Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Hills were Alive with P I

Remember the opening scene from the "Sound of Music"? Maria, played by Julie Andrews, was spotted in a meadow high above Saltzberg singing the movie's theme song. The aerial photos and scenery were enough for me to have this destination as one place I must see in my lifetime. and of course, the music speaks for itself. In fact, when the movie came out in 1965, my Father and Mother made sure we saw it, so they took us to the "Showcase Cinemas" in Lawrence where we watched it for the very first time. It won several Academy Awards, and even today, it remains a classic among Hollywood's greatest musical productions. The hills may have been alive in Saltzberg, but "them thar hills" didn't have what the "O'Brien's hill" had, and that was the problem.

My sisters, brothers, and I had a wonderful sledding hill right in our own backyard, sort of; in actuality, it was part of the next door neighbor's yard. During the winter, it provided us with plenty of altitude for those snow dependent activities, but in the off season, it became a place to explore and set up "camp". There were trees and one grove of white birches where we had our pretend campfires. Unfortunately, forests can be full of "irritating" things too, and in this case, there was a rather generous poison ivy patch which accounted for a "rash" of issues for the whole family. After several encounters with the poisonous stuff, my father decided it was time to quite literally, take matters into his own hands. Many nights after work and on weekends, my father would cover up and take us to the hill where he'd pull as much of that nasty stuff out as he could. The only "Round Up" that was available in those days was rounding up the members of his work detail. He'd have us trudge off to the "hill top" where he'd pull the PI regularly in hopes of eliminating the rhus toxicodendron, something I am sure he learned during his days at Iowa State studying Forestry. Evidently, he was at least somewhat successful at getting to the "root" of this problem, as the ocean of lotion use declined thereafter.

We sure had lots of fun playing on the hill behind the house when we were kids, and to us, it seemed just as tall as the Alps must have been to the Von Trapps. It was part of our imaginary world, but if it hadn't been for Dad clearing out the PI from time to time, our little slice of heaven on earth would have been off limits to his "troop of angels". Thanks Dad. You were always there "pulling" for us and for that, we are and will always be "externally" grateful!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


When the movie "Cars" came out several years ago, it became an instant sensation with the kids. There were plenty of parents who thought it was quite entertaining too, so if the kids wanted to "replay" it for the "umteenth" time, it met with few objections. Lightning McQueen and his "motorcade" of friends provided us with a very clever story line about life on route 66. Over the years, the family has had its own "fleet" of cars with names and personalities, just like in the movie, so let me introduce you to the cast.

The first car that I remember was our pale green Ford Fairlane station wagon with its wood side panels and rear sliding windows. I remember once, being out on errands with my Mother and younger brothers, and an older gentleman stopped my Mother to warn her of the dangers of a dragging rope out the side window. She, of course, was unaware of the behavior that lurked from behind. As I recall, the floor had rusted through the rear foot well, so we could watch the road pass which provided additional entertainment for the passengers.

Our second family car was a pale blue Ford Galaxie sedan with those huge fins. I think it was a '58 or '59. What I remember about the Galaxie was that it was the car my Mother was driving when she had an accident while driving through one of those famous rotaries in Massachusetts on her way home from Grandma's. Evidently, a semi entered the traffic circle at the same time and quite literally cut her off, or at least the front end of the car that is.

The long list of cars included another Ford Fairlane wagon that had the dubious distinction of being the car with "flat tires". On a trip to Canada, this noble beast had the misfortune of having 4 flat tires, enough for any car. However, in those days, there were no steel belted radials, so what would you expect anyway? Additionally, while preparing for the 1964 trip to Encampment, this car was the site of the "chop heard round the world". Chasmo dropped the split middle seat onto Shamus' foot nearly severing his big toe. My reaction, "Charlie cut Jimmy's toe off", and fortunately, that was an overestimate. However, near misses weren't uncommon for the brothers and me.

After the Ford series, my parents moved on to Catalinas from Pontiac. These cars took us across the US and Canada on the family trips, which were trips of a lifetime for all of us. Then we moved in to the "Chevrolet" era with the Suburban and then the gray van, also known as "Johnny's Truck". Dad ended his "wagon train" career with the Chevy Nova wagon whose legacy ended as a hand me down.

The Galaxie sedan was retired and replaced by the Ford Falcon. The Falcon could be filled up for a mere $3, and also made the cross country trip in 1967. During that trip, the "Falconistas" would wave the white handkerchief to signal that it was time to get out the walkie talkies to confer on plans with the others in the mother ship. The Ford Torino replaced the Falcon, and its license plate, MD 3291, made it a walking advertisement for Dad's "Black Bag". Dad was always keeping a close watch over this for obvious reasons.

The chapter on the Fords closed with the introduction to the AMC Matador. What's a Matador, you say? That was the tag line from their ads anyway. That car survived at least 4 drivers, and that's no bull. The AMC chapter was very brief, because it was replaced by the Pontiac Lemans and ultimately the Chevy Nova. This car served Chasmo as his transportation to Lechmere for several years before it died painlessly on Route 93 while driving back to Malden Hospital in the fall of 1985.

Over the years, there were some personal vehicles that need mentioning. The 2 Pontiac Firebirds, Nellie Belle I and II lead that distinguished list. But the car that was known as the "Libido" Gremlin still ranks first in its class academically. This car made it to Graduate School at Clemson, then it went on to study South of the border in Guadalajara for medical school, and finally completed its training at the Malden Hospital. Because of a little thing known as "emission control standards" it finally failed its last test which led to a "premature" end. Since it didn't pass inspection, the Gremlin had to be retired. The only fitting way to pull the plug on "Libido" was to have a party, which we did. In fact, "Libido" quite literally tipped its hat on the final ride, as we cut the roof off to make it our first convertible.

So, to the cast of "characters" in this " drivin' " movie who collectively provided us with more than a million miles of "roadside assistance" and vehicular pleasure, thanks!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Put the spark in your golf swing

Harvey Penick wrote a series of books on golf, "The Little Red Book" and "The Little Green Book", that were filled with educational tips on golf, as well as insights into life. I remember after reading them, that golf, like many activities, should be fun, but the real bonus lies well beyond playing the game itself. However, while I was sifting through his instructional nuggets, I realized that his book wasn't totally complete. I believe there are a few lessons and observations from my "experience" that just might complement his time honored tutorials.

The first observation that I made was that playing a round of golf takes a remarkably inordinate amount of time. I believe this is why my father never really picked up the sport. My Uncles gave him several sets of their old clubs, trying in earnest to get him to become a convert to the game. However, with 8 kids nipping at his heels, it would have seemed more logical to pick up the clubs and head off to the links. But, my father, being an avid baseball player, made the choice to stay with his first love and introduce that to his children instead. Besides, even if he had enjoyed golf, I honestly feel that he would rather have spent his time the way he did, on his field of dreams.

And whatever became of those old JC Higgins and Spaulding golf clubs my Uncles passed on to my Dad? Since he wasn't using them, we started swinging them when we weren't playing baseball. We'd hit whiffle golf balls around the yard or frequently go over to Follansbee's/Messner's field to "tee" it up for some real live tree golf. One day while perfecting my swing out in the driveway, I realized that, if I swung the club just right, I could create a spark when it skidded across the pavement. Naturally, I practiced this for hours to get it just right, otherwise it would hurt like heck when I hit the driveway. I am quite sure that Mr. Penick didn't have his disciples doing this, but it sure proved to be an excellent drill. As you'd have predicted, those clubs acquired a certain used look about them after several years of "practice".

Although these two gospels of golf are rather comprehensive, there is absolutely no mention of either of these very fundamental concepts. The technique I personally developed may never become mainstream thinking for golf lessons, and I am completely comfortable with that. Good ideas don't always make it to the forefront. However, taking the time teaching a game you know and love and passing it to your children, that is the priceless lesson here. Perhaps that is the underlying tenet that all good teachers are able to share with their pupils, regardless of the subject matter. Although my Dad never really played golf, Mr. Penick would have admired his accomplishments. He always had a good "grip" on things, his "practice" habits were unparalleled, and if he had to yell "four", he always did it twice, just to be sure all "8" of us were included. Thanks Dad for keeping us on course and in the short grass!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Being a has "Ben" isn't so bad

Generally when you think of someone who's a has been, you think of an individual who is no longer in their prime, or maybe just someone who is OTH (over the hill). Ordinarily, this particular depiction may not be too flattering, wouldn't you agree? Well, while I was listening to NPR this morning on my way in to work, I heard a segment that may just change your perspective on a has "Ben".

The US Treasury is evidently releasing a new rendition of the $100 bill because counterfeiters have been able to duplicate the bill so well. Unfortunately, we live in an era when the criminal mind believes that "making" money the old fashioned way isn't good enough. Of course, the advances in various technologies have made it increasingly more difficult to prevent this illegal behavior, so the only way to stay ahead of the criminals is to alter the currency periodically.

If one considers a has been as someone who is past their prime, then I suppose the 1996 edition of the Ben Franklin adorned $100 is now a has been too, as it will likely be taken out of circulation in favor of the newer version. However, if I had a $100 bill in my pocket, I could be considered a has "Ben" too, and that sounds more like money in the bank to me. You know, I just might enjoy being known as a has "Ben"!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Soup for the soul can give some a bad feeling

Have you ever had the the occasion of eating leftovers long after a holiday feast had been enjoyed? When we were growing up, nothing ever seemed to go to waste, so if the leftovers could be made into an edible meal, my mother would find a way to make it happen. We had casseroles, turkey/chicken ala king, or ratatouille, but to us, they were only names to disguise those interminable foodstuffs. Finally, when we thought that we had experienced every food creation possible, Mom turned the remaining morsels into soup. Soup can be a welcome alternative, and it's nice when you are feeling ill, but sometimes soup simply lacks that medicinal element. In fact, it doesn't always go down quite as smoothly as you'd think.

Several years ago, my mother put together her "leftover" soup from the last of the holiday turkey. By the time she was ready to "boil it down", you can only imagine that there wasn't exactly a generous portion of meat left to be consumed. However, with the proper "doctoring", she managed to concoct a meal, and achieve the ultimate goal, finish off the turkey. Well, it all went off as planned until Dad happened to get one of those small turkey bones with a bite. Fortunately, it didn't compromise his breathing, but that's when the dinner came to an abrupt end. It true form, neither he nor my Mom panicked, and off to the hospital they went.

After the assessment in the ER, it became evident that the only way to remove the stuck turkey bone was to retrieve it under anesthesia in the operating room. Of course, since Dad was a local practicing physician, he knew all those involved with helping him out of this dilemma, so he trusted them, without reservation. However, for my mother, she finally broke down with fear and became nervous about the outcome. On the way up to the operating room, she said to my father, "Charles, I have a bad feeling about this." My father, on the other hand, remained his calm, collected self, and he reassured her that he'd be just fine. Thankfully, the entire staff took care of him as if he was one of their own, and in this case, he really was.

There was a scene in "The American President" where the President (Michael Douglas) was having soup at Sydney Ellen Wade's condo (Annette Benning) when he apparently encountered a smaller but similar fragment of inedible bone. He navigated his way through this minor glitch in the soup mixture quite smoothly. Of course, he was the President, "the most powerful man in the world", and it was a movie. For my Dad, it may have been slightly more dramatic, but he handled it with the same aplomb and confidence that he has handled so many other obstacles in his life. As for Mom, she "survived" this episode too; just like the innumerable ones that preceded it and the many that have followed. I guess that's how couples survive life's ups and downs together, and in this case, what didn't go down, had to come up!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Marathon Monday

Patriots' Day is a civic holiday commemorating the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord fought on April 19, 1775, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. It is observed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and state of Maine. Observances and re-enactments of these first battles of the American Revolution occur annually at Lexington Green in Lexington, Massachusetts, (around 6am) and The Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts (around 9am). In the morning, a mounted reenactor with State Police escort retraces Paul Revere's ride, calling out warnings the whole way.

The Boston Marathon is run on Patriots' Day every year so many Bostonians know the holiday as "Marathon Monday". The Boston Red Sox have traditionally been scheduled to play at home in Fenway Park on Patriots' Day every year since 1959. Since 1968 the games have started early in the morning around 11:00 AM. The early start to these games usually resulted in the game ending just as the marathon is heading through Kenmore Square. However, since 2007 the marathon has started between 9:30 AM and 10:00 AM, resulting in the racers going through Kenmore towards the middle of the Red Sox game.

Having run in 4 Boston Marathons, 1986, 1987, 1996, and 2000, I can tell you first hand that the atmosphere in Boston will be absolutely electric. As you can see, there is no paucity of activity, whether you would like to relive some of the nations history, or perhaps become part of history, it is entirely up to you.

When the first Patriots fired the shot heard round the world, I am sure they weren't giving any thought to what would be happening 200+ years later. To the Patriots and the Founding Fathers, I salute you; to the Red Sox, thanks for 2004 and 2007; and to the men and women toeing the line in Hopkington, run like the wind and have fun. There is nothing quite like running the Boston Marathon, and "remembah" to drink plenty of "watah", take lots of "pitchas", then "aftah" the race, have some "pizzar" and a cold "beeha"!

Friday, April 16, 2010

You should always leave room for dessert

Remember the old TV show, "Leave it to Beaver"? Mrs. Clever generally had a snack, typically milk and cookies, waiting for the "Beaver" when he arrived home after school. Sound familiar? I suspect that most of us had similar childhood experiences. However, if it was getting closer to suppertime, I know my mother ordinarily told us that we had to wait for supper, otherwise, it would spoil our appetites. I suppose this could have been considered an early form of food rationing, but growing up in a large family, sanctions on portions were an everyday occurrence anyway.

Although snacks can be quite tasty, for some reason, the idea of dessert just has a different kind of appeal. If my mother had planned to have dessert after dinner, she usually would inform us ahead of time. After all, knowing that we were having a sweet num num after dinner, well, leaving room for dessert didn't seem that difficult. If the dessert was one of our favorites, that made it all the easier too. I particularly loved her apple pie with a little vanilla ice cream from the A&P. If we didn't have homemade, my Grandmother usually would bring an apple pie and maybe a chocolate mousse cake from our favorite bakery, Lyndell's. If Grandma was responsible for the dessert, of course, she would have to bring enough for everyone.

As active as we all were as kids, I wonder how we restrained ourselves from having those seconds. That was precisely the time in my life when I could afford the "extra" kcals. Now, when I shouldn't be consuming the extra calories, I don't leave room for dessert, but I indulge myself anyway. What is the logic in that? Perhaps we should all take a page out of our childhood and leave room enough for dessert. I have said this before and I will say it again, we shouldn't eat every meal as if it was our last, but that is going to take some real convincing to get people to buy into that one. How about a little more exercise to justify those extras? I could sink my teeth into that one, but that's something to which you can be sure few people will subscribe. Maybe we should simply change it to "make" room for dessert, because we are likely to do so regardless. And that brings up another problem. How do you remember to spell dessert? There are 2 "eses" in dessert, because you always want 2. Anyhow, that's how the nuns taught me to remember it. The temptations never end, do they?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 15th can be quite Taxing for Some

When I was in the the first grade, I had my first exposure to the tax man, Zacchaeus. He was a rather diminutive character who had climbed a tree in order to capture a glimpse of Jesus when he came into his town. I don't think that his being a tax collector made as much of an impression on me as his climbing the tree, but as I recall, few people cared for him. That was one of the talking points from the story, and even then, few individuals really were enamored with the tax man.

Here we are some 2000 years later, and the thought of taxes still causes angst for some. Of course, if you have paid your estimated taxes or had an adequate amount withheld from your paycheck, then April 15th is merely the date to have had your taxes filed, so you could be enjoying that tax refund already. However, if you are like most households, tax day means, it's time to ante up and pay Uncle Sam. I only hope that the taxes we pay go to good use, and that our legislators spend it as if it was their very own hard earned cash.

Yes, April 15th is synonymous with Tax Day here in the US. For some, it's just another day at the office, while for others, it is a day of high anxiety and lots of money shuffling. It can be a crazy day indeed, especially if you make your living as a tax accountant. As for me, today was a day off, and this year at least, I didn't worry about my taxes because they were long since filed and paid. My only deadline is to get this blog published before the "moke of stridnight". Otherwise, I'll be penalized for publishing it too late and may have to file for an extension. No, those rules don't apply to blogging, only to paying your taxes; and thanks to the Patriots and the Founding Fathers, I may just have a cup of "tea" before I call it a day!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I nailed it

When I was a preschooler, I remember being quite fascinated watching people fix things, especially jobs that involved carpentry. I suspect that most kids have the same innate curiosity, but I believe my interest had more of a genetic component. My grandfather, who was a carpenter by trade, undoubtedly influenced my mother who in turn provided the inspiration for her children. After years of hand sawing full sheets of plywood, I recall actually giving my mother a Black and Decker power saw for Christmas. I figured that I could make my life easier when the request for another set of shelves to be built came "across my desk". However, what good carpenter wouldn't know how to use a hammer? You are absolutely right, not one. Well, I have story to tell you about that.

Remember those little wood benches with the wooden pegs and hammer that kids used to play with from playskool? In the 60's it seemed that every youngster had one of those multi-colored objects in the toy box. You would put the pegs in and pound them through until they popped out the other side. Exciting stuff for a 2 or 3 year old. What possibly could be more exciting than that for an aspiring young carpenter? The real thing of course. My mother must have been quite courageous because she equipped me with my own tool box complete with a hammer and plenty of nails to practice my skills. The only thing missing was a place to hone those talents. I had the perfect arena for this little activity, the back yard fence. I spent hours pounding nails into the fence rails while my mother watched from her perch in the kitchen. When I ran out of nails, I'd simply start removing them and start over. If there were "real" carpenters at the house, oh boy. Not only could I watch them, but if they weren't looking, I found myself going to their "bag of nails" as well.

All of these observations, followed by the numerous questions, and then practicing simply helped me with one of my not so hidden passions, woodworking. I don't know whether it's the beauty of the finished product or partly just the enjoyment of working with my hands, but having an idea, then seeing it come to "life", sure is rewarding. And wood, with its odor right after being sawn, its intricate grain patterns, or its rich colors, now that's "delicious". Maybe that is why my high school shop teacher nick named me "the termite". Whatever the case may be, I have always loved woodworking. My passion for it started long ago, very simply perhaps, because "I nailed it". If you guessed that, then you'd have "hit the nail on the head"!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Signs of Spring

After a long, cold, snowy winter, I am quite sure everyone is eagerly looking for a break in the weather. In fact, one might even call it a "spring break". The signs of Spring are all around; the crocuses and daffodils are popping up, MLB season is underway, and the professional golfers are playing at The Masters. For most of us, these are the signs indicating that Spring has sprung, and boy how rejuvenating that can be. However, as we have turned the page of the calendar to April, the attention to outside activities captures our focus, and that only means one thing. The indoor tasks now will probably have to wait for a rainy day or be resumed later in the Fall.

When I was a kid, Spring meant that it was time to change from snow sports to field sports which meant putting away the toboggans and sleds and start thinking of baseball or getting out the golf clubs. However, for my mother it meant that it was time for planting. Oftentimes, my mother either went to Knapp's or Cherry Hill nursery to start the annual ritual of beautifying the yard. She'd have us unload bales of peat moss and what seemed like an infinite number of flats containing pansies, petunias, and geraniums. Occasionally the plants didn't make their way to the ground right away, but once we received the "final" ultimatum, we had little choice but to start digging. Mom was the field lieutenant, and we, including my Dad, carried out her landscaping strategies. I must say, however, she always was the benevolent taskmaster, so if we were successful in our efforts, the "yard boss" would reward us through her work for food program. Eventually, she gave each of us our own area of the flower bed to groom and cultivate which has proven to reap huge returns for all of us.

Yes, Spring is a time for planting, yet the results of the hard work can sometimes take more than just a season to realize. However, with the proper instruction, the right mix of nutrients and care, then followed by a generous dose of sunshine called TLC in this case, the end result can certainly yield a beautiful garden. Thanks Mom for having such a "green thumb" and the patience to help cultivate the in residence gardeners to their full potential!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter, a Basket Full of Memories

Easter Sunday was always a much anticipated holiday when we were growing up. Of course, it marks the end of Lent, and this meant that it was time to turn in our Lenten Mite boxes. We undoubtedly had spent more time in church during Holy Week than at any other time of the year. My sisters would likely be getting new dresses and hats for Easter Sunday services. However, even though Easter is the most sacred of holidays, we were going to be placing our baskets out for the Easter bunny, a tradition that dates back to the 1700s with the German settlers to Pennsylvania.

Unlike Christmas, Easter generally was associated with much less pre-holiday preparation. My sisters, brothers, and I would set our baskets near the fireplace the night before, and except for a few nick knacks my Mom put out, there was very little else done in terms of decorating. Given the nature of the day, that was just fine.

There are several things that come to my mind when I reflect back on Easters past. Following the traditional Sunday church service, we would likely head to "The Hungry Traveler" on the beach road for brunch. Sitting down with the entire family was quite literally a miracle in the making, because we oftentimes did this with several families. If we didn't go out for brunch, then the monumental task of feeding the masses fell on the shoulders of the hosts and their guests, the original BYOB (bring your own brunch). When my grandparents were living, we could always count on them to come for the big family sit down dinner.

An Easter celebration wouldn't be complete without the annual Easter egg hunt. Provided the weather was accommodating, this would have been an outdoor activity. There were lots of brightly colored eggs and some even had some cold hard cash.

In all, the day would typically have been filled with plenty of family oriented activities and a few "cream" filled eggs. The balsa wood airplanes, kites, bubbles, or other trinkets provided a seemingly endless amount of entertainment. The decorated eggs, which we prepared so carefully, weren't wasted either, as they made for some interesting colors of egg salad which we brought in our school lunches later that week. Yes, Holy Week was capped off with an Easter celebration that more than made up for the sacrifices of Lent. Yes, Easter was and still is a day for rejoicing!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Family Curse

There are some things that are explained by science, some things by happenstance, and of course, there is the familial component, the genetic link. Often times we think of medical illnesses as being inherited, but in the case of saving stuff, I think I can make a case for it being genetically linked or perhaps the family curse.

Recently, my brother and I did some cleaning at his house, as he and his wife were doing a major home renovation. As part of that project, they replaced the floor in their kitchen. The old floor boards eventually found their way into the dumpster, headed for the landfill. It killed me to see those beautiful maple floor boards heading to a "premature" grave, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Many of us are consumed by stuff, even when there is no immediate utility in sight. Often times, the stuff gets in our way and even costs us money to maintain or keep, but we simply can't part with it. I once spoke to a manager of one of those storage unit businesses, and she informed me that most of the stuff that people harbor in their storage lockers is not even worth enough for charity donation. Well, the idea of discarding that maple flooring was more that my conscience could handle. So, I found myself convincing my brother to reclaim all that discarded flooring, so we did.

In my local community, we have a Habitat for Humanity Restore, and they do just what we did, only they do it under the guise of salvage. They have made a business of reusing "gently" used goods and reselling it to benefit this worthwhile organization. It is a wonderful concept, generating money from stuff that was destined to fill our landfills. Some might even call this recycling.

Well, now that I have all of this out in the open, I must confess that it gives me more pleasure just not seeing this stuff end up in the trash than actually seeing it put to use. Perhaps this is a function of not wanting to see things wasted, or more likely, having too little time to put it to use. Regardless, maybe the next time I am about to part with an "interesting" object, I will confidently look at it and toss it into the trash. No, I possess this rare recessive genetic characteristic which causes me to suffer from the family curse, so I probably will find some lame excuse for not parting with it. As I get older, I only wish I could recapture all the time I have wasted over the years, because that is far more precious than all that stuff. Ooh, but if I had the extra time, then I could do something with all that stuff!