Archive for the ‘Remembering’ Category

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


“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


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


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.

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 (

2014 – Ten Random Thoughts on this past year.

January 4, 2015


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

zrs glo

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


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 –

Joy to the World

December 15, 2012


“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!”

What a Bunch of Cry Babies…

October 7, 2012


Hi – I’m Michael. I’m her baby.

That’s what my mother always said when she introduced me. I’m the youngest of four and Glo told my wife I was her best work. My mother never lied…

This weird image occurred to me late one night while she was in the hospital – shark teeth – a mouth full of shark’s teeth. Probably because of all the news of sharks on Cape Cod, but I thought about it for a bit. Sharks have rows of teeth, one behind the other, and when one breaks off another moves up to take its place.

With Glo’s passing, my brothers, my sister and myself are the front teeth now and I for one don’t like it.

That’s a lot of responsibility. Ads say people judge you by your smile and here we are – front and center – but Glo had confidence in us. She always told me that no matter how much we rebelled and tested her she knew we’d turn out all right. She said it was the Sargent genes.

We all did turn out all right. Now we all have families of our own and some of our children – Nana Glo’s grandchildren – have begun their own families – new teeth for the future.

She liked to point out she had grandchildren from A-Z …twice! My mother liked that kind of humor – bad puns and wordplay. Nana Glo knew that our kids would rebel and test us – She would tell me payback’s a bitch, knowing that everything would be alright. They have the Sargent genes, too.

I would like to add a word or two here from our other sponsor in the family gene pool,  Reginald – our father, but he had a hard time getting a word in edgewise in life so why should death be any different? – Thanks anyway, Reg and a tip of the chromosome to you, too. I know you too played a big part in our lives.

But this is about our mother and your friend and neighbor.  Gloria had thoughts and words for all of us; often not complimentary, but always heartfelt.

Let me tell you about her last few weeks. She had been truly sick for just a very short time. That first weekend visiting her in the hospital I saw how frail she had become. Just a week early I had come down to visit and I took her to the doctor’s office. She had a cough and Dr. Moncholi thought she should have a chest X-ray. We went over to Cape Cod Hospital and we walked all the way to the back of the complex for her X-ray. That was our last real walk, though I did push her around in a wheelchair to look at the art up on the hospital walls, which she could describe in detail.

When she knew that the likelihood was slim of regaining back her health and her independence – to garden, to go to craft shows and symphony, to fully participate in life. She decided that it was time – over all of our objections.

She knew what she wanted. Glo always knew what she wanted. She wanted water, but with no ice. She wanted to vote – Joe got the absentee ballot and she voted. She wanted to die.

She gave us all a moment or two with her. I read the obituary to her I had started and she gave me some corrections and additions. I read her the shell of what I’m reading to you now. I cried.

We all cried because we would miss her. She called us all crybabies and she took off her oxygen, laid her head back and closed her eyes. This was to be the moment. My mother can be an impatient woman, but her body didn’t get the memo.

So now she wanted to watch the debate and was going to watch the debate on her terms. You would only be allowed in the room if you were going to be serious. You had to be seated fifteen minutes in advance to get the chit-chat out of the way. You got shushed and waved off if you so much as cleared your throat. Midway through she fell sound asleep. Her body needed this, exhausted from the steady stream of visitors and illness. But the timing was perfect, she was being transferred out of the ICU to another room.

Awakened from the move, she watched to the end of the debate and clapped. Clearly, this was not for the president’s performance, but for achieving her goal – watching the debate. During the news that followed I noticed she paid particular attention to the weather. I’m thinking to myself how weird that must be – of all the mundane things in life we do, we still do them even with our last moments… She was checking out the five day forecast. Looks like a crappy holiday weekend, except for Friday – drizzle and overcast every day except Friday. My mother got wide eyed and energetically nodded her head in the affirmative each time the weatherman mentioned Friday in the forecast. Little did I know she was making plans, she always knew what she wanted.

We set up for hospice care in her home. The bed was delivered and Peter set it up in front of the slider facing the pond. My daughter, Addy, shopped for some food we could all pick at – She has learned a great lesson from her mother – even in the worst of times people need to eat.

The next morning, Thursday, we got her home in an ambulance with my wife riding in the back with her. Glo was having her own parade and Pam tells me she waved to everyone along the route. Hello, Goodbye! As soon as she was settled Jeff brought her cat, Nuit, so she could pat him. That was something else she wanted. She also wanted Nuit listed first in her obit as next of kin – he is.

Now picture this scene – My mother in a hospital bed in her livingroom, a couple of her kids or grandkids attending to her, hospice nurses doing paperwork, nieces and nephews catching up with each other, my daughter drawing up doses of morphine at the dining room table – and my mother’s gardener arrives with a diaper wearing chicken on a leash. Norman Rockwell never painted this family tableau.

My mother pats the chicken. We all talk about the chicken, the gardens, and what needs to be tended to – and life becomes normal for a minute. We begin making plans, we make jokes about the chicken’s nickname – Wee Willy Winky  – and we think we might be here for sometime – weeks perhaps. But that is not what Gloria wanted. She was not one to linger, when it was time to go – it was time to go.

I think about how she died. We were all in her living room. Her respirations were getting less and less deep, but she did not labor. I needed to sleep and I laid down on the loveseat next to her bed. What seemed like seconds later my wife shook me – I was snoring. I repositioned myself like I always do when I get the shove and went back to sleep. It was only a few minutes later when my wife shook me again and said, “Your Mom has stopped breathing.” I got up and brushed my mother’s forehead and looked around. Surrounded by her family, just as the first light of Friday broke, the only nice day of the week according to the five day forecast, my mother died.

She knew our future – she knew it was her time. I think I see some of what she saw. She had taught us our lessons and put herself inside all of us. She no longer worried. She would live because of the lives we live – and that our children live.

Think about it.

She gardened – We all garden. She has a house of knick knacks – We all have houses of knick knacks. She has cats – We all have cats. She liked to talk – We all like to talk. She was always right – We are always right.

So that’s what I see. We are her. She knew that. She knew things would be OK because she knew she would live through us, her kids and grandkids. We will garden, decorate and feed our cats and, most of all, we will love. Because she loved us.

I miss her. Who will buy me ties like this –  on clearance – in an art museum gift shop? I know I still owe her a thank you note…