This is an old blog post from a previous blogsite. What makes this piece so special today is that back in 2012, I asked my dad's permission to share it. He read it, wiped his eyes, and said "mmhmm."
DAD & DAUGHTER (2012)
Reflecting on the man my boys refer to as Papa, I get a little sentimental...
Once my siblings and I could walk and talk, he didn't have that paternal instinct of caring embraces and encouraging words. We had to simply believe that his love existed and that his pride was buried in the silence of his ironically gentle eyes. We clung to pictures of him holding our baby bodies; we beamed like gold-medal winners when he offered an uncharacteristic comment or pat on the back; we lived for his approval and acknowledgement; we loved him so much, so deeply, still do.
At some point I learned how to relate to my dad. It was in college when I was living on campus, even though the campus was only a half-hour away. It was after one of those laundry weekends, when a friend drove me home with my loads of wash, and I visited and did laundry and ate Mom’s pasta. Dad drove me back to school on Sunday. In silence. I’m not exaggerating. Those thirty minutes felt like thirty hours. We seriously did not speak, and it wasn’t because one of us was angry or sad or depressed; we didn’t have anything to say to each other. I don’t remember what year I was in, but I remember something hitting me. As usual, I yelled up to a friend’s dorm window and got someone’s attention to come down and help me out as Dad moved the baskets from the trunk to the ground, and I picked them up and brought them to the dorm entrance, and as I called out, “Thanks,” he waved a hand, never looking back. He doesn’t know how to do this! YOU know how to do this, but he does NOT know how. He can’t, Geralyn, he just can’t! I rushed to the car before he could get in; I gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek and said, “I love you, Dad.” His reply was an uncomfortable, “Mmhmm.” But I saw it. Good ole Blue-Eyes got teary. And he never could control those eyes, and that’s where affection was communicated.
When I received a top honor during my senior year awards night, he was at my side, and I saw him wipe his eyes which meant, “I’m proud of you.” It must have killed him when I went on a retreat, and unbeknownst to my group, loved ones were requested to write letters describing their love for us. My dad’s letter consisted of three words: MY (then a photocopied picture) LOVE, DAD. The photo was of the detergents “Pride” and “Joy.” Letting my lashes meet, I thought of my father, sealing up that piece of paper in an envelope and writing my name on it, and I cried, touched. When he walked me down the aisle, one arm was linked with mine while biting his lip, holding back, meaning “Congratulations. I wish you the best.”
Dad and I talk more often now. There’s no awkwardness. I need him for my genealogy projects, and he’s accustomed to the questioning I won’t back down on, so he’s honest and interesting. I enjoy hearing about the old days, and he’s open to discussing them, most of the time. I’m a parent, so we talk about the boys, and my sons are athletes, so his favorite topic of sports is not lost on me. He’s been there for me during some rather difficult times, unexpected phone calls offering brief advice or a favor. I admire his loyalty to his faith and family, and I’ve come to understand that he may not have the words for affection, but he feels it.
I cherish the moments I have with my dad, and I still hear him talking to me through his eyes. Like the time he “told” me how thrilled he was to have another generation of athletic games to attend. It was during my fifth grade son’s first game, and it happened just outside the three-point line, a long shot completely on target and SWOOSH! The crowd went wild, and I looked over to my son’s Papa, finding him with his head in his hands. Or the moment my youngest son took the mound for the first time and struck out a player, his teammate/brother hollering approval from third, and I stole a glance at Papa smiling ear to ear with a hand over his eyebrows blocking the already set sun.
Yes, he is Papa. Yes, I am Mom. But now more than ever, we can not forget that we are also Dad and Daughter, and that relationship is every bit as important as any other. So, ever since that awakening day in college, when I learned to appreciate my father, not a visit or phone call goes by without my telling him those words, so I'll end this piece with that special phrase... I love you, Dad.
I found this old journaling piece from 2015 when I was feeling dumbfounded by the loss of four people in my community. As a teacher, I looked out at my classroom and saw the confusion and despair in the eyes of my students, young blessings who were affected by these deaths, no matter if they knew the deceased personally or from afar. It feels appropriate to share during suicide prevention week. I pray that my "kids" are doing well.
A message to my future graduates:
I’ve had your attention for a while now, but after you walk down that aisle, your attention will never again exist for me. So, I’m taking this opportunity to grab it one last time.
You are a blessing. If you don’t know it already, I want you to know it right here, right now. I need you to look at me... all eyes and ears on me... you are a BLESSING. Do you understand how much I mean that? Truly?
During this past school year, my job became a breath of fresh air while I’ve dealt with grief and disbelief, bewildered by the depths of depression experienced by mid-life crises. Above and beyond marital stresses and health issues and financial woes—problems bound to burden mid-lifers—I’ve known four people who not only thought about suicide but succumbed to it. What did we miss? Why did they do this? Why such desperation where the only option is to take one's life? Depression can run so very deep, and my heart pains for all who suffer. There are no easy answers. Only questions to an epidemic that has a ripple effect for those left behind. The mourning and reflection, the loss and sorrow, continue to fester. I wish I had words of enlightenment, some kind of inspirational commentary. I don't. But I do have your attention one last time, so I need to use this moment to say something, and here it is: you are a blessing; you make me alive; you make me smile, make my days worthwhile, and I’ll repeat it over and over again until you get it, until I've drilled it into your minds and you believe it. YOU are a blessing.
I wonder where you’ll be in five years, which college or employer is being blessed with your presence. Wherever you are, I hope you look in the mirror and see what I see today... a blessing.
Fifteen years from now you might be settling down with a career and/or family (more people in this crazy world to embrace you as an integral person in their lives). Those people will be blessed to have you around, and if they don’t understand that, feel free to contact me, so I can share my message with them... you are a BLESSING.
And thirty-five years from now? Well, you’ll be middle-aged like me, facing challenges that might seem too overwhelming to bear. And when you cross a bridge that’s creaking and swaying, readying itself to break and lose strength, I hope you remember my words from the last time I had your attention...
YOU ARE A BLESSING, AND I THANK GOD FOR YOU!
She was in the hospital at this time. Her petite stature caused the doctors to say “no more.” But she persevered. Made it through with St. Gerard and the Blessed Mother at her side. Her bella madre’s spirit calming her mind. I’d come forth into this world at 1:29 a.m.
My birth day is more about my mother than it is about me. Wherever she goes, that’s where home is, because I learned a long while ago that Mom meant “home” from the start. Her arms could hug away my sickness; her hands could brush away life’s tangles; her countless novenas could keep me away from harm; and her sweet humming could sing away the blues. My heart beat in rhythm with hers long before it beat to its own tune. And when my own song was being written, a new verse for each new year, the refrain always remained the same, with my heart and home belonging to the woman I’m blessed to call Mom.
At 2:00am I called out, "Good night, guys. I love you!"
I received a unison mumble of, "G'nite. Love you, too."
Am I the only mom who enjoys this late night thing? I seriously don't mind that my sons are at the age when friends are their first priority, and hanging with Mom is pretty much a last resort. I remember that stage. It lasted more than a decade for me. Maybe two decades, even. But during that time when I was never home, I do remember many late Friday nights when Dad and I came in around the same time. He didn't talk much to me back then, but on those special occasions, when he turned on the stove to make some eggs and toast, or fry up some bologna and slap it between two pieces of bread with mayo, (always leaving the pans and dishes for my mom to clean up in the morning. God Bless my mother!), I remember sitting with him in the living room for the rare opportunity to chat. Chat about anything. I'd sling question after question at him, reveling in the moment of alone time with my dad. He was talkative when he drank, and on Friday nights, he drank. I know people had a problem with that, and it was probably selfish of me to NOT have a problem with that, but I didn't. Those were the times I learned about his tennis championship, and when Grandma sent him down to the tavern to get money from Grandpa, and when he walked in, Grandpa had a stack of newspapers that he passed out to his drinking buddies. "That's my son in there. He's the Oak Park tennis champ." Dad confided that that was a memory he'd hold on to forever because he knew then that his father was proud of him. I wanted to ask him if he was proud of me, but that would have made him uncomfortable and would have stopped the discussion. Instead I threw another question at him, like what it was like for Whitey on the St. Mel's basketball team. I'd watch his eyes light up as he'd retell the story of playing against Johnny Lattner from Fenwick. "He wasn't just talented at football, Geralyn. (Lattner received the Heisman Trophy in 1953) That kid was just an athlete through and through." The egg yolk or mayo always ended up on his cheeks, and it didn't bother me a bit. And when he'd had enough to eat and enough stories to share, he'd get up and walk out of the room. No kiss or pat on the back. No more words. He was done. But I learned a long time ago, that just because my dad didn't know how to be affectionate, didn't mean I didn't know how to be affectionate. So, I'd wait for him to open the bathroom door and before he could take the three steps into his bedroom, I'd say, "Good night, Dad. I love you." The response never changed. "Mmhm." And I smiled. He didn't need to say it. I knew he loved me, too.
I get reflective about my dad at Thanksgiving time, so it's no wonder that at 2am as I was heating up left over fettucini alfredo for one son and some pizza for the other (I had already done the 1am cookie baking the night before), I thought about their papa. I asked my guys about their nights, asked about their friends in from college, asked about the game plan for the next day when I had to drive them back to Loyola. I felt so blessed to have them here with me over Thanksgiving break. Two years ago, I had a totally different Thanksgiving.
Dad died June 12, 2017, four days after my parents' 60th wedding anniversary. (There's a whole other story about my being at peace with my father's death, but I'll save that for another time.) All I'll say at this point is that I felt strong. I felt blessed to be on that altar and give the opening words at his funeral. I felt strong and blessed for a while, actually, and before I knew it, life got in the way of mourning. When Thanksgiving came around, and my mom was going to Kansas to see my sister, and my boys were going with their father, I told my brothers that I would not be joining them for the family dinner. They were concerned about me, about this choice to be alone on Thanksgiving. I explained to Bobby that I wanted this day to simply mourn. I wanted to grab a coffee, drive around places that reminded me of Dad, visit the cemetery, and cry. I wanted to cry. And cry and cry. I didn't just WANT to cry. I NEEDED to cry, to finally mourn my dad. Bobby was as understanding as always. He told me he loved me and he'd respect my wishes. Come Thanksgiving day, I did exactly as I planned. I grabbed a coffee, drove past the family house, St. Celestine and through Elmwood Park. Along that route I had flashbacks to our 8th grade basketball team breakfasts. Every year, Dad, the coach, had the whole team go to Mass and then come back to our house for a pancake breakfast (of course, cooked and hosted by my mom... God Bless my mother!). I drove to Westchester and past Dad's old work place L.K. Comstock. There I remembered how Dad took me with him on weekends to help vacuum the offices because he was the weekend custodian in addition to a purchasing agent M-F. On the way home, we'd stop in the Circle for silver dollar pancakes (I see a pancake connection). Then I headed to the cemetery. There'd been some tears up to this point, but nothing in comparison to the next hour or so. When I pulled up to the gravesite, I noticed something on my dad's stone. I walked closer and realized it was a box of tissues. On the box was a note: GERALYN, THESE ARE FOR YOU! LOVE YOU! I knew Bobby's writing and texted him immediately. He responded that he knew I would need them, and that this particular box of tissues was the box from Dad's hospital room. The same room where Dad passed with Bobby and me at his side. That's Bobby. (I've got other sibling stories, too, but their special memories will come another time.) Bobby, my compassionate brother who got up early on Thanksgiving morning to drive out to the cemetery and drop off the tissues before I got there. And that's when the sobbing started, and the sobbing didn't end until I found myself driving through White Castle in Dad's honor. Seriously. I forced down a White Castle for Dad, onions and all, as my Thanksgiving dinner. I spent the evening looking through old pictures and writing down a list of memories I might want to write about down the road. The last thing I did was go out to my car, which was actually Dad's 2005 Civic. I pulled out from the glove compartment his Miraculous and St. Christopher medals, the medals he said came with the car. I held them tightly in my hands. I said a prayer to grandmother and my dad, and then I whispered my favorite lines, "Good night, Dad. I love you."
As a mother and teacher, as a human being, I am emotionally affected when tragedies happen, especially when the victims are helpless, when the victims are children. I wrote this reflection after hearing the news about Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012, just days before Christmas. My sons were 11 and 13; my students were 12-14.
It’s as if I know them. But I don’t. And yet--
My God! My God!
I’m folding their clothes for the umpteenth time, the same t-shirts over and over again, by rote, the Georgia, North Carolina, Notre Dame and LSU tees go in one pile; while the Illinois, Northwestern, Texas and Chicago Bulls go in another pile; the 14 slim uniform pants and small blue polo get set to the left, always on the left, because the younger is left handed, and that’s why his backpack and lunch bag go by the left chair at the dining room table, the same chair where his red gym bag hangs with his #10 jersey; while the blue gym bag hangs on the right side with another #10 jersey with the same name ironed on the back. It’s always two piles, two chairs, two bags. The thought of only one just doesn’t compute, and I cry because I’m grateful, so deeply grateful, to have this daunting task of folding and organizing and scheduling for the sons who flippantly get dressed every morning, haphazardly pack up, and hurriedly run out the door with bags slung half-way over their jacketless shoulders.
My God! There are twenty mothers out there who will forever miss these daily vignettes, these seemingly meaningless moments and simple details, these basic reminders of who we are and who THEY are, on this day, in this time of our precious lives. My God! How many reminders will creep up on them without warning? To whom will their Christmas gifts go, the ones that Santa hid away in that secret place, the ones chosen especially for him, for her, because Santa knows they always make the “nice” list, because Santa knows them so well.
It’s as if I personally know these parents. But I don’t. And yet--
I’m in a grocery store. I reach for the hard shell tacos and turn back to pick up the soft tortillas. Both packages are in the cart, as are the cartons of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, the regular garlic bread and the cheesy kind, the grapefruit and the grapes. Two preferences, always. It’s a thought that usually irks me. What mom boils penne and spaghetti on pasta nights? What mom makes meatloaf and meatballs, serves pork roast sliced and pulled, plates grilled cheeses with American for one and provolone for the other…
Two brothers, as different as night and day, and yet they’re two peas in a pod. Their friends know them. Them. My sons. Across an entire room’s floor, they line up sports cards bought as gifts or with gift certificates from their favorite memorabilia shop owned by the legendary Chuck who’s been singing their praises for years, calling them the most knowledgeable sports-minded kids he’s ever met. Chuck knows them, too. As do their relatives who take calls for Bowl picks and NCAA brackets.
I know my own children, but I don’t know any of the victims. When I reflect, I feel as if I know them. But I don’t. And yet--
I’m in the classroom when we hear the popping sounds, like a car backfiring in the lockers and vibrating through the ceiling below our feet. The chattering of lit groups comes to an abrupt halt; twenty ashen twelve-year-old faces look to me with silent, gaping mouths. “Lockdown,” I say calmly, despite a pounding heart and shaking hands. Instinctively I lock the door, count the heads, grab the green screen to tape in the window when I notice a student taking a test in the hallway. I unlock the door without thinking, and I don’t need to say anything when our wide eyes meet, because my expression wills him into my room like a magnet. He follows my hand motion to join the others in the corner, a huddle of shivering shoulders, shushing fingers, rocking backs, and clasped praying hands. The click of the lock echoes this time, and it dawns on me that the green screen should now be red because now I have someone else’s child. The popping has stopped. I can’t risk uncovering the window, so I rush to be with my kids, crammed under desks and against the wall. One of my girls pulls my elbow, and with tears trickling down her cheeks, she whispers, “My little brother is in the first grade class beneath us.” My arms envelop her. “Everyone’s doing what they need to do, sweetie. It’s gonna be okay.” I scan the distance between our cradled spot and my cell phone in the coat on the back of my chair. It dawns on me that the principal’s lockdown code was never announced from the school office. I think I hear sirens…
I awake startled and press the snooze button with a racing heart, as if I’d been holding my breath longer than allowed. My students’ ashen faces fade into the sunlight streaming through the bedroom blinds.
It’s as if I know those teachers. But I don’t. And yet--
The following article was originally published in the Wednesday Journal and its website www.oakpark.com on 6/21/16.
Once the vintage Old Style sign was replaced with the guitar pick logo, longtime Berwyn and Oak Park residents couldn’t help but ask that question. For me, it represented revitalization for a place that’s embracing history and hope, a musician hangout where pick up jams abound with local flare.
The Friendly Tap, located at 6733 W. Roosevelt Road, has deep roots in our neighborhood and is typically referred to as a legendary tavern. Its goal to provide a social place for locals is still alive, and that’s where the Tap’s history will always hold a place in the hearts, both old and new, of the guests at this establishment. Now take that 70 year old goal and enter 2016, where owner Rob Pierce transforms a single business and guides its evolution into a vibrant, three-service, music and arts community with live music in the bar (Friendly Tap), a music-themed coffee experience (Friendly Coffee Lounge), and a 501c3 music school (Friendly School of Folk Music).
When I first arrived in June 2014, it wasn’t the Tap door through which I walked; it was the Friendly Coffee Lounge, and the connection was instantaneous. Back then, I was a mom and teacher who liked to write. I liked to write so much that I had spent the previous eight summers playing with a novel of Chicago historical fiction. My characters, like the Tap, had deep roots with their names and backgrounds taken from my ancestors’ census records. I embraced my genealogical history by building on the facts, but then I needed to create my own story to make the characters come to life—to make my dream of being an author come to life. I knew it was bound to happen someday; I just didn’t know when. Then the Friendly Coffee Lounge became my writing oasis. With the inspiration and support I received from this place, “someday” came with my book release celebration in January, followed in April by the title, 2016 Winner of the Soon To Be Famous Illinois Author Award, a self-publishing initiative sponsored by the Illinois Library Association and Reaching Across Illinois Library Systems.
In May, I witnessed many events of local celebration with the Friendly Music Community (a showcase for the music school students, a Craft & Vintage Market for the Coffee Lounge, and the heart-stopping performances of local musicians at the Friendly Folk Fest), so when the old sign came down and the new sign arrived on Roosevelt Road, I couldn’t help but see the parallelism between my own dreams and those of the FMC. Both have history, but after many years in the making, both are awakening with high hopes.
If you haven’t visited lately, I strongly encourage you to do so. Check out the music line up that’s packed with local talent (www.friendlymusic.community) or sign up for that music class you’ve always wanted to try. Come in the morning for a cup of Bridgeport coffee, Todd & Holland tea, or a freshly made smoothie. And if you happen to see a middle-aged writer with her laptop and notebooks at the corner table, be sure to introduce yourself. People say I’m friendly.
Geralyn Hesslau Magrady is a Berwyn resident and English teacher at Fenwick High School. Her novel, Lines--, is available at Looking Glass Book Store (823 S. Oak Park Ave) and Amazon.com. To find out more, visit her website at www.ghesslaumagrady.com.
I’ve always loved the idea of handheld gifts. Not handheld electronics, but those simple treasures that fit in your palm. There’s something special about the word, handheld, that offers a sense of support. Is that why we hold our own hands in prayer, as a connection with God as we give thanks or share our worries? On several occasions I’ve given the present of worry angels. These little glass sculptures can be held when praying for people or events that weigh heavy on the mind. There are also worry stones that do the same, and I think it’s the earthly feel of the stone that aids in the humanity of our pain, no matter the depth of our inner turmoil and spiritual request in prayer. Rosary beads have this effect, too. Without consciously choosing to start such a collection, I have my mom’s beads and the beads held by my mother- and father-in-law before their final resting; I have the rosaries of both my grandmothers, women I never knew, and I find it an honor to touch each smooth bead when I say the rosary. Love and peace join the feelings of support and connection when I pray.
Not religious in its appearance, charms and coins are handheld gifts that also bring this personal touch. One particular morning, I arrived at a coffee shop and was getting my writing material together when I noticed three women at a table playing with clay. When I approached, they asked me to sit with them. I’m so grateful that I joined. I’m no artist, but clay is a perfect stress releaser. We laughed and talked while pressing round balls into flat pancakes and then molding them into whatever we desired. I learned that Jessica was my age; she was planning a long trip to New Orleans. I can’t explain why I connected with her, but when she talked, she reminded me of myself, or maybe it was the self I hadn’t yet become. She was a dreamer, an optimist. I was wearing an Emily Dickinson charm around my neck, and it felt right to unfasten the chain and tell my new friend to hold out her hand. The quote: “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” Jessica was the epitome of that line. She appreciated life, and for that, I appreciated her, and if we never met again, I wanted her to be reminded of her ability to touch another human being. If you’re reading this, Jessica, I hope New Orleans is treating you well, that your adventures are abundant, and that you know you are a blessing!
When writing LINES--, I wanted a character to give something of himself to another character. I didn’t know what that would be; all I knew was that it had to be handheld. At around the same time as writing this scene, a musician friend (thanks, Rob Pierce) gave me his CD called Flat Rock. Huh. Could it get any clearer? That was it. The "story" rock came from the debris of the Great Fire, and the character kept it to remind him not of destruction and loss, but of hope.
There are no little treasures like these under the tree this year. My teenage sons are getting the video game stuff and college sports apparel. But I’m okay with that because I also plan on holding their hands and telling them I love them. Yeah, that will be awkward for them, but someday they’ll appreciate that gift more than PS4 controllers.
“Can we go to the book store?”
That question was followed by a description of the store my preschoolers had in mind. It was usually Fillmore’s, the closet sized charity shop worked by aging volunteers, with its narrow space of two long towering rows of donated books, walls packed and back tables strewn with boxes and piles of hardcovers from long ago. With its smell of basement storage, we took deep inhales before entering and then held our breaths until exiting. And that wasn’t a bad thing; it was more like the feeling a young boy gets when his grandma hugs a bit too tightly, as if he’d suffocate if she kept that strong hug one more second, and all the while he doesn’t mind the embrace because he knows its joyful aftereffects will linger. Fillmore’s was the place where we found non-fiction sports books, mostly basketball coffee table collections (who knew?) and football encyclopedias, athlete biographies and autobiographies—it’s no wonder that their current sports knowledge could challenge any ESPN commentator. It didn’t matter what they selected each time we visited, and I swear this might be where these kids learned to read. They just liked going there, sitting on the thread bare rug and flipping through pages or running their fingers along the dusty spines on the shelves.
What they, and I, particularly enjoyed was the hunt. Everything was in disarray, and that turned our trips into adventures. (There’s something to be said for finding treasure amidst chaos.) My guys would remember the approximate vicinity of their last purchase, and that’s where they started, but never ended. Once, low by the rickety legs of a card table, there was a stash of uncategorized works, and that’s where they eyed a bunch of president books and atlases—it’s no wonder they got interested in history and placed in geography bees, the older boy winning the coveted title his eighth grade year. After they located the prized carton near the “new” section, they sometimes returned to that prime spot just to spend an hour scrounging through the contents of rubber-banded stacks of old baseball cards—it’s no wonder that their present collection is enough to open our own card shop. (Well, thanks to Fillmore’s for that, but also to Heroes Sports Cards and Memorabilia, another local hangout from my sons’ childhood memories.)
“Can we go to the book store?”
Sometimes that meant taking a ride into the city to check out Powell’s, or to the suburbs to check out Half-Price Books or the Frugal Muse. Sometimes that meant heading to the next town over to check out The Magic Tree or The Book Table. These places, thankfully, are still in business, but not Fillmore’s. And the question still comes up, but the place to which we go is not Fillmore’s. And of course I miss it, but I’m grateful that our home holds the joyful aftereffects of Fillmore’s. Most importantly, though, I’ll forever relish the fact that my sons had the opportunity to experience a life of simple pleasures, a life of memories created in the humble aisles of a used book store.
“Dad’s on his way to the hospital.”
That was all I needed to hear when picking up the phone at 3:00 a.m. Panic set me in motion. Shoes, wallet, cell phone. Brush teeth before heading out. Thank God Dunkin Donuts is open for coffee. Oh God, please be with him. Whatever is going on, we both know he’s afraid. It took 30 minutes to get to the hospital where my mother, two brothers, a sister-in-law and niece were seated in the ER waiting room. No one had been allowed to see Dad yet; the other two brothers were on their way. When my out-of-state sister was contacted, she, too would be heading to Chicago.
When the paramedics took him from the house, Dad couldn’t breathe.
Anyone who’s ever been in ER can relate to the dread when first seeing a loved one hooked up to countless beeping machines, needles piercing bruised skin up and down the arms, and for us, cracked dried lips forced open to hold the tube that kept my father alive. His hair was plastered back, not in his usual side part, so his face became fully visible—his pale face. The uniform gown hung off his shoulders to reveal patches that attached his chest to monitors with numbers I didn’t comprehend. His body, covered in a thin white sheet, appeared shorter than the strong man’s vertical posture I knew as a child. And as Mom sat beside the bed in a chair, and Phil stroked her back, and Steve and Bob stood bravely by the curtain, I walked up to Dad and took his hand in mine, gently as to not disturb the reddened tape which secured the IV. I had two rosaries with me. My St. Pope John Paul II beads dangled on the left of our clasped hands, and my grandma’s beads dangled on the right. It was Grandma to whom I prayed with eyes closed. I began with a Memorare, followed by the routine Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and then started talking in my head to a woman I had never met. She was Dad’s Mom, and old pictures showed that we shared the same cowlick. I spoke to her with an unconscious ease about motherhood and wondered what my dad was like when he was a kid, and I asked her to hold his hand through mine because, having two boys of my own, I like to believe that every son feels safer when he’s got his mom by his side. I prayed to Grandma to join me, as parents do, in supporting this stage of “life.” I don’t know how long the conversation lasted, but I remember that once in a while I felt myself smile as if I heard her response, and I remember feeling a calm come over me as if everything was going to be okay, no matter the result of this tragic night. I opened my eyes to find the blood pressure screen in clear view, as if no other machinery existed. I almost giggled, which might have seemed inappropriate for the circumstances, but my heart bounced at the sight of the numbers. She was listening. Those numbers were her way of assuring me that she was there, as she had been there when Dad entered this world, as she had been there when I entered this world, too.
“What’s does that say?” I asked out loud to whomever was behind and around me.
“130 over 68,” one of my brothers replied.
“Say that again, please.”
“He was near stroke levels when they brought him in.. 130 over 68 is unbelievable,” said another.
“Now say it without the word ‘over’.”
“Geralyn, it’s been that way ever since you closed your eyes. It’s a good reading,” Phil explained.
“1-30-68,” I whispered and smiled. “That’s my birthdate.”
Whether Dad was going home with my mom here on Earth or going home to his mom in Heaven, I was at peace because Grandma answered my prayers. Everything would be okay, and it is.
I’ve never been a morning person, let alone a walking morning person, but something has to give. Life has gotten so hectic and busy, and I’ve lost momentum with my health and exercise. So, last night I decided to set the alarm for 4:50 a.m. in order to get my “stuff” completed by 5:30 and head out the door—not to embark on a fast and sweaty pace, rather, to leisurely stroll, to get myself going, to find brisk inspiration.
It was unsettling, this nighttime/not nighttime hour when the skies were just as dark as they were when I fell asleep. My first observation—everything was silent, eerily still, as if the gods pressed pause, and I was the only one not controlled by the command. I say “gods” because that was my second observation. In the heavens, the crescent moon and her shining companions were brighter than I remembered for a “morning” view. With no hint of the sun, the blackened sheet remained crisp with little cut-outs of light, like a grade school constellation project. A joyful Diana hovered over me in a slow waltz, and then I got lost in the silence again. My feet crunched on fallen leaves, and the wind blew strands of hair out of my ponytail and across my face. Every once in a while I’d pass a house and hear the slightest whoosh of a shower head or see a kitchen light turn on, simple reminders that daily life was on the horizon. The horizon. There was a fading from above; deep navy waned into a line of royal blue that swept above the trees and rooftops. Could Aurora be on Diana’s tail? I wondered how many city folk might have been up and about 144 years ago on October 8, trudging to work on Chicago’s desolate streets, unaware of the conflagration that would prevent such a walk for months, years even, to come. Hidden in the stillness of the Crosby Opera House with the curtains and gilded molding, the stage lights were waiting to illuminate once again the replica of Guido Reni’s fresco, Aurora, where images of the Goddess of Dawn led a parade of twelve figures dancing around their God of Sun, Apollo. These figures, the Hours, would see this day as their last back in 1871, as swirling flames would soon transform the painting, the building, the entire district and surrounding neighborhoods into ashes. What tragedy was in store for my geographical ancestors!
My head peeked upward, and there she was. I didn’t have time to relish the moment, so I introduced myself before climbing the stairs of my awakening home.
Good morning, Aurora, Goddess of the Dawn. My name is Geralyn, Goddess of the Pre-dawn Walk. I hope we meet again!