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I have always struggled with comparisons.

Am I as smart as person X? What about the house I live in, is it okay? What about the life I have, the job I have? On and on and on.

Not a charming habit at all. I could blame a childhood living on the wrong side of the tracks (literally) or anything else I can think of. But, in fact, it is long past time that I learn to be grateful. Just that. And, I think I am learning, at least some rudiments of it.

Today I go for a PET scan and tomorrow I consult a specialist in liver ailments for the side effects of chemo treatment, not so fun. And I am not at all a sunshiny person. Well, I like humor, sort of semi dark humor, but that’s not sunshiny. Anyway, what can I think of? Well, I can be glad that the cancer seems to be tamped down, my oncolosit’s words. So, the PET scan should I hope, I hope, provide no negative surprises. Also, I am constantly amazed at the hopes of women on the advanced breast cancer sites. They are not whiners!

It’s not a group anyone would join willingly.

...But, it is a group I have joined and see every week. There’s age range and a mix of male and female. There’s a group leader. We talk and talk and sometimes we leave uplifted and sometimes we leave feeling worse than when we came.

If it sounds like an AA meeting, it isn’t. It’s a cancer support group and the goal of every person in the group is to stick around.

Everyone wants to be walking upright on this planet of ours, to write another book, sing another song, act in a play, or knit a scarf. Cancer changes the way a person thinks about time. Cancer changes every single thing in your life. So, we sit and talk about that. The group is varied. We have a range of cancers: lung, breast, brain, prostate, you name it; we all know something about all kinds of cancer from sharing our stories. We are older and younger, male and female, and we all try very hard to help each other. Many weeks I wonder what we have in common that took us to this place. Did we all drink from too many plastic bottles of water? Did we fail to exercise enough? What, oh what, did we do to end up in this group?

Ken is a gentle person. He rarely yells.

He expects decency from people and tries to reciprocate, but he does have his quirks. He CAN get angry.

Let him see a groundhog in our yard and he goes berserk. He’ll run out of the house, waving his arms and shouting. He’ll chase it until it scuttles under the fence.

“There,” Ken says to me. I stare at him. I don’t know what to make of this. Surely he knows he can’t win?

The Free Library is up at 1643 Broadway.

People are taking books, magazines and DVD’s.  They are leaving books and magazines and an occasional DVD. So, I am excited and happy. I have wanted to do this for at least two years since I first heard about it but I dawdled.  I checked online for prices. Not so cheap. 

This year, Ken said, “Do it.”  We are living  with gratitude. I am still here and pretty healthy for Stage Four Cancer.  Ken hired our great neighbor (who will be moving) Jan to dig the post hole and our grandson, a great guy who is living with us and going to college, made and painted the post. We picked out our library on line.  One summer day Dante, the live-in grandson, and Ken put it up. I was thrilled. I thought we should be dancing in the street. 

In the last blog post, "Getting Ready To Go Home", I suggested that I should have suspected things would not go easily.

We were travelling around southern Ireland.

But, Nooo. I was certain that once we were on our way home, life would be straightforward again. No more cringing when sirens went off. No more jumping at the sound of a blast. No more dread. Everything would be wonderful.

It’s true, the trip around southern Ireland was great, there was nothing to fuss about.

We overate on scones and soda bread and every high tea we could find. We examined The Book of Kells, sat in pubs unafraid and listened to terrific music.

Ten pounds heavier and sated, we boarded the car ferry to Liverpool.

Once there, we drove our car off the ferry and started the drive to London where we would drop off our car to be put on the ship and board for our dream, at least my dream trip, home.

The drive to drop off the car was not so easy. It was, in fact, horrible. Lots of roundabouts which we had not yet encountered at all. There was the London traffic, and finally a desperate searching for the right building at which to leave the car. I kept trying to find signs to help us. Usually it was too little, too late. I’d spot something, but Ken would have driven past by then. Driving with the steering wheel on the “wrong” side had been an issue ever since we imprudently took the car with us to Ireland. But on the country roads we drove on, the worst thing we encountered were sheep or cows. All we had to do was to wait until they crossed the road. So, the driving was not bad at all. London was a far cry from the country roads. At the first, pretty complicated roundabout, Ken said, “What’s that?” We had never seen one before. He managed it. What else could he do?

So, I made it clear after the guns clicked as we walked home in the dark.

I reiterated the message after we endured more bombings, one in which we lost a friend.

We were LEAVING! LEAVING ! LEAVING!

Ken said he didn’t feel that afraid.

He was willing to stay on for one more year. It was Ireland after all. There was great music, Guinness, and we could get to Dublin by train.

He argued that I was overreacting.

“Bombs, dead people, guns and soldiers; that’s what there is,” I replied. “I mean it. We need to go home. I can’t take this anymore.” Ken frowned. He had accepted a two- year position. Leaving was not going to make him any friends or look great on a resume. I was hard hearted about it. I didn’t think what the consequences for his career would be, what position I was putting him in.

I wanted out of Belfast. ASAP.

The week that I told Ken I was determined to leave, there was to be a general round up of all suspicious people. At least that was the rumor. Everybody was talking about it. Peter asked if we would allow him and his wife and child to stay with us. How could we say no?

I was done teaching at the country school.

Ken was busy working and I was beginning to feel antsy. I needed something to do. I decided to take a course in Irish history at the university. It was an enrichment class, not a regular university course.

We met after the regular classes were over. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the course was heavily weighted by the professor in favor of the status quo, British rule. “We’ll win,” he’d say. “ Just stay strong. We have the army on our side.” I stayed quiet, taking ideas in, trying to figure out what mattered so much. Why did the professor and most of the students (I was by far the youngest person in the class) want?...

...and was it worth all the killing and bombing?

The older women (there were a lot of them) were ready to mother me and take me to their side. They warned me against walking at night. They brought cookies to class.

They were really nice until I asked a question that suggested that maybe the minority Catholics in Ulster had a problem that was real, a problem the army couldn’t solve. (Not the smartest move on my part... 

...But I was a talker by nature and I opened my mouth.)

I was busy enough shopping, stoking fires, writing letters home, but I didn’t feel I was experiencing anything of the country (aside from the scary stuff of course.) Well as it happened, Ken’s friend’s father was principal of a small country school, just outside Belfast, and I had a teaching degree. No matter that it was not for lower elementary, not matter that I had zero experience, he was willing to take me on while one of his teachers was gone to have a baby. If I wanted the job, he could pick me up in the morning and drop me off in the afternoon.

An Irish country school!

It sounded exciting. Some of my romantic ideas might materialize. I pictured myself teaching. The picture was sort of hazy as a matter of fact, because I would be teaching a mixed class, grades one through three.

But, I didn’t let something like that interfere with my fantasy. I would be gentle and inspiring both. The children would listen and learn. (What world did I live in?)

before the kids came

Tell me what you used to do.

Our kids and grandkids want to know what we used to be like before we were mom and dad, GranMary and GranKen.

I think about that and realize that after the kids came so much of our life was consumed by getting from one day to the next with lunches packed and notes to the teacher in their backpacks that I barely remember what we did before the kids came. Then, when the grandkids came it was all about them. What were we like?

I want to remember and share the early story of our lives.

So the next few blogs will tell the story of one of our more "iffy" adventures. This adventure was way bigger than trying to walk from Cleveland to St. Marys. You might remember that story from the book. In those early years, I was ready to do almost anything. Almost is the key word.

johns backyard sI’m going to tell you the story of the Koral Kids and John’s pond. But you need a little background to take the story in. The first thing that helps to know is that the pond is in the back of the Cleveland house. (the same house I refer to in my book) It was designed and crafted by John, my husband’s brother. It is not big. It’s just a very small pond where the local frogs and deer take a drink. It’s rimmed by rocks. There is an owl sculpture off to the side. The setting is perfect. If you watch long enough, you will see the local wildlife: deer or chipmunks, birds taking a drink. At night, the raccoons appear and drink. John and his family have lived in the house with the pond for over twenty-five years. The beloved center of our Cleveland family life, is on Falling Leaves road. You can see the backyard view to the right.

It’s a tranquil setting, the kind of setting you read about in Better Homes and Gardens while you wait your turn in the dentist’s office. I don’t quite know how to describe the feeling of the place. Maybe ordered? I think the place is both welcoming and ordered. You do not expect the unexpected to happen in the house with the pond.

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