Saturday, April 21, 2012

Some Oscars aren't so grouchy

Many of us grew up watching Sesame Street's cast of characters and through their collective behaviors, they taught us about letters, words, numbers, and a whole host of other valuable life lessons. However, they not only introduced us to those fundamentals, but perhaps more importantly, they passed along key insights into interpersonal relationships. For this reason, Sesame Street proved to be a leader in early educational programming. Oscar the Grouch was one of those characters, in spite of his pessimistic personality, but once you got to know him, he was as lovable as the rest of them. Well, I know one Oscar who favors his lack of celebrity far more than his on screen counterpart, and permit me to share my story.

I first met my friend I called Oscar years ago when we were freshman in high school while playing for the freshman basketball team. Over the course of the season, his round ball skills advanced while mine on the other hand, fell out of bounds. But in spite of our talent differences, our friendship grew, both on and off the court. We shared a number of classes together, but our athletic pursuits only crossed during the basketball season, as Oscar hit the gridiron in the Fall, while I rooted the team on from the stands. The annual Thanksgiving game, played against our arch rivals across the river, was held our Junior year under rather frigid conditions. The field was frozen, so the players opted to wear sneakers, instead of the traditional cleats. I had a pair of Chuck Taylor leather sneaks that were ideal for the tundra like track, so I loaned them to Oscar for the game. On a quarterback sneak in the first half, from our side of the fifty yard line, Oscar ran untouched to the end zone for our only score. I recall cheering for my friend running furiously in those "blue suede shoes", and with that scamper, he forever linked us in the lore of this annual clash.

In addition to the typical antics of high school, we were fortunate to have a mutual friend whose father loved playing golf, so our summertime activities would often take us to the links. We fancied ourselves better than average golfers, but the fellowship and laughs we enjoyed, far out weighed our talents. We learned about Little Joe's, Tres, golf etiquette, but most of all, we learned what is was to be friends. On one occasion, when I wasn't actually present, Oscar hit a divot right into the ear of one of our other friends. That particular incident is still brought up at social gatherings, even today.

Since those glory days, our paths have crossed far less frequently; however, whenever they have, the history between us allows the conversation to resume right where we left off. The quiet reserve of "middle age" has tempered those care free days of our youth, but through it all, the friendships remain. And in all the time I have known Oscar, I can honestly say that "grouch" would never have been used to characterize his personality. On the contrary, it might be more appropriate to think of the red carpet and that little statuette because he has always been the best. Happy Birthday JB!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Play Ball Fenway

When Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, replete with its famous Green Monster and storied history, opened its gates 100 years ago, few people would have thought that this grand old park would have been the center of attention for a city a century later.  Well, today the Fenway faithful, along with several generations of players and fans, engaged in a real life depiction of the "Field of Dreams".  It was as if everyone had "dipped themselves in magic waters", and today's celebration was a fitting tribute to a national treasure.

Congratulations, and thank you Fenway for your part in contributing to  a 100 years of history and for so many, those priceless memories!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Match made in...the Cemetery?

Likely, you have heard the expression, "a match made in heaven", and for those fortunate enough to have experienced this, it is indeed a true blessing.  Sadly, the statistics show that more than 50% of today's marriages end in divorce.  This may be quite daunting for those contemplating this next step of a relationship, however, for some, the prospects of a life shared together far outweigh the alternative.  Recently, my father shared with me a personal story of how his parents met, and for my paternal grandparents, the quiet surroundings of the parish cemetery provided an unusual but safe place to start their courtship.

Visiting the parish cemetery to view the head stones of relatives was not an uncommon Sunday afternoon ritual for my grandparent's families.  Sadly, my grandmother had several siblings succumb to the Diphtheria out break in the late 1800s, so her family made regular visits.  On one of those occasions, my grandfather approached my grandmother and that encounter eventually led to a first date and subsequently, their nuptials.

My grandmother died before I was born, but through stories and pictures, I have created an image of a grandmother I never knew.  My mother tells me that her most vivid memory was Grandma's unbridled commitment to her faith and family, along with her daily routine of bread making.  My father concurred, and also remembers her intense work ethic, milking the cows, if she had to, and her willingness to assist in the fields when harvest time arrived.  My recollections of my Grandfather are scarce, but he loved baseball and had the biggest feet of anyone I had ever seen.  My father claims he had such warm hands, he never needed gloves or mittens, even on the coldest of days.

When my great grandparents moved into town years before, they built their home directly across the street from the parish church, just so they could attend daily mass; my grandparents moved into the family dwelling, after a life spent on the farm, so they could do the same.

Although most of the memories I have of my grandparents have come second hand, they all seem quite real to me.  In fact, my grandmother would have celebrated her 122nd birthday, if she was alive today, and unfortunately, her life came to an untimely end when she was just 62.  When my grandparents met in that cemetery many years ago, it was a match made in heaven, and after all the stories I have heard about her, I am sure she is smiling down from there right now.  Happy Birthday Grandma!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Life before the Big Mac

How many times have you heard the expression, "back in the day"?  Generally, when individuals are referencing the past, they may preface their remarks with this lead in phrase, as it's a nice way to prepare for some sort of reference to the past.  Of course, it usually means that one of the parties involved may not have a recollection of the past event.  Many people may remember, but there once was a day when you wouldn't see the landscape dotted with those very familiar "golden arches" we associate with hamburgers, french fries, and happy meals.  Well, I remember the very first roadside stop for a taste of a hamburger with that special sauce, so permit me to retell the story.

While driving through southern Connecticut in 1968, making one of our family visits to Long Island, my mother spied the now famous golden arches and suggested we try eating there for lunch.  Evidently, she had read about this "new" chain selling hamburgers, french fries, and the then recently released, Big Mac.  As for my brothers and I, we were just interested in eating anything.  In those days, the Big Mac came in a foil wrapper.  The ad campaign that familiarized America with the Big Mac went like this:  "Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun", and I suspect that any of us who grew up with McDonald's can hear that little jingle in the recesses of our mind right now.

Little did we know that that afternoon stop for a burger would be part of the first million burgers sold, and who knows how many billions have been served since?  Over the years, my brothers and I have done our fair share to insure the future of Ray Kroc's vision, but what we didn't appreciate, of course, was just how those golden arches would eventually dot the countryside.

In the words of the "famous prophet", Ferris Buehler, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."  Those words couldn't be more true today, as it only seems like yesterday when there wasn't a fast food restaurant at every highway interchange or in every small town.    In fact, if we wanted one of those famous hamburgers when I was still in high school, my sister would have to drive us to a nearby community, because there wasn't one just down the street.  

Yes, life was simpler years ago, and according to my parents, it was even more simple when they were kids.   However, on the rare occasion when I bite into a Big Mac these days, I am reminded of my youth, and it tastes just as good now, as it did the first time.  Some things never change!