Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Black Phone

In this day and age, cell phones are so commonplace, almost everyone has one. In fact, their use is so widespread, that many people have them as their only form of telephone communication. However, it wasn't that long ago that families had but a single telephone line into their home, and before that, the lines coming in were party lines. I am sure there are some young people that do not even recall party lines, let alone the purpose of the letters on the phone dial, except for text messaging. Anyone remember PRospect6-1520? Well, I grew up in a home with 2 phones, only when the "black phone" rang, it meant that the party was over, at least for a few minutes anyway.

My father practiced medicine in an era that predated pagers, and certainly, it was long before the arrival of cell phones. Consequently, he had to rely on the good old-fashioned, rotary telephone. When his office staff arrived in the morning, they would begin answering the phone, and it was understood that there was a lunch hour sometime between noon and one o'clock. Ordinarily, that was a time when no one would pick up the phone at all. Naturally, when his afternoon office hours resumed,the staff was responsible for picking up the phone. There were times when you thought the phone would literally ring off the hook. I can only imagine what was happening in the office at the other end of the line. By five o'clock most of the medical "fires" had been put out, the help would go home, but that's when the second round of fireworks would begin.

The ring tone for the black phone was quite different from the private line, so it was easy to tell them apart. However, there were occasions when the office phone would ring, and none of us would jump to answer it regardless of its importance, or the 2 phones would ring at the same time. Then what would you do? Of course, answering the black phone generally took precedence. Even as youngsters, we became reasonably adept at answering the phone and taking a message. As my brothers and I grew older and our angelic voices changed, it became more difficult for the patients, because they immediately thought they were speaking to "the doctor". The practical experience that my sisters received made them good substitutes for the office help too, particularly during vacations and on weekends. On occasion, I even remember my mother "practicing" a little curb side medicine, unsolicited mind you, when my father wasn't immediately available.

Since Alexander Graham Bell invented the talking wires, the phone has been a mainstay that has kept people "connected". Batman had the bat phone, Maxwell Smart had his shoe phone, but at Estes Street, we had the black phone. It served as a constant reminder that some of life's problems couldn't wait for the calming voice of reason or the professional guidance we all would want when we were worried "sick" about a loved one or for the office to open in the morning. No, the black phone was a 24/7 gig. It was as dedicated to its line of work, as the "voice" was on the "receiving" end. When the black phone rang, we answered, "Dr. S's home", and boy weren't we all glad he was!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Silence may not be so golden

Most everyone has heard the expression, "silence is golden", and recognize that it is used in circumstances where it is thought that saying nothing is preferable to speaking. Equally, the expression, "put your foot in your mouth" implies that being silent presumably would've been a better alternative to what was stated. We have all found ourselves in these situations, and the feelings that follow are, at the very least, unpleasant and at times, regrettable.

During one of our family summer vacations, I had a disagreement with one of my sisters, and I recall telling her that I was not going to speak to her for the rest of my life. As you might suspect, most siblings develop differences of opinion and perhaps opt not to communicate as a means of retaliation, and it sure beats the alternative. Parents then find themselves on the front end of a mediation process reconciling the two parties. Fortunately, we were at an age when we eventually worked things out ourselves. To this day, I am not sure what triggered the conflict, but the retaliatory behavior was far too punitive.

Now that I am considerably older, and hopefully wiser, I cannot imagine how different my relationship would have been with my sister had I never spoken to her again. I would not have: told her what a wonderful job she did in her senior play, congratulated her after graduating from Regis, stood up for her oldest son as a godparent, enjoyed and talked about the trips to Black River, Loma Linda, Grand Canyon, the BBMs, Rangeley, Estes Street, and blessed to have shared our work together at the office...the list could go on, as the list is endless. I cannot imagine just how empty that would have been, and thankfully, I never will.

As my sister celebrates her birthday, I just want to "say" with all my heart, I love you, and I am sure glad that I did not keep that promise many years ago. My life would simply not be the same, and for me, that would have been a tragic misfortune and truly regrettable. Silence, in this case, would not have been golden, but there is no doubt that you are. Happy Birthday sister, and I pray that we continue adding to the list...for many more years to come!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The "esses" of summer

Summertime is such an enjoyable time of the year. It is a time most of us look forward to with great anticipation, almost as soon as it ends and certainly soon after the first snow flies. What makes this season of the year so pleasurable? Well, after the cold winter and wet spring, the summer offers us a time to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. The summer menu typically changes to foods prepared on the grill, and above all, the warmth of the summer sunshine makes even a bad day seem manageable. Additionally, the "toys" of summer come out of mothballs, such as the camping equipment, golf clubs, and water craft, which simply expands the "playing field" for those of us who enjoy such activities.

Water has long been associated with health and healing, that's why many of us head to it at some point for some of our summertime fun. It offers healing for the mind and body against the toils of everyday life. Years ago, I was introduced to sailing, but over the last few years, it has, quite literally, "blown" me away with how much fun it is. There are many features which make it exhilarating, but being outside on the water, using the natural power of the wind to propel you, present a glorious opportunity to "cast off" from the dock and say "so long" to those worries of the day.

One of my friends who has coached me through the beginner stages of this learning process, takes several weeks of vacation each year, much of which is dedicated to "exercising" his own sailing skills. We in the running group have affectionately referred to his time off as his, "summer, sailing, sabbatical". When he shoves off from the dock, he says it as one of the most peaceful experiences one can have.

Yes, sailing is one of the "esses" in the summer, sailing, sabbatical, but most assuredly, it is a part of something even bigger. In fact, if you add just a few letters it becomes the "essence" of summer, and sailing is part of the "esses". However, for the diehards out there, anytime of year is a good time to go on a sailing sabbatical, wouldn't you agree?

Sunday, August 22, 2010


What is freedom? Well, the dictionary definition of FREEDOM is:
the quality or state of being free: as; a: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; b: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; independence c: the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous (Merriam Webster's dictionary).

Freedom is something to be cherished and has no price tag, unlike so many other commodities in this world. Unless you have lost it, or never had it, as in the case of William Wallace, you may not be able to appreciate just how valuable it is. As the Reverend Mother said in the "Sound of Music", "a person has to live the life they were meant to live", and without freedom, that is not possible. Freedom to live life, now there's something I believe in with both my heart and soul!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

At Least One Angel in the Outfield

"Angels in the Outfield" was a movie filmed in 1951 about the Pittsburgh Pirates who were suffering through a losing streak thought to be caused by the coach's bad attitude. However, thanks to the meddling of a reporter, the prayers of an orphan girl, and some help from above, the Pirates put themselves on the road to a comeback. Evidently, it took a combination of the proper attitude from both coaches and players, a fiery sense of commitment, and a belief in divine guidance to reverse the wheels of fortune. Where do you find such individuals? I am quite sure that I know where you can find at least one person who fits that description.

When I was growing up, baseball was an oft discussed topic at home. We talked about the Red Sox and Yankees but also some of those National league teams too, like the Cubs and Cardinals. Not only did we talk about it, but we were frequently found playing catch or going to the park to take some much needed batting practice. Baseball is a passion of my father's, and he has passed it along to his family, along with many other genetic traits. I recall hearing stories of his playing days in Iowa, both at Calmar High School and in college at the University of Iowa, but it wasn't until recently that I knew which position he played. He loved the outfield and played both center and right, but his favorite was center field. I believe his speed allowed him to cover more ground from center, making him more valuable defensively, but more importantly, I suspect that his natural instinct for the game made him the logical quarterback of the outfield. Yes, he must have had talent, as he earned a Freshman letter at the University of Iowa.

Although "throwing some leather" is frequently associated with superb defensive plays, in the case of my Dad's old glove, we used the term somewhat differently. Years after his career had ended, we'd come across his glove at the bottom of the wooden box in the garage, and instead of using it to play catch, we "threw" his leather to simply get it out of the way. It was one of those "old fashioned" gloves with all the fingers, just like in the movies. I am sure that we didn't recognize then that his glove was responsible for killing more than one rally in its day.

Hollywood made a movie about "angels in the outfield", but, in my opinion, the movie couldn't capture one of life's true angels, my father. One of his professional colleagues once said of him, "he's a saint", and I dare anyone to find a soul who would argue? Angels and saints, now they most assuredly have their place in heaven; so it would seem to me that he has guaranteed himself a lifelong box seat along with them, and no doubt it will be, front and center!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

August 15th, a date to remember

August 15th is a Holy Day celebrated by Catholics as the day of Mary's Assumption into heaven, and on numerous occasions, I can remember my parents rounding us up to attend church, regardless of where we were. Certainly there are dates to remember, and of course, there are "dates" to forget. However, August 15th of '67 and 1999 remain quite vividly etched in my mind because they contain some of the most memorable moments of my own life, and both involved rather lengthy trips.

In 1967 my parents had decided it was time to see the country, so they researched tent trailers and introduced us to the world of camping. I remember going with my father and many times with the entire family to look at the tent trailers parked at Malloy's on Route 125 in Plaistow, NH. Their homework paid dividends later on though, as they took us across country, and we were as green at camping as the "Monstah" is in Fenway. However, we managed to find ourselves in Yellowstone park on August 15th in the summer of '67 where we attended the feast day mass. After that service, my sister said, "I'd like to work here some day", and by golly she did. In fact, she lived not too far from Tower which was the campground that we stayed in during that very first visit to the Park. In those days, the bears would wander in and out of the camp sites with regularity hoping to scavenge some left overs, perhaps some of our "Dinty Moore" beef stew. All that has changed now, and probably for the better too, as the bear population simply grew too friendly with their biped relatives. As for the rest of the trip, it was truly one for the ages.

As sure as August rolls around each year, so do those fond memories of 1967, Herkimer, Niagra Falls, Iowa, Yellowstone via the Bear Tooth pass, and the Grand Canyon, so what could possibly match that memorable trigger? In a word, "Ironman". In the fall of 1998, my very dear friend from residency called me, and said we needed tho do the Ironman in Lake Placid, New York. After a nano-second of consideration, I said, "Let's do it". The 6-8 months of preparation were rewarded with a long weekend in Lake Placid New York, site of the 1980 Winter Olympics and the Miracle on Ice.

The race was on Sunday the 15th, so we enjoyed the dual nature of Saturday evening's vigil mass. The priest, who evidently was accustomed to having "world class" athletes in his congregation, invited all the triathletes onto the altar for a blessing during the service. What a moving experience that was, the family in attendance, anticipation of the Ironman, and having the good Lord on our side. Wow! Who wouldn't remember that day? After mass, we enjoyed some carbohydrate loading at Mike's for spaghetti and meatballs. The following day, of course, was replete with emotion, commotion, and locomotion, but some 14 hours, 16 minutes, and 6 seconds after the starting gun sounded, I circled the Eric Heiden oval and joined the ranks of the elite. My friend and I had become Ironmen, along with some 1500 other triathletes. What a great day to share with family and friends.

So, when I think of August 15th, I fondly recall these 2 anniversaries, the first trip to Yellowstone and the Ironman in Lake Placid. Both were experiences of a lifetime and obviously, not to be forgotten. One was a trip about time with family and the other was a personal "trip" for time, but both were timeless in their overall contributions to my life. My only wish is that I could turn back time and do them both again!

Friday, August 13, 2010

What "Bluey" and Friends have in Common

Outside of family, most of us have friends who provide support, comfort, or a social network that generally keeps us grounded in what is truly good in life. Although we may recognize ourselves as having many friends, most of us have someone special that we can call our "best friend", perhaps someone from childhood, a classmate from school, or maybe someone from our days in summer camp. Friends come in many varieties. However, sometimes a friend is not a person at all, but in fact, a friend may be a "something", yet it may possess all the qualities you'd find in a best friend.

When my niece and nephew were born, each had a personal baby blanket, one pink and one blue. After all, doesn't every newborn baby need to be wrapped in "swaddling" clothes and then placed in a crib at some point in time? Over time, the blankets would get laundered and then returned to their rightful owner, hopefully without missing a critical appearance at nap or bedtime. Some intuitive parents even have a duplicate to avoid the disastrous possibility of the eventual "MIA" nightmare. My niece recently misplaced her fabled "Bluey", and the fallout was similar to losing a best friend. Fortunately, once "Bluey" was recovered from its nesting place in the carrying case for the compact discs and the friendship was restored, so too was the world around the entire family.

In the popular children's Christmas movie, "A Charlie Brown Christmas", Linus addresses this very issue quite calmly when he says that he'll simply make his blanket into a sport coat, thus averting the need to emotionally outgrow its usefulness. Yes, Linus and my niece, along with a vast number of other young people, share a common "thread" when it comes to the relationship that they each have with that swatch they call their blanket.

Who knows why such an intense symbiotic relationship begins and continues to exist, sometimes well into adulthood. However, if I had such a reliable source of "comfort" as my niece has with her "Bluey", I suspect that I'd surround myself with friends just like she has. Remember what Clarence wrote to George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life?" "No man is a failure who has friends", and isn't that the truth? Friends and "Bluey" are kindred spirits in many ways. So, take friends wherever you go, never lose track of them, and they will always remain close to you!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How they broke the ice

The expression, "break the ice", generally refers to a method of conversation used by individuals who might feel a sense of initial awkwardness. Usually a comment about the weather or some whimsical quip comes to mind as examples. As you can guess, I have a story of breaking the ice that may just send a chill up your spine.

In 1971, the family took the third of our cross country trips, and this time the route took us through Estes Park in Colorado. What a majestic piece of real estate that is, with the Rockies soaring high above the basin's floor. Although we passed through in mid-August, the temperatures were in the mid to upper 40's, so many of us found ourselves bundled in heavy jackets. Some of us even broke out our winter hats to keep warm. The night before we made our final assault on the summit, we stayed in a lovely campground just below. It was chilly, so we delighted in having a campfire which isn't too common in August. Just below the campsite there was a beautiful mountain lake which my brothers and I scoped out after dinner, and one of them said, "wouldn't it be great to take a dip in the lake in the morning?"

Unfortunately, the overnight temperatures were less than accommodating for this little planned adventure, as they dipped below freezing. However, that did not deter my older and youngest brothers from venturing to the lakeside that next morning for a bone chilling, teeth chattering, jump in the lake. Although there may not have been measurable ice on the pond, it certainly rendered them "frozen" to the core after their crash and splash that cold August morning.

So, the next time you encounter an awkward moment, just think of these two crazy brothers of mine plunging headlong into this near frozen mountain pool for a refreshing start to their day. So be careful, because breaking the ice may actually be the easy part. As in the case of my brothers, it was the "shock and thaw" that they had to endure after diving in which really had them "shaking" in their shoes!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fore by Four

If you have ever played golf, undoubtedly you would be familiar with the warning “fore”. If a golfer hits a wayward shot potentially endangering another player, the common courtesy is to yell “fore”, hopefully averting any significant personal injury. Also, in golf, the maximum number of people in a group is 4, thus the foursome, so when it comes to the game of golf, those homonyms are used rather frequently. When I play a game of golf with any three of my siblings, the significance of “four” takes on a “hole” special meaning.

During Rangeley week, there is usually at least one outing to Mingo Springs GC for a round of golf. Over the years, we have played early in the morning, usually after starting the day out at the BMC diner for breakfast, or perhaps a twilight round when we tee it up, generally with just enough time to be walking down 18 to the setting Sun. We have played in the bright sunshine, the wind, under overcast skies, and even in the mist, but regardless, when you are not working and can be out on the links, that’s not too “rough” to take.

This year marked the first in many where my famous uncle and aunt were unable to join us in Rangeley, so they, along with one of my brothers who was still on the disabled list, we were unable to “par”take in the annual event. My sister, brother-in-law, a niece, two nephews, and two of my brothers all teed it up this year. Naturally, it is customary to have a little wager on the game, but over the years, the actual payouts have been nominal or not at all. And in the end, the purpose of this day is to enjoy each others company, more than it is about how seriously we play.

Yes, golf has been a consistent part of Rangeley week, although the significance has evolved some over the years. As the nieces and nephews have grown older, they have joined the fray, and there are occasions when even one round is enough to satisfy the diehards among us. However, we have created many fond memories at Mingo Springs, and that is definitely what "links" us together!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sailing takes me away...

Over the years, many songs have been written referencing sailing that have become popular for one reason or another. Rod Stewart, Chris Cross, Enya, and The Celtic Woman all have sung songs with lyrics that refer to this ecologically friendly, as well as relaxing form of transportation. With the summer vacations on hand, water activities most assuredly are part of the daily routine. Well, this year we had wind enough to make, even this neophyte sailor enjoy the whitecaps on the lake.

Three years ago, my brother acquired a sunfish sail boat for use on the local lakes and ponds of New England. He asked a resourceful next door neighbor where he might find an inexpensive sail boat, and when he said his brother-in-law might have one, my brother's ship had literally come in; the take it off my property and it's yours price was well within his budget too. After a little sanding, a few coats of marine grade paint, and a new set of sails, he had enough to make this vessel sea worthy again.

Typically during the dog days of summer, one might anticipate a paucity of wind. However, this year Mother Nature provided us with the wind to challenge our skills, and we made the most of it. Both at Wilson Pond and again at Saddleback Lake, we enjoyed some very healthy readings on the anemometer, enough so that there were white caps on the water. In spite of the "wind chill", it wasn't enough to deter our enthusiasm at all. It's not often that one gets to use the hiking stick on a sun fish, but thankfully, we had it under these circumstances because it was an absolute necessity. We crossed the ponds and lakes in what seemed like a moments notice, all the while enjoying primarily the sounds of the waves crashing against the hull. Naturally, we had the occasion to be baptized too, but that didn't matter because we were sailors.

After the nearly two weeks of vacation, we had to take the boat out for transport to its home base until next time. However, for a few hundred bucks, a little hard work, and the generosity of an individual, several of us enjoyed the solitude that makes sailing what it is, a modern day transporter. It allowed us to set our own course, utilize the tools of nature to propel us around those bodies of water, and escape the hectic lives most of us lead. Sailing does take you away, and hopefully, the winds continue until you come about to bring you home. Otherwise, you may just find yourself adrift, and that my friends would put most anyone into the doldrums!