My Mother was Catholic, My Father was Handsome…a Love Story

Mother & Dad

My mother was Catholic, my father was…handsome. The daughter of poor immigrants, and poorly educated, herself, this young girl of Irish/Italian heritage was looking for a better future. My father, too, was of immigrant parents, hard working, middle class, and Protestant. 

She wanted the love that an abusive father never showed her, and he, this dashing young tradesman, would give her that, and more. Still, she was Catholic and, well, he was a pool shooter.  Living in a flat above the pool hall he frequented, evenings would often find her purposefully loitering on the building steps, easy prey for his roving eyes.  Love finds a way…

Barely 19 and in a ‘family way’, she married him, probably to the chagrin of the family patriarch, and the local priest. After all, she was a Catholic girl and he…well, he was careless and cavalier.  In all likelihood, he was careless more than once, as six more children were added to the family tree in rapid succession. She was very Catholic.

Life was challenging for a young wife with five small children and an ‘old school’ husband who set the rules and expectations in a firm manner. Yet, for all the hardships endured, she worshipped him, depended on him for her well-being and her place in a middle class America. Besides, what were her options?

Their marriage endured, and only strengthened with time. My mother loved my father dearly and he relished his role as a strong family provider and leader. He was doing what was expected of him, then.

It was joyful, watching their love grow, an affair lasting 50 years. Life’s tough challenges were met and now behind them, and they basked in the comfort of their companionship, each one knowing the other’s pleasures.

And then, it ended. One morning, he kissed her goodbye, twice, went to work and didn’t come home. To the end, the handsome pool player fulfilled his vow to love and cherish, protect and provide.

The Catholic girl survived another twenty years, still in love with the same man but now adding God in her daily thoughts. After all, she was Catholic, and He…well, He was her Savior.

srbottch

Dedicated to my wonderful parents

Today, I Was a Kid, Again

Jack RabbitWhat an amazing place, Seabreeze Amusement Park*, where you can feel young, be entertained, exhilarated, energized and exhausted. I hadn’t been to Seabreeze in 25 years and now I’ve been twice in 3 weeks, thanks to my wife’s insistence.

Braving the Jack Rabbit and Bobsled roller coasters, surrounded by hordes of screaming kids with their arms skyward as we ascended and descended steep inclines, was like visiting the mythical fountain of youth. This senior citizen felt like a kid, again.

Flume Pants

Getting drenched on the Flume was like splashing in a giant puddle, but it helped take an edge off the hot, sunny day. Who cared if you looked as though you just wet your pants? No one knew if you soaked yourself from fright, sliding down the steep falls, or just from the splash when you landed, maybe both.  We wore the giant wet spot on our bottoms like a badge of honor, blending in with everyone on that ride, young and old, proudly parading around the park while drying our pants in the sun

Planes

Watching little kids on their tiny rides took us back to our days as young parents, ourselves, when we introduced our children to fun rides at this American pastime we call amusement parks. Enjoying them, we could easily see our two kids in the brightly colored ‘speed boats’, the ‘fighter rocket planes’ armed with front and rear guns, the ‘spinning teacups’ and ‘speedy’ convertible hot rod cars.

The encouraging calls of excited parents added to the kids’ thrills. Refrains of ‘again, again’ made me see our own children zipping from ride to ride, and, like a time machine in my mind’s eye, watching them grow again from dependant children to young adults, when they chose the scarier rides and thrills themselves. It was wonderful.

My wife, the adventurous type, urged me to take her to Seabreeze to ride the Jack Rabbit wooden coaster. I’m glad she did. We’ll do it again this year and every year. I might even get brave enough to venture on the WhirlWind, a ride that takes you on the ups, downs, twist and turns while spinning you in your seat. Then again…well, I’ll have all winter to think about it. And in Rochester, NY, that can be a lonnnnggg time!

*Charlotte, NY

I wrote this a couple of years ago but Seabreeze Park is now a regular stop in the summer. I still haven’t ridden the ‘Twirly Bird’!

Dedicated to my wife for her enthusiasm and youthful exhuberance

“My Front Porch”

Front Porch (1)

Forty miles west of Boston, in central Massachusetts, between the Berkshire Mountains and Cape Cod, is Worcester. It was good place to be a kid.  We owned a three family house there, a ‘3 decker’, a style exclusive to New England blue collar neighborhoods.

The big house had some fascinating features: a slate roof, windowed side porches, utility sheds on the back with access to outside turning clothes lines.           Front Porch (Clothesline)On wash day, everything from underwear to pillow cases hung from the backside of the house, drying to a fresh air finish in the feint summer breezes.

To me, the deep, wrap-around front porch with spindled railings, round columns and a narrow board floor was the best part of the house, a place in the hot summer months, where I could escape to relax, reflect and reenergize.

Front porches were common in New England, as gathering places for family and friends.  In summer, my porch collected morning dew that gave way to evening sunsets.  Daytime found the porch abuzz with children playing and adults relaxing with idle chatter over cups of hot tea, unknowingly making memories.

Overgrown forsythia and fragrant lilac bushes served as a wall of privacy, like a moat to a castle.  A pull-down shade kept us cool and dry from summer sun and rain.

Imaginations came alive as friends gathered on the porch to play or plan games. My body found a way to adjust to the stiff aluminum chaise lounge where I often settled in, to read on lazy summer days.  There, I muddled through ‘The Red Badge of Courage’ got lost in ‘Lord of The Flies’, with my own sea conch by my side, and hid ‘Catcher in the Rye’. Comic books were a favorite staple and napping was allowed.

The front porch of our home was a launching pad to juvenile adventures, where a kid could feel brave and safe.  But all good things end, as this did when my dad announced that he was ripping off the porch because it was in disrepair. I was devastated.

I knew, then, an idyllic chapter in my life had ended, as I pulled nails from the splintered boards that once made my porch.  I felt like an executioner.

But the memory of that porch and those times remains vivid.  And, I wonder, did you have a ‘front porch ‘ in your life?

srbottch

Today, I Shook Hands With a Naked Man…

Swimsuit

Today I shook hands with a naked man.  Okay, so it seemed odd as it was happening because it’s never happened to me, shaking hands with a completely naked man.  I’ve had the opportunity, but never the inclination.  Yet, today, it just happened in the most common way that two dressed men would do it. 

 “Hey, Steve, is that you”, he asked while reaching out his hand as a courtesy.  I responded likewise, with my own extended arm and hand, completing the traditional up and down hand shake…all the time maintaining good eye contact.

It had been several years since we last saw each other.  He transferred to a new health center, where I was today for a swim. So, you can imagine the exuberance in our encounter, spontaneous for him, a little less so for me. What was he thinking?  Then again, I believe he’s Italian. My mother, an Italian, herself, proudly described that ethnic group as a ‘touchy-feely’ kind of people.  There was no ‘touchy-feely’ today, as he stepped out of the shower and approached me before I could escape to the pool.  So, not only was he naked, he was dripping wet, as well.  

The encounter wasn’t quite the same for him because I was wearing a swimsuit.  He didn’t have to think, “Gee, I just shook hands with a naked man.”

His complete lack of modesty didn’t surprise me, at all.  Each of us had honed our locker room mannerisms in the manliest of locker rooms, an old gym with 4 man shower posts, not unlike my basic training barracks. The handshake was over quickly and we went our separate ways.  I headed for the pool thinking about the whole experience, while he went back to his shower with a spring in his step and a whistle on his lips.  I didn’t the have slightest clue how he felt about this odd exchange, nor did I want to know.

But, it’s experiences like this that help create the grand camaraderie and atmosphere in a men’s locker room.  So, while shaking hands with a naked man wasn’t terribly traumatic, it did make me take pause and think…do women shake hands in a locker room?

srbottch

Fishing For eels…

Featured image

Jamestown Island, Rhode Island, with its quaint namesake village, is forever etched in my memory.  As a young boy, I fished its rocky shores and enjoyed its New England character, with my father and a friend.

From the town beach, we watched crowded car ferries, criss-crossing Narragansett Bay, on their round-trip passages to Newport.  Nearby, in a flat-bottom rowboat, a shirtless, muscular man dug his long handled basket into the sandy bottom, searching for the hard shell clams known to locals as Rhode Island ‘quahogs’, later to be sold at market.

In our small boat, we drifted with the tide, bobbing rhythmically in ocean swells.  Our time and effort in the heat of day were rewarded with catches of shimmering mackerel, flounder, and bottom feeding tautaug, a fighting fish with big lips and near human-like teeth. The ocean is a depository of strange looking specimens.

Wading into the foamy surf, our legs wrestled with ribbons of silky sea kelp.  Underfoot, docile horseshoe crabs, ancient creatures of the seas, scatterred in clouds of sand when nudged. Terns and gulls circled above, constantly searching for food, and sprays from salty ocean waves dried our skin.

The island’s eastern end, Beavertail, tapered into the Atlantic and was guarded by the sentinel Jamestown lighthouse, with its piercing horn and penetrating light.  From here, we saluted naval ships returning to base from their missions, asea.

Jamestown Island, with its sandy roads meandering through tall grasses to hideaway spots at the ocean’s edge, provided a plethera of adventures.  None was more fascinating than the night we discovered a small group of Portuguese men fishing for conger eels from a cliff high above a craggy shoreline. Their twin lanterns cast long shadows that blended into the darkness below, and the roar of the pounding surf accompanied their cheerful silence.

Like Pilgrims, we were welcomed into their circle of friendship and taught the skills to catch these ‘monster’ fish, a delicacy to the men.  It was a peaceful place to be at day’s end.  Fishing can do that, calm the soul and make friends of strangers.

Late into night, with lanterns extinguished, the stars twinkled to life, and we basked in the theatre of the sky.

Who would think eel fishing could be so romantic?

srbottch

Today, I Threw Like a Girl

Baseball

Recently, I read a story about a baseball player, a ‘pitcher’ who’s unique because he can pitch effectively with either his right or left hand.  A major league team plans to give him a tryout and I hope he makes it because I know how hard that is, throwing both left and right handed. 

As an adult, I’m doing some simple things to challenge myself, physically and mentally.  I dance, memorize poems, write short essays, or ‘musings’, as my sister calls them. My latest challenge is to throw a ball with my left hand. It’s not simple, I’m right handed.  The muscles on the left, as well as the whole body action, just don’t flow as smoothly as on my right. They’re not used to it. they haven’t learned it.  They don’t have a ‘memory’ of it, yet.

You could say that I ‘throw like a girl’, a common refrain when I was a kid.  “Hey, you throw like a girl!”, was the charge. “Yeah, well so’s your mother!”, came the retort, as I ran. I’m improving, though, as I study my right side motion and try to duplicate it on the left.   Yesterday, throwing leftie, I zipped a rock against a tree and gave myself a ‘high-five’.  Soon, I’ll be able to pat myself on the back using that hand. 

Isn’t it odd how we often ascribe certain characteristics, or abilities, to genders; ‘throw like a girl’, ‘walk like a man’?  I think I’ve always known this, but my throwing exercise has confirmed it: doing something correctly is a matter of how hard you practice, not necessarily a factor of gender. Today, I watched a girl’s college team practicing for the upcoming softball season. They were learning to throw to the ‘cutoff’ girl from the outfield. Wow, they were good!  And the pitcher, she ‘could throw that speedball by you’.**

Today, I threw like a girl..,and was proud of it!

srbottch

**Bruce Springsteen, ‘Glory Days’

‘Today, I Wore Blue Jeans’

Blue JeansToday’s attire mirrored yesterday’s, as most days do now; blue jeans, or dungarees, as they were called when I was a kid, are my standard fare, now. Tomorrow will be the same, blue jeans.

Life changes when you retire. ‘Dressing for success’ isn’t a priority, just dressing is.  Casual Friday becomes casual week. Dress slacks, shirt and tie are the exception, jeans, the norm.  Sneakers are the new wingtips.

I can’t say that life in general becomes easier, but certainly picking out my daily wardrobe does.  Interestingly, there are just as many pants hanging in my closet now, but they’re mostly denim, not cuffed and pressed, but loose fitting to accommodate the slowly evolving physique of a slowly aging gentleman. 

The upper rack of my closet still holds too many dress shirts, but a keen eye reveals they’re not as pressed as they once were, when personal appearance was paramount.  And when they do need ironing, I’ll do it.  

Someone asked how many ties I have, now that I’m retired, and I realized it’s just as many as when I was working. But, strangely, I always seem to select the same two or three.  I should thin out my inventory, keeping the theme ones, of course. They’re always good for ‘ice-breakers’ at the Senior Center soirées. 

Retirement certainly has taken the edge off the regiment of daily routines.  A little bit of laziness has crept into my life.  It’s nice, I don’t worry about deadlines or quotas, customers or managers, or which suit to wear.  I don’t ‘take on the day’ anymore, I ‘partner’ with it.  ASAP and FYI are now replaced by YMCA and scratch-off tickets. 
I only pay heed to my world now. And it’s a small world. Dressing to impress isn’t a concern, just dressing is, as I keep reminding myself. And, blue jeans suffice.

By the way, when I do broaden my attire, Wednesday is senior discount day at my new favorite store, the Blue store of Goodwill Industries. Don’t you love helping others and getting a bargain at the same time?

Note to self: never be seen in mid-calf black socks, dress shoes and Burmuda shorts, even in Burmuda!

srbottch

Dedicated to all retirees who are kicking back, enjoying life and dressing down

A friend wrote: “…this is a true depiction…do not let this out the closet, it is history hanging on wires…”