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Shadows of Past

It was a warm sunny Saturday. The type of day when just the hope of spring was in the air as children still buttoned up in jackets emerged from their homes on Hanson Avenue eager to explore all the possibilities the outside world held for their curious little minds. On the front porch of 435 Hansen Avenue gathered a small group of 3 such children. The youngest was a honey blonde little girl with soft brown eyes and soft Shirley Temple type locks. She was six years old. At the center of her world at her young age was Mommy. That was it. She was the one constant in her life. The one who made her feel loved, protected and safe. Everyone else she knew were sideline characters that leaned in and smiled at her, calling her cute and attempting to gain her trust but she was always guarded. For all the earliest years of her life her world existed only of her and Mommy. Then in the past year Mommy got married and shadows began lurking in the corners of her bedroom at night. On the ceiling, swirling around, changing shape. The shapes would become scary faces and then dissolve into dark blobs again. All the new people in her world reminded her of those shadows. They were mysterious and unknown to her. On this particular day, the little girl was in the care of two of these strange people. They were her new Grandparents who lived downstairs from her. Two old people that looked to her like characters out of one of her a fairy tale books. Like the sort that might put her in the oven and cook her up for dinner. They acted like they were trying to be nice to her but she did not believe or trust them. Her new step daddy who gave her the same feeling was at work so they had to take care of her today. And Mommy was in the hospital because she just gave birth to her baby sister. She wished Mommy were home. Of the other two children on the porch, one was her cousin, so she was told. But somehow she understood he was not her real cousin. The oldest, a lanky boy of 12 with crooked teeth and a bit of drool always oozing from the sides of his mouth when he spoke. The little girl understood that he was not quite normal. Not “retarded” like she understood that word to mean, but different. “Slow” they said. In her six year old mind he was funny. He told constant riddles and laughed a lot at himself. The little girl was not afraid of him. Adults she did not know made her more ill at ease than other children did. The other child was a girl between them in age. A friend of the boys. A stranger to the little girl. As they all played together on the porch the morning wore on. Out of boredom the older two decided to wander away from the house. “Let’s go to the Field”, they said. “C’mon”, they told the little girl. Assuming she was in her pretend cousin’s charge, since he was the oldest, she followed. And off to the field on the next block they wandered. The little girl never went that far from the house by herself. But it seemed to her that since the older two said so, it was ok to go. The field was muddy in spots. The result of a rainy Month. There were puddles. And tall reeds. Some taller than the little girl. It looked to her like a maze, as the three explored. They came upon a small pond. There was an older boy there. Or maybe he was a young man. Much older than her cousin. He started to talk to the three of them. The little girl just listened. They were thinking of a game to play. The older boy, or young man, had an idea. There’s something that looks like a raft in the water. How about two of us go to the other side of the pond and the other two stay here and push it across to us. He looked at the older girl and said, “Lets me and you go across.” “No, no, I’m not going” she said. “I don’t want to go. Let her go”, she said pointing to the little girl, who wondered why she was making such a fuss. After all, he picked her. So the youngest of the three began to walk with the strange man to the other side of the pond. He lead, she followed. “This way” he directed as they walked silently. Then suddenly a strange feeling began to grip the little girl. A tightening in her belly as her heart began to beat faster. It came upon her so fast it began to panic her. Fear. The realization she may not be safe. The feeling she had about all the new strange people in her life but ten times stronger. This bad feeling began gripping her within one minute’s time. She stopped. I want to go back, she said meekly. Then the slow motion began. “Noooooo”, the stranger’s mouth formed the words as he grabbed her arm and began to pull her against her will. Her heart pounding in her chest could be heard up through her ears and out into the day. The sun moved behind dark clouds as the stranger pulled her down in the brown grass among the reeds. Her back to the ground, the stranger looming over her, the clouds looked like the shadows in the corners of her room at night. They formed the scary blobs above the man’s face. His face became one of those scary shadow blobs. She opened her mouth but could not scream. Then he placed his hand on her mouth while the other hand was doing something. And then she saw it. He showed it to her and said touch it. The strange part of him that she knew was not meant for her to see. Shaking her head violently away from his hand he again tried to scream but no sound. Then with a softer shaky voice she heard herself meekly say. “Please, Mister, tell me, what are you going to do to me?” He just stared at her and said nothing. She could see above the reeds behind him, something tall like a stick coming toward them a little distance away. Then she saw him turn his head and look behind him. In an instant he released her, rose up, ran away disappearing into the reeds. Then out of the reeds appeared the other two children. Her pretend cousin with a tall stick in his hand. And the girl. They were laughing. We came to save you. They acted like nothing more were happening than children playing on a sunny afternoon. She rose to her shaky feet. I want to go home she said behind tear blurred eyes. No, we don’t want to go home now they protested. She followed them wining and crying. The older girl looked annoyed. I want to go. She continued stumbling through the puddles. She tripped and fell and the knees of her jeans got wet. Finally the other two children gave in and they headed back to the porch at 435 Hansen Avenue. Walking home all the little girl could think of was how she wanted to tell Mommy. She wished Mommy would be there to tell when she got back to the house. But she knew she would not. She could not tell the strange new Grandmother. She would tell Mommy when she came home from the hospital. Later standing in the kitchen of the Grandmothers house, the Grandmother looming over her with her scary face she trembled. The Grandmother was questioning where she had been. Why are you pants wet she said? Where you in the Field? Yes the little girl muttered holding back tears with a lump in her throat the size of an apple. With one swift movement the Grandmother slapped her hard across her face. It hurt her frightened and bruised heart worse than it hurt her face. The hurt of that day and all its events would leave a bruise that would remain for life. For the rest of that week she told herself she would tell Mommy when she got home and Mommy would comfort her. Mommy, the only constant in her life of scary shadows, and strange people. Later that week when Mommy returned the little girl did not tell her. As each day passed she blocked out the scary day until it was like a bad dream. When Mommy returned, all the focus was on her and the new baby sister. Standing in the background she somehow felt that she had been a bad girl that day and that’s why the bad thing happened to her. She became afraid to tell Mommy and never told a soul until many years later when she grew up.

By:JLE

Shadows of Past

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It was a warm sunny Saturday. The type of day when just the hope of spring was in the air as children still buttoned up in jackets emerged from their homes on Hanson Avenue eager to explore all the possibilities the outside world held for their curious little minds. On the front porch of 435 Hansen Avenue gathered a small group of  three such children. The youngest was a honey blonde little girl with soft brown eyes and soft Shirley Temple type locks. She was six years old. Mommy was at the center of her world at her young age. That was it. She was the one constant in her life. The one who made her feel loved, protected and safe. Everyone else she knew were sideline characters that leaned in and smiled at her, calling her cute and attempting to gain her trust, but she was always guarded. For all the earliest years of her life her world existed  her and Mommy alone. Then in the past year Mommy got married and shadows began lurking in the corners of her bedroom at night. On the ceiling, swirling around, changing shape. The shapes would become scary faces and then dissolve into dark blobs again. All the new people in her world reminded her of those shadows. They were mysterious and unknown to her.

On this particular day, the little girl was in the care of two of these strange people. They were her new Grandparents who lived downstairs from her. Two old people that looked to her like characters out of one of her a fairy tale books. Like the sort that might put her in the oven and cook her up for dinner. They acted like they were trying to be nice to her but she did not believe or trust them. Her new step daddy who gave her the same feeling was at work so they had to take care of her today. And Mommy was in the hospital because she just gave birth to her baby sister. She wished Mommy were home.

Of the other two children on the porch, one was her cousin, so she was told. But somehow she understood he was not her real cousin. He was the oldest, a lanky boy of 12 with crooked teeth and a bit of drool always oozing from the sides of his mouth when he spoke. The little girl understood that he was not quite normal. Not “retarded” like she understood that word to mean, but different. “Slow” they said. In her six year old mind he was funny. He told constant riddles and laughed a lot at himself. The little girl was not afraid of him. Adults she did not know made her more ill at ease than other children did. The other child was a girl between them in age. A friend of the boy’s. A stranger to the little girl. As they all played together on the porch the morning wore on.

Out of boredom the older two decided to wander away from the house. “Let’s go to the Field”, they said. “C’mon”, they told the little girl. Assuming she was in her pretend cousin’s charge, since he was the oldest, she followed. And off to the field on the next block they wandered. The little girl never went that far from the house by herself. But it seemed to her that since the older two said so, it was ok to go. The field was muddy in spots. The result of a rainy Month. There were puddles, and tall reeds. Some taller than her. It looked to her like a maze, as the three explored. They came upon a small pond. There was an older boy there. Or maybe he was a young man. Much older than her cousin. He started to talk to the three of them. The little girl just listened. They were thinking of a game to play. The new strange young man, had an idea. There’s something that looks like a raft in the water. How about two of us go to the other side of the pond and the other two stay here and push it across to us. He looked at the older girl and said, “Lets me and you go across.” “No, no, I’m not going” she said. “I don’t want to go. Let her go”, she said pointing to the little girl, who wondered why she was making such a fuss. After all, he picked her. So the youngest of the three began to walk with the strange man to the other side of the pond. He lead, she followed. “This way” he directed as they walked silently. Then suddenly a strange feeling began to grip the little girl. A tightening in her belly as her heart began to beat faster. It came upon her so fast it began to panic her. Fear. The realization she may not be safe. The feeling she had about all the new strange people in her life but ten times stronger. This bad feeling began gripping her within one minute’s time. She stopped. “I want to go back”, she said meekly. Then the slow motion began. “Noooooo”, the stranger’s mouth formed the words as he grabbed her arm and began to pull her against her will. Her heart pounding in her chest could be heard up through her ears and out into the day. The sun moved behind dark clouds as the stranger pulled her down in the brown grass among the reeds. Her back to the ground, the stranger looming over her, the clouds looked like the shadows in the corners of her room at night. They formed the scary blobs above the man’s face. His face became one of those scary shadow blobs. She opened her mouth but could not scream. Then he placed his hand on her mouth while the other hand was doing something. And then she saw it. He showed it to her and said touch it. The strange part of him that she knew was not meant for her to see. Shaking her head violently away from his hand she again tried to scream but, no sound. Then with a softer shaky voice she heard herself meekly say. “Please, Mister, tell me, what are you going to do to me?” He just stared at her and said nothing. She could see above the reeds behind him, something tall like a stick coming toward them a little distance away. Then she saw him turn his head and look behind him. In an instant he released her, rose up, ran away disappearing into the reeds. Then out of the reeds appeared the other two children. Her pretend cousin with a tall stick in his hand. And the girl. They were laughing. We came to save you. They acted like nothing more were happening than children playing on a sunny afternoon. She rose to her shaky feet. “I want to go home”,  she said behind tear blurred eyes. “No, we don’t want to go home now”,  they protested. She followed them whining and crying. The older girl looked annoyed.” I want to go”,  She continued stumbling through the puddles. She tripped and fell and the knees of her jeans got wet. Finally the other two children gave in and they headed back to the porch at 435 Hansen Avenue. Walking home all the little girl could think of was how she wanted to tell Mommy. She wished Mommy would be there to tell when she got back to the house. But she knew she would not. She could not tell the strange new Grandmother. She would tell Mommy when she came home from the hospital.

Later standing in the kitchen of the Grandmothers house, the Grandmother looming over her with her scary face, she trembled. The Grandmother was questioning where she had been. “Why are you pants wet ?”  she asked. “Where you in the Field?”  “Yes”,  the little girl muttered holding back tears with a lump in her throat the size of an apple. With one swift movement the Grandmother slapped her hard across her face. It hurt her frightened and bruised heart worse than it hurt her face. The hurt of that day and all its events would leave a bruise that would remain for life.

For the rest of that week she told herself she would tell Mommy when she got home and Mommy would comfort her. Mommy, the only constant in her life of scary shadows, and strange people. Later that week when Mommy returned the little girl did not tell her. As each day passed she blocked out the scary day until it was like a bad dream. When Mommy returned, all the focus was on her and the new baby sister.
Standing in the background she somehow felt that she had been a bad girl that day and that’s why the bad thing happened to her. She became afraid to tell Mommy and never told a soul until many years later when she grew up.

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Growing up in the Sixties

When my maternal grandmother was still alive, I would occasionally go have tea with her as a young woman. One of the most charming memories I have is of sitting in her kitchen and hearing her talk about life in her youth. I still find it fascinating when my parents talk about the past, how life was different for them. I find it a little sad however that as they age their memories begin to fade and I relate, because it seems the older I get the less details of my childhood I can recall.

This is what motivates me to write this. I wish I had more opportunity to talk to my Grandkids about my life. Unfortunately a good part of their growing years have involved Grandma being a long distance relative. When I do see them and have the opportunity to talk to them the focus is more on me catching up with what is going on their lives. Thank goodness for today’s technology. I can see their lives unfold on their parents Facebook pages, and though the teenagers are too busy to talk to Grandma on the phone, they will answer my texts and occasionally chat me up for a bit. I know when I was a teenager, I liked seeing my Grandmother when she came to visit, but sitting and listening to stories about her past did not interest me much until I became a young adult in my twenties. So I hope I have the same to look forward to with my Grandchildren. In the meantime I have my favorite means of leaving my legacy for them. My writing. This piece in addition to being recorded in this blog will also be printed and put in a special binder (the old fashioned way), I am creating specifically for that purpose. For my Grandchildren.

So being born in the 50’s despite what you might think, I don’t have memories of poodle skirts saddle shoes and do-op music. I was a baby, a toddler, a preschooler. That was my parent’s world. By the time I reached the age where the culture of the day would be indelibly imprinted in my memories of childhood, the new decade brought about a big change. The 60’s revolution. Growing up I was influenced by the Hippie mentality, although I was not a rebellious child so I grew up what I like to call a fringe Hippie. Embracing the fashion, the music and the lingo, but not the drugs, the promiscuity or protesting of the establishment. But that didn’t come until my adolescence anyway.

In my young childhood, the decade was still young and the shift from the world of American families striving for Father knows Best and leave it to Beaver families was still in force. Although behind the doors of my home we were far from that kind of family. But that is another subject. But I saw this world around me, in other households and for me it represented the norm.

As you know I grew up with four younger sisters, considerably younger, therefore other than the time and attention I would give to devote to them for my occasional amusement, they did not provide me with playmates my own age.

When I was indoors alone in my room, I would listen to children’s records on my record player, read books like Black Beauty and Little women, and oh how I loved my “Highlights” magazine for kids. I would sing constantly, sometimes in front of the mirror, and imagine a lot. Later around 11 or 12, I would find the love of writing I have to this day.

But like most kids in the early 60’s the outdoors was my playground. Friends lived right on my block, and the next block. There was no need for parents to arrange playdates, or drive me to a friend’s house. Kids I knew in school remained just that. Kids I knew in school. I never saw them outside of school. If I happened to have friend a few blocks away we walked to each other houses, or to a central location where the kids in the neighborhood would congregate. Daily out door fun included swinging on your own swing set, or someone else’s, playing games in the street such as hopscotch, kickball, tag, hide and seek. Or playing Jacks or Barbie dolls on someone’s porch. Walking up the street to the neighborhood family grocer, who happened to be an uncle of mine was always exciting, buying a piece of candy, or doing an errand for your parents. Then there was the ice cream man. He would come around ringing his bell, and everyone would scatter to beg Mom for money for ice cream. Riding bikes was another activity I loved about as much as swinging.

And then there were the nearby woods. How kids loved to find their own secret place to build forts, or swing on a rope swing across the swamp. I can remember dozens of my friends doing that at one spot we had just a few yards into a wooded area off our street. I don’t remember doing it myself, just watching. We also had a nearby field where we would go to pick blackberries, or push a raft across the swampy water. I have good and bad memories of that field, but again that is another story.

We had a lot of freedom, at least most kids did. As long as were home for dinner, and in before dark, parents didn’t worry about us much. Some older folks will tell you it was because the world was a safer place back then. I disagree. The world was not any safer. There was a lot of danger that lurked out in the world. Bad things happened to kids every day. The only difference between then and now is awareness. The evil has been exposed and is out in the open. It’s talked about, kids are taught to beware, we take lots of precautions to protect our kids against the evil in the world. Back then, still clinging to the Leave it Beaver facade, we lived in denial. Predators like pedophiles, kidnappers, mentally ill folks that might harm your child, or influence them negatively were only whispered about. Such ideas were swept under the rug and even when these evils were uncovered in ones own family, the secret was kept locked up tighter than a drum. Child abuse and domestic violence were things that were kept behind closed doors and no one felt it was any of their business.

As the sixties wore on I approached adolescence and the teen years. These years brought a loss of interest in some of the childhood games and more of an interest in pop music, collecting your favorite vinyl records, walking around with your transistor radio, bike riding on the back of the boys banana seat bike, playing more grownup games in the street like, softball although we still played kickball, and I still played with Jacks through my teen years. The boys played football and the girls chatted and watched and talked about the boys.

Occasionally the cool parents would let all the kids hang out at their houses. These homes were normally equipped with a finished basement, which was common in suburban Staten Island NY homes in the 60’s. There we would listen to vinyl records of the latest bands, the girls would dance, the boys would play pool if the family had a pool table, or have a Jam session with guitars and drums.

We also began finding these secret places. Like under the Highway overpass, tucked way up top where we couldn’t be seen. Here was where kids smoked their first cigarette, stole their first kiss, sipped their first sip of Boones Farm Strawberry wine, Sorted out our very dramatic spats with one another. We told scary stories of urban legends of which there were always a few.

As I advanced from the early teen years into my high school years the sixties were coming to an end and the 1970s was fast approaching. Leaving Junior high behind meant girls were no longer required to wear skirts and dresses to school. I am not sure which year but sometime in high school girls were allowed to wear jeans. So I hung up my gogo boots and mini skirts for bell bottom hip hugger jeans. I wore my hair shoulder length and pin straight parted down the middle. Think Marsha Brady. That was pretty much me, without the perfect blended family though. My first year in high school was kind of turbulent. For some reason my address did not allow me to be zoned for the same high school as friends on the same street. I guess we lived on the dividing line. So I started high school with no one I knew from my neighborhood and we were all pretty tight on my block and one block over. So I got into a bad habit of playing hooky and not going to school often for many months. But even my friends that went to the other high school did the same. We would all meet at the bus stop, no school buses, we took chartered city buses to school since Staten Island was a borough of New York City. Then we would go hang out wherever we could hide from truant officers that patrolled the streets for kids skipping school, including gas station bathrooms. Yuck. But at that time adults would question you if you were loitering around during school hours. So we had to stay out of sight. These were the dangerous years of my youth. Hitch hiking was a popular thing among Staten Island teens my age. I am ashamed to say that as a group we hopped in the cars of many a stranger who was cool enough to give us rides to wherever we wanted to go in our skipping school days. Occasionally we would get to hang out in the home of someone whose parents were both working. This was rare however. Eventually I got caught but the good outcome was that I convinced my Mother I did it all because I was so out of place in my high school and would do so much better if I could go to the school where the rest of my friends went. So my Mother found a way to get me transferred. I finally cracked down and took school more seriously after that. And so did my friends, or at least some of them.

I was an average student in high school. I could have done better but like many, I didn’t apply myself 100 percent. Honestly most of what preoccupied me from my early teens were boyfriends of which I had several steady ones throughout my teens. At that time it’s what you did, you didn’t just date boys, you went steady. We just called it, “going out with” someone but it meant exclusive, or you were just friends. No in between, at least not where I was from. Truthfully as I look back, it was very restricting for a teenage girl. To serious too soon, but it was what we did.

As for music, listening to music was not like it is today. At home you had records, outside of home you had the radio. When I was sixteen my Birthday present was the Beatles Abbey Road album. It was all I wanted. I was a huge Beatle fan. I loved the British bands, the pop bubble gum music, and Motown. I was not a big fan of the heavy metal rock that was coming on the scene in the seventies. It was all too loud, dark and dissonant for me. I preferred brighter music that made me happy, lyrics that told a good story and harmony. Later in my teens I became a big fan of the oldies, which then were the do- op songs of the fifties. I knew them all. I remember a station that played the oldies consistently. And on Staten Island there was a sweet shop that was still in business from back in the fifties, that had all the oldies on a jukebox.

Unlike a lot of Baby Boomers, I did not go to concerts or teen clubs. They were around but it was just not in my world at the time. Once I was taking public transportation to leave my neighborhood with friends it was to go to the beach, or occasionally shopping at some mall. But that was rare. I rarely had money for that until I was out of high school and working. We didn’t go to the mall to just hang out. That came to be popular a decade or so later.

I got my driver’s license around age 17, I believe. I passed my first road test. I was given an old 1950- something Ford I think. It was baby blue. It lasted me a few years. I didn’t take it far, to and from school and later to the ferry or train station along my commute from Staten Island to Manhattan for work. My high school boyfriend had a Ford thunderbird convertible and I spent a lot of time in that car for sure.

My later teen years lead to driving around with my boyfriend to meet friends at popular hang out areas. Usually down by the beach. That involved drinking out of the back of someone’s trunk where the alcohol was kept, until the police cruised around and you shut the trunk and leaned on it with an innocent smile. I was not a big drinker however. My first experience with liquor was trying scotch out of my parent’s liquor cabinet in a tall Tupperware glass and getting very sick after spinning around the living room to make sure it took. I never really liked drinking much after that. I did pick up the nasty habit of smoking cigarettes at age 16 which thankfully I gave up at age 24 and never looked back.

Back at the end of the 1960’s and early 1970’s not all girls were encouraged to go to college. Some were, but it was assumed by many girls like me who came from lower middle class families that we would go to work to help the family out when we got out of high school. College was for the girls from more upper middle class families. Truthfully it was never even discussed in my home. I really was never told by anyone I even had that option. So In my last two years of high school I chose classes that prepared me for what was called a commercial diploma, as opposed to an Academic diploma (college bound kids). These included typing, bookkeeping, record keeping and stenography. Yea stenography. You probably don’t even know what that is. But June of my senior year I had already been sent on a job interview in Manhattan for a big firm and got the job. I graduated high school in June of 1972 and in July I started my full time job in the big city. The rest is history.

So this is a glimpse of what growing up was like in my day. I am sure my great grandchildren will grow up in quite a different world but it is my hope that these memories written down will pass down through the generations and keep the memories alive for years to come.

By: JLE September 2017

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A Christmas Tale

Christmas has always been a very special time for me. I am so inspired by the idea of looking inward to the good that dwells in us as a human race and finding it there even in the most unexpected places. The idea of love, kindness, and good will toward others awakens something in me that burns deep, but sometimes needs its flames fanned. But when those fires are stoked, I am happiest and most fulfilled. I feel this deeply at Christmastime.

I have accumulated many memories over the years of this fulfillment during the season. I would like to tell a tale of one of those years, an experience I will cherish always.

Keith and I were working for Community Service Foundation in Bucks County Pennsylvania. We were employed as House Parents for a Group Home of 6 teen boys. Categorized as Youth in Crisis, these boys were placed by the court in these Group Homes across the county as an alternative to Juvenile incarceration. The situations that landed them there were varied. For some it was drugs, others anger issues, criminal activity, theft, acting out in school or just plain unmanageable behavior. Many of these boys were merely a product of their upbringing and environments. Some had been abused or neglected. Many came from broken homes and the most impoverished areas of Philadelphia where crime and drugs were a way of life. And then there were the occasional situations where a boy would come in from an intact middle class family. But for whatever reason, he was not on a good path. We even had a Minister’s son placed with us. In the two years we worked there we functioned as House Parents to more than a dozen boys, since some only stayed for a few months and new boys were placed with us. We experienced drug addiction, alcoholism, bipolar disorder, ADHD, mentally handicapped, and the like. I definitely believe we did a good job making a difference in the young men’s lives while we were there but I don’t take credit for it. I do believe that we were divinely inspired every step of the way, otherwise we could not have done it. In addition,  we had tons of support and training. Each boy had a counselor, a probation officer and school support through the organization run school they attended.

It was Christmastime in our second year on the job. I had begun the season feeling a bit depressed since this time of year was so special to me and I felt so stifled in my ability to do all the things that brought me so much joy around the holidays. We lived in the home we worked so I did not have my own home to decorate the way I wanted to. There were some decorations available for the home but not like I was accustomed to decking the halls of my own abode. Our time off was limited so I could not look forward to much time visiting family. I missed my kids and Grandkids who all lived in another state. I couldn’t entertain for the holidays. I started off feeling bleak and I was wondering how much longer we could continue doing this. The daily grind of dealing with constant issues with the boys was not setting the stage for a very merry season.

Being the resilient person that I am, I came to the decision eventually that I was going to make the season the best it could be with the resources I had. I decorated as best I could, played my Christmas music, baked cookies and began showering the spirit of Christmas onto the members of our household. At an after school meeting around the dining table, a daily event, I talked to the boys about Christmas and how we could make the best of it even amid their problems. We talked about the spirit of giving, and presented ideas of how we could do something fulfilling for someone else, that would enrich our lives in the process. The younger ones were more excited, still having hearts that were tender enough to ignite hope, the more hardened boys reluctantly agreed to go along. One thing I had going for me in influencing them was that they liked and respected me. Keith and I made every effort to make them feel like ours was a real home with loving and encouraging houseparent’s that truly cared about them. Yes, they were on lockdown, they did not have freedom to come and go, there were rules, rules, rules. But they were safe and cared for. The Boundaries paired with reward and kindness made them feel loved.

I presented to them, a needy family that we were going to adopt for the holidays. I had gotten the contact from a local church we attended. Likely some of these boys came from more needy families than the one we were adopting. Some never knew what it was like to get a load of Christmas presents under the tree or have a refrigerator full of holiday foods. Some of them had very little material things of their own. But I convinced them that helping a needy family would be fun.

The weeks to follow were an experience I will never forget. Of Course Keith and I had the means to go out and buy food and gifts for this family and I could involve the boys in the delivery, but I wanted to have them do more. Our household had a limited recreation budget, that was to be used for just that, recreation for the boys. As the spirit began to ignite in their hearts they decided to donate their monthly budget to purchase gifts for the needy family. We baked cookies, made tree ornaments, took trips to the dollar store. I will never forget how I watched the miracle unfold as the spirit of Christmas, and acts of kindness melted these young men’s hearts and healed their wounds in the process, even if for only a few weeks. One memory that stands out most was of one of our most hardened young men. I had given them each a name of a member of that family and asked them to come up with something they could give, material or not, to that person. He came to me one afternoon. He was around 16, towered over me at 6 feet tall. He had adopted one of the family members, a young boy age 12. He humbly said to me, I want to do something for that boy because I remember being his age. He proceeded to remove a cross, on a chain, from his neck and handed it me. I held back a lump in my throat. It was imitation and not much material value but I knew it had sentimental value to him and he cherished it. I also understood that despite all the wrong he had done and bad choices he had made, this gesture made him feel good about himself. I handed it back and told him he would give it to the boy himself, when we delivered the packages.

When the time came to deliver, we piled into the company provided van, and headed into the worst and most impoverished area of Philadelphia. It was nighttime, and as we drove through the streets, Christmas music softly playing in the Van, there was a hush that overcame us as we witness out the frosted windows on that very cold winter night, dozens of homeless people, teenagers buying drugs on street corners and some even shouting to us as we drove by. A few of the boys who had been from this area were telling us to lock the doors and be careful. When we arrived at our destination there was some confusion as to exactly where the residence was and as Keith and a few of the older boys got out of the van with Santa like Sacks over their shoulders, a few people shouted from their balconies, over here Santa !! Finally safely in the apartment, a grateful family was blessed that night, and again I held back the lump in my throat as I watched our broken boys, administer kindness, although awkward, they did their best. It was a Christmas memory I will forever cherish in my heart. I think of these boys often. There were many hard times during the 2 years we spent working for community Service Foundation, it was not easy, but when I think of the boys, I remember this first and foremost. I truly hope that experience was a stepping stone toward a better path in each and every one of their lives.

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

Janet Lynn Egan , Dec 2015.

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Never Forget

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I was just settling down to start my workday as a property manager for a Long Island Rental Community. The Office manager was standing in her office with the TV on when my coworkers began wandering in to see what was going on. We shuffled around in shock over the next few hours, solemnly trying to do our work for the day and at the same time absorb what was happening. Needing to connect with those closest to me, as others did, I called them one by one, even though I knew they were not near the Twin Towers, nevertheless I needed to talk to them. First Keith at work , who was in Queens and was able to tell me what he and his coworkers could see from the rooftop of their building. Then my children and extended family and friends, checking to see if anyone had been in the vicinity and in danger. This was happening in My city. I was a New Yorker. A native, born and raised. I worked at that location in my younger years. I remember watching the towers being built. Later that day I hosted a coworker of Keith’s in my home overnight who could not get home to his own family. Delayed, stuck somewhere and displaced as so many were that day. I remember being glued to the TV all evening. And the next day and the next. But as things like this often are, it was surreal and it took time for the full impact of what had happened to sink in. Every year since then, I watch the documentaries, the factual accounts of that fateful day, the personal stories of the first responders who survived and of those who perished, those who saw the towers fall first hand right in front of their eyes, those who heard a few desperate last words from loved ones on the highjacked flights , and on and on. Every year I learn more about that day. Every year I try to understand why we live in a world where human life is worthless to some people. Every year I cry, and every year I remember, to “NEVER FORGET”.

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First Crush

 

First Crush

 

I am remembering a boy, named Gary, Fourth grade. I noticed a crowd forming in the lunchroom and here was the cutest boy standing on top of the lunch table singing I want to hold your hand (Beatles). Some kids came over to me to tell me he was singing to me.  I remember the butterflies and the feeling of walking home from school as if on a cloud. I was told he was going to come by my house with some other friends that day, to say Hi. I remember waiting, looking out the window, primping in the mirror of my Moms vanity as I waited. I remember him coming down my street, and my mom letting me go outside to say hello. Funny I have no memory of what happened after that regarding Gary. I guess the most memorable part was that first time feeling of being noticed by a boy and how special it felt.

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Sometimes childhood memories are just fragments of actual events. Sometimes they change through the years, are out of order, or exaggerated. 50 years is a long time. But here are some fragmented memories from my childhood.

I was five or maybe six, I think. All these events seemed to have happened at one particular place my family lived.

There was a lady downstairs. I don’t remember her face, only her kindness. Somehow she knew I liked salami. And she always seemed to have some. I remember standing in her kitchen and her asking me if I would like a slice. I remember feeling so special. Funny, salami, and not a cookie or something, but I loved salty foods over sweets as a child.

There were swings in the yard. I have memories of just swinging and swinging for hours. How I loved to swing. But I also remember the wonderful feeling turning into an awful fright and I would scream for my Mother. I could see over the fence in my yard, the street out in front. I remember an old lady, maybe Italian, sitting on a chair on the sidewalk across the street looking at me. Then suddenly I would sense a force trying to pull me off the swing into the street to the other side. I always seemed to be able to resist but the sensation frightened me so.

I remember the front door. It had one of those old handles that you had to hold and push down the latch with your thumb. I remember not being able to open it and again being frightened and screaming for my Mother.

I am not sure how accurate these memories are. They could actually have happened at different times in different places I lived but it seems to me they were all connected to one place.

Anyway they have stayed with me all these years.

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The Detour

The following is a satire. A creative writing class assignment I was given in 1998. It was not meant to make fun of any one particular person or group of people. Though based in partially true life experience of my own, names have been changed and personalities and situations are grossly exaggerated in order to create the satirical humor intended.

The Detour

By Janet Lynn Carlo

Originally Written, November 4, 1998

I remember trying to maneuver my car through the road construction leading on to the highway with one hand. The other was applying lipstick and checking my hair in the mirror. At the same time I kept glancing at the directions scribbled on the paper lying on the passenger seat. I kept thinking, “I hope I find this place. I still don’t know my way around this God forsaken Island. Maybe if I were able to get North, South, East and west straight I would do better.

Its funny how life is the most amazing Journey There are detours we must sometimes take on our course to fulfillment in life. My pilgrimage has been challenging. It has sometimes been pleasant and other times turbulent. Yet I would like to reflect on a rather humorous detour in my recent travels.

I am particularly thinking back a little more than a year ago.  In my car now, I can remember thinking “Oh! There’s the exit. Now what street is this place on?” I could not believe I was going to one of those Lonely Hearts Club Dances. “Maybe it should be called, Someone’s Tossed Aside Garbage, (STAG) Anonymous,” I thought.  In that case I would have joined a year prior. But I was doing better now. I didn’t want to sit around feeling sorry for myself. I just wanted to have some fun and make some friends.

As I pulled up to the Bar Is sat there staring. This is a dance, “I thought, “Am I actually going to dance? When was the last time I danced? At Aunt Gloria’s wedding with the kids?” I got out of the car and smoothed my outfit which was from K-MART’s Jacklyn Smith line. It was the best I could do at the time on my budget. “When was the last time I got dressed up?”  I pondered. As I approached the door my stomach felt like birds flying south for the winter. When I entered, two crusty ladies smiled behind make-up that I thought would crack their faces. “Hi! Welcome!  Are you a newcomer?  Do you have your ID card?”  They eagerly spoke. “Yes” I said reluctantly as I produced my papers and my five dollars. “Only members are allowed at these functions,” I thought. “At least it’s a safe environment.”  I gazed around the large room and dance floor adjoining the bar off to the left. It appeared to be the biggest collection of misfits I had ever encountered. I thought “oh well, here goes”. I’m going to give this a shot and hope to make some friends.”

The hours to follow were entertaining. Eventually I met a few people and merely rubbed elbows with a few others. First there was Cowboy Jim. He was 7 feet tall and missing his front teeth. He was quite a sight donning hat 10 gallon hat and boots to match. His story was that his wife had left him for his mother. He asked me to dance and I reluctantly accepted thinking, “ Oh God, is this the best I will be able to do?” Or worse yet, “does he really think I’m too fat and is just dancing with me to be polite?” Then, there was paralyzed Pete. He stood in one spot all night, arms glued across his chest as if to protect himself form intruders. I watched him grow roots under his feet and into the wooden floor, his eyes wide in terror as women asked him to dance and he chanted repeatedly, “I’m not ready, I’m not ready.”

As the evening wore on I attempted conversation, dared to dance a little and sipped my one glass of white Zinfandel, all the while thinking to myself, “Could I really make friends among this group?” As I looked around I saw an unusual bunch, all basically looking for the same thing. A sense of belonging and possibly someone to relieve the loneliness.  Above all, a place to go where others could relate to them and the baggage they carried. Without a doubt, baggage was a staple of everyone’s wardrobe.

Consequently, I was to spend a lot of time with this group of people. Aside from the dances were the rap sessions where everyone put his or her baggage on display for everyone else to review and compare. I sat through a few of these, keeping silent with no desire to participate. I listened to Bitter Betty  betrayed an battered, as she told her sordid tale of her grotesque Ex who beat her heart to a pulp and ate it for lunch. I also had a sad story but had no desire to be a prisoner of my past. I was finished drowning in a sea of pity like most others at these Ex-Bashing sessions.

In addition, there was the Lonely Hearts Club Extension Gang, the characters I began to hang around with after and aside from the organized activities of the club. These are a group of people I will call the traveling club hoppers. These guys were serious partner seekers who realized that finding their soul mate was not happening through the Lonely Hearts Club. They preferred to dip their toes in the sea of sensual sensations at the local dens of iniquity, Alias THE CLUBS. They sought out and kept each other well informed of all the spots that offered a 40 and older night, since all of us were over 40. We met at these  places and boosted our egos among the endless bodies of  Teasing  Terrys and Tactless Toms. Yet we all knew we were not going to meet our soul mates here either. I enjoyed watching some characters from our crowd at these places.. For instance there was Vicious Vicki who gave a whole new meaning to the phrase, a mouth like a sewer.” When listening to her talk one day I thought I saw rats running off her tongue holding their ears. She would stand alongside the dance floor gyrating to the music , skintight dress, cleavage pushed up to her neck below the angriest face I ever saw. It said “I dare any man to ask me to dance , I’ll kick his ass”. She wondered why no one ever approached her. Then there was Plastic Pete her sidekick. He never left the dance floor, but never looked anyone in the eye either. As someone I know put it, he was in love with himself.  He strutted around like a peacock spreading his feathers, his fake smiling face pulled up too high from numerous lifts. He looked like a mannequin. Another regular couple near and dear to my heart, were Deranged Diane and Stammering Sam. Diane never looked you in the eye either. Her eyes rolled around the room and back into her head an average of three times for every five minute conversation with her. Stammering Sam was a fun loving guy with a good sense of humor, if  you had an hour to listen to him tell a joke. They were a couple, sort of, depending on which one you asked on which day.

They were a peculiar group, to say the least. If the truth be known, I am probably better off having known them. As strange a crowd as they were, knowing them gave me the courage to come out of my comfort zone. As I stood in these night spots every night of the week I would ask myself, what am I doing here, acting like a teenager at my age?  However these people gave me a sense of belonging.  As far removed as I felt from some of them, they were the only friends I had, and I will remember them fondly for that. And strangely enough, out of this group, emerged a few not mentioned people who are now a significant part of my life. They were the few with whom I was able to connect in a way that people do when they discover through casual friendships, that they share some kind of common bond in their personalities and a relationship is born.

My own experience in the single world the second time around was an educational one. I learned how to weed through  Lying Larrys and Big Talk Bobs. I graduated from dancing with men who made my tummy turn because I thought I had to out of politeness, to saying, no thanks. I learned how to walk through the crowd of Gawking Garys within an inch of touching strange flesh without my skin crawling. My life has balanced out now and the Lonely Hearts Club was a brief detour down a road that now lies behind me.  Nevertheless, I will always cherish these memories. I will surely recall them when I need a chuckle to lift my spirits.

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I believe I can fly

Anyone who knows me will tell you I have a fascination with Birds and Butterflies. It’s reflected everywhere from my home décor to the jewelry I wear. It is not only the beauty of these creatures of nature that enthralls me but the fact that they have the ability to fly.
From a little girl I have had this memory of flying, in a dream, an imagining or a recollection of an actual event, I do not know. I have never been sure since I have been old enough to really think about it whether or not it actually happened but I do remember recalling the event in my mind year after year as if it actually did. I also remember recalling that this happened on more than one occasion in my childhood. The memory is of me deciding, as if I knew I had done it before, to lift myself off the floor in my home and float to just under the ceiling where I could soar around the room. The memory has always been so vivid but I have no recollection of when this event first actually took place, only that it did. I remember in my childhood pondering it in my heart and telling no one as if it were some special secret I held. Only when I was an adult did I tell anyone about it. As my life has gone on it has become more and more a distant memory of something left somewhere in my childhood. As an adult not only have I developed a love of flying creatures but of similar sensations as well. I have always loved roller coasters, parasailing, bungee jumping all of which I have tried and loved. I have great desire to experience hang gliding and a hot air balloon as well in my lifetime.
What is also interesting to note are the things that symbolically identify me as a person, such as needing to feel free to make choices that affect my life, not trapped or cooped up in any situation. I love to take leaps and risks and try and see new things all the time. I am not hesitant to take on something just because others may consider it impossible. I do believe that almost anything is possible if we want it bad enough. Spreading my wings and flying can be a metaphor used for a lot of ways in which I live my life.
Somewhere deep down in my heart I do believe I can fly.

 

 

 

 

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