her strength and determination.  I’m here to help, but each day she becomes more independent and self-confident.

As a woman should.

We’ve come full circle.  I look forward to sharing the journey with her.

“For you created my inmost being, You knit me together in my mother’s womb! I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:13-14

Copyright 2010 Mary E. Egidio – permission is granted to share this post, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.