Archive for the ‘Remembering’ Category

Thank you, Betty Smith Beaumont

July 16, 2018

 

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Can you hear the laugh?

(approximately as read at Betty’s Celebration of Life Party) My name is Michael Smith – no relation – I went to high school with Betty. I sat behind her in homeroom for four years and we were in a couple of the same classes. We were in Drama Workshop together and I worked on some of the plays Betty starred in back in the day. I wouldn’t say we were besties; we shared homeroom, theater and a last name.

Betty was a star. She had an amazing voice and could actually act, I’m sure we have all been to enough high school musicals to know how rare that combo truly is.

Even rarer was Betty’s ability to not act – to just be her red-headed self with whomever she was surrounded by. She didn’t put on airs. I was in awe of this ability – it was high school, when so many of us were nothing but hot air – trying to figure out who we were – and Betty was, well, just Betty.

A quick story: One day in homeroom I was busy not doing homework again. I drew the half a face that I always drew (why half? – because it looked deep? – no – I just could never draw the other side to match) and penned these words next to the drawing: “Cold hearted orb that rules the night, remove the colors from our sight, red is grey and yellow white. And we decide which is right and which is an illusion.”

Betty turned around, looked at the picture, read the words, and asked if I wrote them. Hmmm… I had to think about this for a minute… she seems impressed… and technically it was me who “wrote” those words on the paper… and nobody had ever heard of the Moody Blues anyway… I said yes.

Two days later Betty called me out. She also had an older brother who introduced her to the latest British bands. I was busted. The guilt I felt was overwhelming. I knew at that moment I blew with her. All the plans I had made for our lives together destroyed. Did I mention this was high school? The value of honesty was a lesson Betty helped teach me. I’m sure this is also the moment that probably freed her heart to find her true love – John.

High school went on, “Knights in White Satin” became a number one hit, and in the uncaring cruelty of the alphabet I still sat behind her – embarrassed. At least I didn’t have to look her in the eyes. She starred in more shows and, to my amazement, she still talked to me. In 1973 we graduated.

It wasn’t until the creation of Facebook that we met up again. Betty put up the “WRHS Freakin’ AWESOME Class of ‘73” page for a class reunion – Betty was the Freakin’ AWESOME glue that held that page together. There I realized she was friends with all kinds of people from our class – obviously, the kids who did theater and the kids from Princeton… But also the kids who did sports… and the Future Homemakers of America kids, and the preppy kids and the science kids and the angst ridden poet kids – Everybody! Betty was very democratic (small “d”).

So when I was messaged to join this group online my guilt about trying to woo her with pawned off Moody Blues lyrics came back. There isn’t much I remember about high school, but I remembered this. I couldn’t join unless I came clean so I messaged her with the apology I should have uttered decades ago.  She replied she had no idea what I was talking about.

That’s when I realized Betty had another lesson for me – be in the moment. Don’t dwell on the past – don’t obsess with the future.

My contact with Betty mostly consisted of reading her Facebook posts to our class or the many pictures and posts of her children, their families and Beaumont Technologies (Yes, I did read those papers about plastics). She was a relentless fundraiser for Team Millie. All this and the occasional cheesecake shot of some hunk in a kilt without his shirt on – or even less.

I would send her shots of anything “Beaumont” when my wife and I travelled – streets, hotels, bars – anything. She would talk about going to her book club, going to the lake house, going to see “A Prairie Home Companion.” It was that last bit that gave me one last chance to sit behind her.

She knew my wife and I also enjoyed the weekly radio show and emailed me to see if I was planning on seeing the Tanglewood show live – and did I know it was to be the last show before Garrison Keillor retired? Well, I did now, so of course we were going, and yes, I knew somebody who could get tickets, and sure I’d be happy to get a bunch so we could make a party of it…

The somebody I knew no longer belonged to the BSO so she didn’t have that early ticket access – so I joined. Betty was one of those people you just don’t want to disappoint. With tickets in hand we picnicked with family and friends on the lawn and prepared to enjoy a great show.

Funny thing is I had know idea she had any health issues. At Tanglewood I had mentioned that my wife and I had begun to travel because of a diagnosis that suggested we should do it sooner rather than later. Betty asked a few questions and said something about another disease to look up. We are all getting older and conversations can quickly descend into simply listing the current aches and pains. In the moment, Betty passed me some goat cheese with blueberries and a beer.

In retrospect I’m guessing she had been trying to understand her own disease process and to make sense of it all. Trying to make sense of it all is something I struggle with. You never know how each of us plays a part in the lives of others, but we were there to enjoy tales from Lake Wobegon, and that we did.

After many encores we all headed our separate ways. We vowed to get together again. I butt dialed her a couple days later – we both laughed.

I want to thank Mary Bee for keeping us, people of the Freakin’ Awesome class of ‘73, informed. I know it must have been hard for you to announce your mother’s passing to a bunch of strangers on Facebook. You had a great Mom who played a part in all of our lives.

In the theater there are many sayings – one is “There are no small parts, only small players.” Betty was never a small player. Though Betty only played a small part in my life, she had a profound effect on a quirky high school kid by just being civil and gracious. How profound an effect? I have a cat named Betty and my daughter’s middle name is Elizabeth.

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It was Forty Years Ago Today

February 7, 2018

sgt married

It was forty years ago today
When Pam came down the hill to play
We’d been going out a little while
It was guaranteed she’d make me smile
So let me introduce to you
a love I’ve known for all these years
Pamela Dolan the nurse I met through the band…

We’re married now and still like to hold hands
‘cuz in ‘78 we enjoyed the snow
We’re married now and still like to hold hands
So sit back watch our romance grow
We’re a married couple, we’re a married couple
We’re a married couple who still hold hands

It’s wonderful to be here
Our life is still a thrill
She’s more than just an acquaintance
we love she made a home with us
She made us all a home

I don’t really want to stop the snow
Because I thought she might like to go
and the blizzard kept piling on
And our love kept keep growing strong
So let me introduce to you
My one and only Pamela dear
The girl I met at a club with the band

What a piece of Work…

January 1, 2017

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“What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!”

– William Shakespeare – Hamlet – Act II Scene 2

Emotional whiplash might be the catchphrase for this holiday season. Let me share a few examples. About a week ago I started work dressed for ugly sweater day, to get a laugh and looking to enjoy the outlandish attire of my coworkers.

Not even fifteen minutes later, I changed into an 11th century lord’s dress because my 21st century ugly outfit was a millennium off for recreating a medieval tournament in our pod. After pouring my energy into the lesson and watching my kids cheer each other jousting on blow-up horses I ended the school day exhausted, but satisfied.

Those were both easy. I had to change one more time that day for an event that evening in Boston. Not for a laugh or exhausted satisfaction, but to mourn at the dedication of a ghost bike for my nephew, Bannon on the spot where he suffered a tragic accident a few weeks earlier. This time the outfit was nothing formal – jeans, a warm sweater, and a hat my wife knit. I wanted to blend into the crowd of people gathered to listen to the minister and the other speakers. I cried. We all cried, some for the passing of a fellow cyclist and others for loss of family.

That was a lot of changing in one day. How about an example of emotional whiplash that took all of a minute? A few weeks ago my day began very early with the phone ringing. From peaceful sleep, to anger that my wife must be being called in to work (what else could it be?), to shocked disbelief when Pam handed me the phone with my sister sobbing “Bannon’s been in an accident,” to being hyper-focused on what to do next.

Consider the changes my sister went through getting that call even earlier that morning, with Christmas presents waiting under the tree for Bannon; all that anticipation and excitement ripped away by the unimaginable. She would later generously re-gift them to his friends.  Devastated, but pulling it together enough to take care of her shop’s payroll. Wanting to be alone with her grief, yet bravely taking me out to lunch knowing she will run into people who want to hug her and awkwardly share her sorrow. I am in awe of her.

I think of the people I know whose children have died and I realize I am in awe of them as well. They have learned to continue, to allow themselves to have a good laugh or a good cry and to go on doing the mundane tasks of life. Slowly, they seem to have found that these things do not diminish the memory of their loved one; they survive the soft tissue damage from their own emotional whiplash by living life and cherishing the times they did have.

Maybe this isn’t what Shakespeare had in mind, but what a piece of work. We change and change again, sometimes on the outside and, more often, on the inside. Emotional extremes reveal the marvelous complexity and adaptability of being human and what lengths we will go to to support each other. Here’s 2017 and hoping that no one has to learn this lesson first hand.

2015 – It’s a Wonderful Life

January 1, 2016

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I turned sixty this year, threw myself a party, and waited for some age old wisdom to inhabit my noggin. I’m still waiting on the wisdom, but in the meantime I took a look back at my “2014 – Ten Random Thoughts on This Past Year” and I am proud to report I got the dumpster mentioned in #4 and I read the Billy Collins book in #9. I was so enthralled my wife took me to see him read at Harvard’s Sanders theater – wow, that’s a place to see! Turns out the stuff that sticks in my less than perfect memory isn’t the things newly acquired, but experiences great and small.

In 2015 we experienced snow – crap loads of snow. From January 8th to February 10th school had 5 snow days and three 2 hour delays. Worcester won the title of “Snowiest City in the US” – crushing perennial favorites Rochester and Erie.

Enough shoveling! By March we needed a break so an impromptu weekend visit to DC while our son was working there for a few months. We rode up the Washington Monument to rise above the snow, but the highlight of this trip was a dinner. We had no idea the BLT steakhouse was serving what the Washington Post called  “The Hope Diamond of Beef”. We went full wagyu and after the meat orgy was over there were no regrets.

Come April, with many promises and apologies from management, my wife decided to stay in her job (see “The End of an Error”). With that settled, she took Addy to photograph Charleston and I chaperoned some 8th graders to not speak French in Quebec.

Mountview graduated another class just in time for the Smith Family Big Alaskan Adventure by way of inheritance a gift from my mother. From our cruise ship base we tried everything – trains, seaplanes, jet boats, regular boats, kayaks, dog sleds, helicopters, hiking, and earthquakes. I saw whales breach, glaciers calve, and big smiles on my family. A few favs: Addy becoming a sled dog’s new BFF, Zach calling out “derp” from his balcony to the sea otters, and my guarding the entrance to a snow trench at Base Camp #1 high on Denali so my wife could pee at 11,000’.

My children paid me back with some adventures of their own – Zach took me to Fenway to see Pedro get his number retired and Addy to see Parks and Rec star Nick Offerman. I also experienced with great pride with the courage they demonstrated starting down new paths – Addy returning to school to start a nursing career like her mama and Zach taking a new job with a biotech start-up in Boston.  

For our anniversary Pam and I headed up to Lake Sunapee for the New Hampshire Crafts show, renting a little cabin. The show was great, as always, but it was the unexpected antique boat show the day we were leaving that was the highlight.

Sprinkle in an odd trip into Boston only to end up sailing on the harbor and catching James Montgomery on the Blues Barge; include a random visit to my sister in Wickford, R.I. after cutting greens at the reservoir that turns into a Christmas shopping spree and add a “do you have anything planned today?” road trip to Walpole N.H. in search of the holy grail of chocolate (L.A. Burdick’s) and finding wine, art and alpacas along the way and 2015 was what my wife’s hats, sweatshirts and a few tees say – “Life is good.”

As I write this it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m sitting in our room at the Intercontinental Hotel with my wife catching a nap before the midnight fireworks. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is on the TV and the Bailey family is singing “Auld Lang Syne.” We just had a fabulous meal at Mama Maria’s and what I remember most so far is walking the North End holding Pam’s hand. I’m one lucky guy. Hey, maybe some wisdom did creep in!

What’s in your garage?

June 5, 2015

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What’s in your garage? Maybe your car, but we cram so much other stuff in there sometimes that doesn’t even fit. The garage holds all of our crap – the trash cans, some tools, clothes you cleaned out of your closet but haven’t made it to the donation box with yet, a badminton net, some just-in-case wood scraps, the lawnmower, the snowblower, and sometimes, maybe, the car. The beauty of the garage is when you close that enormous door you’ll look as neat and organized as everyone else on the block even though it’s a mess inside. Maybe that’s why Bob and Scott chose the garage as the place to end their lives. These two people are as different as people can be yet they both picked the place where we put things when we don’t know what else to do with them as the spot for their suicide. I wish they both had had Mr. Brackeen for high school biology like I did. He was someone we all took very seriously because he was the only black guy in a white on white suburban school. He had been in the service; he had been in the South and he knew stuff – not just about biology, but about life. He scared us and we listened when he spoke. He asked us one day what we hoped to accomplish if we committed suicide. He knew we all had thought about at least once because we were all full of teen angst. It’s what we did. Do you want to punish your parents? Your girlfriend? Yourself? He said we would succeed in varying degrees. Did you think killing yourself would save them all the trouble your very existence seems to cause? Maybe, but he didn’t know our stories so he didn’t know for sure. There was one thing he said he did know for sure – if you did kill yourself someone was going to come and have to clean your sorry dead ass up. Someone you didn’t know. Some firefighter, some cop, some EMT, some stranger that did nothing to you now will never be able to erase from their memory the image of your lifeless body and all those fluids and other gross things that will leak out of you. Mr. Brackeen knew because he had been a medic in the army and saw stuff. I listened. In the crush of depression I thought the only way to stop the pain was to end it all. Then I would recall what I learned in that Bio class: suicide was really a moment of arrogance – that moment when ending my personal pain was more important than the devastating memory I was about to inflict on some innocent strangers called to clean me up. I couldn’t be that guy. That idea was stored in my head by Mr. Brackeen and I thank him. In time, I learned to tidy up my garage just enough and every so often I let go of some of the odd bits and pieces when it gets too full. The easiest way to clean it is to open the garage door and use the leaf-blower, but “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” so maybe a yard sale would be in order. But really great things – like what Mr. Brackeen taught – should be on the curb with a “free” sign on it. Because then maybe Bob and Scott would have picked it up and saved a lot of people a lot of hurt.


Need more reasons to not do it? 1-800-273-8255  – No matter what problems you are dealing with, they want to help you find a reason to keep living. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

For my friend Bob Collins: In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Worcester Animal Rescue League, 139 Holden St., Worcester, MA 01606.

For my student Scott Elms: In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Scott’s name to the Wachusett Greenways, 21 Miles Rd., Rutland, MA 01543 (www.wachusettgreenways.org)

2014 – Ten Random Thoughts on this past year.

January 4, 2015

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2014 was packed with many tales for telling, but who has time for that? Instead here are Ten Random Thoughts that came to mind when reviewing 2014…

  1. I am fat. I now get red-faced when I have to bend over to tie my shoes because I can’t breathe. And because I have no ass (Irish) my expanding, descending gut beats the pants off me. I’m considering suspenders (braces) because a belt doesn’t have the staying power I require while allowing for digestion. Exercise you say? Yeah – I’m thinking about it in between choosing snacks, but new methods for holding my pants up seem more likely.
  2. How are there no manuals for adult children? I love my kids and 2014 had some serious ups and downs for them. When they were little a tickle or a treat could fix most anything. Now I don’t know what to do, but still want “to make all better.” I know I can’t – but that doesn’t stop the frustration.
  3. Travel often, but not too often. This past year every vacation from work was packed with travel – Iceland, Durango, and Wales. I know I can be a whiner, but maybe we did too much. In the rush to check off our bucket list, we too often forgot to just be in the moment. After a day of piloting a canal boat in Wales, we moored and walked over to the lake alongside the canal. We sat on the shore eating dinner and feeding ducks while the sun set. It was glorious. We could have dined lakeside most anywhere, but here was an unplanned moment that was complete – no distraction from tomorrow or yesterday. Stop and smell the roses…? Yeah – do that.
  4. We sold my mother’s house this year. So many things in it were imbued with the power of time travel. One minute I’m nine proudly presenting a nicknack made in art class for her birthday, then I’m fourteen and embarrassed by the finger cymbals for belly dancing and then seconds later in my fifties wistfully passing the salt substitute. Sorting the house out I realized just how few treasures realistically could fit into my own crowded home and how many “rare” collectibles could be found on the shelves of a TJ Maxx. Note to self – get a dumpster.
  5. Drugs – Just say YES. Love ‘em! Without the M&Ms (Mestinon and Methotrexate) my wife would be encased in a floppy, lesion covered body. Drugs give her body the chance to act like most other bodies the age of hers. She gets to walk around, comb her hair and bitch about the aches and pains of getting old. Without these drugs I have no idea what her world would be – what my world with her would be. Easy to pick on Big Pharma, but there are success stories too. I love my wife, so I say thank you for giving us this time. And a shout out to the fine folks at Dana Farber. We are privileged to be holders of their blue card, opening us to a world where I feel lucky to have a naturally balding head and my wife wears a hat just because its cold out.
  6. Facebook has made me realize just how many of my friends have come out of the Libertarian closet or now rely on Jesus – or both. To quote the Byrds – “I was so much older then, I’m younger then than now.” I was a Libertarian when I was 20 and, at age 13, I respectfully decided Jesus had things to say, but with no more authority than Einstein or Gandhi. Sadly many of my Facebook friends are filled with vitriol for those who don’t hold the same beliefs they do. I disagree with so much of what is posted, but since it is from people I mostly like I listen, only occasionally pointing out factual errors. To quote another musical source, John Mayer, “Is there anyone who ever remembers changing their mind from the paint on a sign? Is there anyone who really recalls ever breaking rank at all for something someone yelled real loud one time?” I like to believe most of us have come to our world view through serious thought (I’m a glass half-full guy).
  7. This is the year, in my mind, I officially become an old guy. I’m turning 60 and I hear my conversation spouting things like “back in the day…” and the ever engaging “kids today…” Time – I need to make more of that because there may not be enough to read all those books and visit all those places I want to. Highlights include scheduling my next colonoscopy and wondering if that twinge is just the effect of some worn out body part or a sign of the big one…
  8. An aside to my many conspiracy minded friends: Washington is truly run by just out of college, Redbull gulping,  over-achievers trying to do everything anyone asks them to do. There is little coherence to what they do, much less diabolical plotting. Most political scandals are not a glimpse of some deeper secret, just a subordinate making a poor, sleep-deprived choice trying to please a mid-level bureaucrat who is trying to meet some misunderstood short-term metric and get that bonus.
  9. My wife and I got a shelving unit as a Christmas gift. I started moving the unread books that are stacked around my family room on to it. Books purchased with noble intentions to enlighten and entertain patiently wait for me to crack them open. I used to read constantly, now I fall asleep constantly. Looking over my choices I opened a collection of poems by Billy Collins – damn, that’s some good stuff. I need to get out more and into some books.
  10. People are important to me. Making up this list made me think of so many things and so many people. I know how it feels to be excluded so I don’t want to be that person. So please know that thing you did – yeah, that thing – still makes me think of you… yeah, you.

Birthday Deathday (for my son and my mother)

October 5, 2013

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There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza dear Liza…

Well, fix it dear Henry dear Henry fix it…

              Really, Liza? Fix it?

Under that hole is a little baby bucket

drinking in all the stories and admonitions

– filling up

    to spill over

         to the next and the next

watering the garden

         – crybabies.

             Liza, don’t be a bitch – it’s not all about you

the universe needs that hole!

Happy Birthday, Glo!

May 10, 2013

My mother is 90 today. Happy Birthday! Sad to say it’s the first time I’ve had the date right in my whole life. Late cards and phone calls, always the excuse of trying to double up with Mother’s Day, knowing it is always right around the corner from her birthday – anything but on time. One year I was so late she made me write her birthday down and repeat it. It helped, but not too much. You would think I’d be better at this. I have reminders everywhere. This year I’ve got just the right cards for both celebrations and in plenty of time, but I’ll keep tradition and not mail them. After all, she’s not there to receive them anymore. And let that be a lesson to the rest of you – Call your mother – NOW!Image

2012 – Buh-Bye

January 2, 2013

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2012 – Yeah, it’s over. Now if you would only stop talking to me. I made the list of your pros and cons and on paper you look pretty good, but it’s just not working. You can’t get much more romantic than putting that French accent on everything and it was working for a while. Quebec, New Orleans, and France from Paris to Nice – those were the good times, lots of adventures in semi-exotic locations. Remember all the foods we tried?

Emceeing the 10th annual MINIsOnTop in a tux with a checkered vest to add a touch of class to the event while Pam added a touch of fireworks, yeah – more good times. Really, it seemed like we had something going. We took I-don’t-know-how-many pictures, but we kept 12,647 of them.

The gardens bloomed, the frogs in the pond – the best ever. And the turkeys were plentiful and up to their usual antics. The kids? How ’bout the kids? Addy and Zach are both great. Their lives are chugging along and they let us join them once in a while. Could we hope for more? Sure, but at least we all still talk – better than some. And politics? The elections went pretty much the way I wanted…

So what’s my bitch?

2012, you took my mother, my aunt and any illusions of youth. That’s a bitch with an accent, n’est ce pas?

*cartoon via Tommy Monster – http://www.tommymonster.com/2012/03/father-time/

Joy to the World

December 15, 2012

Caroling

“Evil visited this community today,” Gov. Dan Malloy said at a news conference this evening.

I’m watching this: 20 children shot, 6 adults shot, the shooter dead. I don’t know what to do with this information. The TV shows our president. He cries – he’s a father. I’m a father and a teacher. I know what a classroom of kids look like. I know what my children look like and, thankfully, I don’t know this evil.

I don’t know what a classroom of terror looks like – blackboards, desks and floors shiny with the blood of innocence. I don’t want to know. Ever. I think of the time on TV I saw a boy the same age as my son pulled from a river  – limp after being caught under ice – and how shaken I was. The same bib overalls and blonde locks; so easily it could have been my son, but for place and time. I cried and can’t erase the image – and that image wasn’t bloodied. On the news a child said her teacher told her class to close their eyes and hold on to each other as they were led from the building.

Why would anyone visit this horror on anyone? Mad at your mother? Yourself? I get it, but what arrogance consumes you to take the lives of those to whom you have no connection? To destroy their moms and dads, their nanas and grampies? You took their lives, too, you prick. I only want to understand you enough to stop you. You’re a coward – pure evil with no excuse – I will make no attempt to sympathize. If you wanted me to “get” you, then you lose – fuck you.

I watch more news in more horror. What has the world come to?

My doorbell rings. Really. Now? Who could it be?

It’s a small group of my 8th grade boys singing Christmas carols. These are kids that didn’t get shot. They’re kids who just took a test I gave them. Kids who studied and some who didn’t. They’ll play ball, open presents, have families and, hopefully, never experience this kind of loss. They got to live.

I listened to them sing and thanked them for taking me away from the news, back to my neighborhood, to Christmas time, and the joy of family and friends. I am reminded of just how lucky I am.

I gave them candy – handfuls each. I want to thank their mothers and fathers, their nanas and grampies for having children with the courage to sing at my door – a step to counter the evil that visited Connecticut.

This is what I want to hear next on TV: At a news conference this evening a teacher said, “Pure joy visited this community today!”