Sunday, April 26, 2009

Friends and Feet

Four retired Catholic Charities colleagues and I get together monthly to visit the Met or other cultural attractions in the NY area. I call it the Met Club. Of the group, two are long time friends; now the others are friends as well. The other day we were chatting about foot problems, experiences with physical therapy and podiatrists, and the "right" shoes to wear. All of us had had some foot complaint recently. So I got to thinking and got inspired. This poem is dedicated to all my dear friends: young and old, old and new, family and non-relation. This poem’s for you.


When you find that pair of shoes
The ones that fit so sweet
That feel like walking in a cloud
No matter how rocky the road
You never want to lose them
However old or worn
They are your true companions
through the years

Then you spy a brand new pair
That liven up your feet
They make you feel like dancing
To such a different tune
So chic, so colorful, so now
Strolling down exciting paths
You never walked before

And so you set these newer shoes
Beside your well-worn friends

© E.M. Ramos 4/26/2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Resurrection and Central Park

When I worked at Catholic Charities on the east side of Manhattan, I would walk through Central Park every day on my way to work. This jewel in the center of the city has twisty trails and lots of forks; it’s very easy to get lost. It took me many trips to learn my way and then, off I would go to explore a new trail.
The most daunting part of Central Park is the Ramble, a wild quiet area with rambling streams, waterfalls, and a surprise around every turn, like a hilltop gazebo under the trees. It takes courage to enter since it is really a maze and it’s kind of isolated. I would get so lost in the Ramble that I’d find myself climbing over boulders to find my way out. Once I encountered a questionable character – I really walked fast that day! The Ramble proved such an enigma to me that I wrote a poem about it.

But after retirement, my part time job way downtown precluded treks through Central Park. I really missed the park. Which brings me to Easter 2009.
The day after a joyful Easter celebration at my sister’s house, I overslept and got a late start to work. I missed my commuter train by about 3 seconds or 10 steps. So out with Plan B, a 10 minute walk up to the subway. This route allowed me to make a detour and visit my beloved Central Park. As I entered the park, I noticed an unsettling feeling deep down inside: was it fear? anxiety? sadness? But I also noticed that Spring had come to the park. Happy daffodils everywhere and all the trees sprouting their new leaves. I discovered that all the long time renovations to the lake had been completed; the fences were gone that had closed off my usual entrance to the Ramble. Should I venture in? What if I get lost? What if I don’t remember the way? It still looked pretty deserted.

So I took a chance and walked right in, climbing familiar trails, getting a view of the surrounding city skyscrapers and the wooden benches at the foot of a waterfall, hearing the birds sing happily. It all came back and it was even better than before. And then I realized that the deep down feeling had turned to gratitude and hope and even joy. Yet another rebirth of my spirit, and another day to savor the gift of life. How appropriate in this park that experienced its own resurrection from deterioration and fear in the 1970’s to the glorious gem it is today! Thanks to a great public-private partnership, the Central Park Conservancy. This is one non-profit I support with an open heart because the results of my donations are so crystal clear for all to see.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Grandma's Story - Chapter 4 - Easter

I decided to add another chapter to Grandma's Story, a story for my grandkids about life in the olden days. And since it is Easter, this chapter is all about how our family celebrated Easter. By the way, Happy Easter!

You come from a very devout Catholic family – both on my side and on ‘Buelo’s. Buelo was even going to be a priest and was in the seminary for several years before we met. And I once gave a thought to becoming a nun. Many of my school friends did enter the convent.
Nanny, my grandmother, and her sister Kiki, my great aunt, had an uncle who was a priest. August A. was the youngest brother of their mom and he studied at the American Seminary in Rome. He was pastor of a church in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and later he became a monsignor, a rank in the Catholic clergy just below bishop. My Dad always had him bless any new car that the family got; the blessing was better than a St. Christopher medal. Nanny and Kiki took Aunt Kathy and me to visit Msgr. A. every year. I loved going way up to the "country" on the train. But Msgr. A. was gruff and a bit scary. I remember the dark furniture in the rectory with its carvings of angels and gargoyles that added to the feeling of mystery that he had about him.
Nanny and Kiki also had a cousin who was a nun. They visited her in California in 1947, traveled all the way across country by railroad. How I wanted to go with them! Kiki would take me to the Miraculous Medal novena every Monday at St. Brigid’s, our parish church. Aunt Kate, the sister of my grandfather Pop-Pop, wanted to be a nun but her mother refused to give her permission to enter the convent. Many years later her own daughter Florence asked to become a nun and Aunt Kate told her to wait, to work for a year and then see. A year later Florence still wanted to be a nun and when her mother said "no", her father, my Uncle Val reminded Aunt Kate of what had happened to her. So Florence became Sister Mary Alma, a Sister of Mercy.
My parents sent us to Catholic schools and we had religion class every day. Even Dick and Jane in our readers were Catholic. And I remember my Dad sitting on the edge of his bed, his head bowed in prayer, before he went to sleep each night. My favorite photo of Dad is one taken when he was in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC’s) during the Great Depression. Dad and the other young men are gathered around an altar, located in the great outdoors in front of Jackson Hole Lake, the majestic Teton Mountains towering in the distance. That was his kind of cathedral. My Hungarian grandmother had statues of Jesus and Mary with lighted candles in her home. They fascinated me along with the embroidered religious wall hangings, with Hungarian writing.
With this history, is it any surprise that Easter is one of my favorite holidays. In those days, Lent, the 40 days before the feast of Easter, were days of fasting and sacrifice. For us kids, that meant giving up candy or cookies for Lent and saying extra prayers or rosaries. My friend Ellen and I went to daily Mass at St. Brigid’s during Lent. I loved the liturgy of Holy Week. There was a procession on Holy Thursday, with girls dressed in white throwing flower petals before the Blessed Sacrament, which was carried by the priest in a golden holder called a monstrance under a canopy. Then it was placed for adoration on a side altar decorated with flowers and drapes. The next day, Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross, my friends and I visited the decorated altars in the churches in our area – I think we were supposed to go to seven. Afterwards we attended Good Friday services and listened to talks on the seven last words of Jesus. We spent the whole day in church. And we did not listen to the radio or watch television on Good Friday in remembrance of the cross. One Lent, Kathy and I were watching a movie on television "Arsenic and Old Lace". At midnight it was Good Friday and my Mom turned off the TV in the middle of the movie – to our dismay! I can still see the look on her face, sort of a sheepish grin.
On Holy Saturday I loved to go to the Easter vigil liturgy. It was so beautiful but back then it was held in the morning and hardly anyone was in the congregation. I would sneak into the vestibule of the church to try to watch the priests doing the blessing of the Baptismal font and the holy water – they chased me away. Now the people are part of these liturgies that I treasure. My eyes would tear up when the bells rang out at the Gloria -–for the last 2 weeks of Lent there was no organ, no music and all the statues were covered with cloths. This was to show how sad it would be without Jesus. But during the Easter vigil Mass, all the coverings came off the statues, the organ played out, the bells rang, and the gold drapes of Easter were raised. It was a wonderful experience for me.

On Easter Sunday, my Dad gave my Mom, sister and me corsages to go with our new spring outfits. Mom got an orchid, Kathy got carnations, and I got a gardenia corsage; I love the smell of gardenias to this day. On Easter Saturday my family colored Easter eggs, which were hidden by the Easter Bunny. I believed in the Easter Bunny more than Santa when I was a kid. On Easter morning we hunted for the eggs and our Easter Baskets, filled with Chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and fancy non-edible eggs with a little peek-a-boo window – when you looked inside you could see a mini-Easter scene. After Mass on Easter morning, we would go across the street to my Hungarian Grandma’s house for her scrumptious pastries; my favorites were the apricot pastries. We got to see all our cousins there too.
Easter is a very special day in our family. April 11, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Family Gatherings

My brother just e-mailed my sister, brothers and me that he would like to celebrate what would be my Dad's 100th birthday this year. Although Dad died suddenly of a heart attack at age 55, he is very much with me and I was very aware that 2009 is the 100th anniversary of his birth - and wow, does that make me feel old!

Anyway, I love my brother Jim's suggestion. To have a big family getogether at a restaurant - he suggested New York even though he lives in California. This is my idea of paradise - sharing a special meal with those you love. It was how we were raised: birthdays, holidays, especially Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter were family affairs. Lavish dinners cooked by my grandmother. The whole family sitting around one - or two tables. Later we gathered at my house or my sister's or brother's to celebrate, as older family members passed on and new ones were born. And with Holy Week here, I am thinking that the Last Supper was Jesus celebration with his family and friends.

My dream is to have everyone and all their families - brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins, grandkids - around one glorious dinner table. In the last scene of "Raising Arizona" there is such a feast; they are gazing into their future and imagine all their children and grandchildren celebrating a meal together. The scene brings tears to my eyes. I know why.