Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Letter 2010

Merry Christmas to All!

2010 was a most challenging year, one that forced me to face my aging in a scary way. I was hampered by a cough and hoarseness all Spring. Then in June I suffered a stress fracture and in October a bout with diverticulitis. These maladies changed my life in significant ways, including my part time work in the city and my daily walking routine. But I learned much from the experiences – that I am not in complete control; that Angel, my friends and family provide generous loving support; and that perhaps it is time for me to slow down and dig deep. So off I am in new directions: leading a series of workshops on late life spirituality and looking forward to a Contemplative Formation program at Mariandale next year.

Many celebrations to report. In May we had a combo-gala for the 3 Payne grandchildren's birthdays, Chase's confirmation and Sierra's First Communion, plus Angel's 70th. And how fantastic when Lisa surprised us with a visit in time for the party! Marina started taking a class at the community college, while continuing her job at the library. Chase is pursuing film classes, along with tae kwan do. Sierra was a helpful companion when I was convalescing from my fracture. My son Angel got a new job in Pennsylvania, and grandson Sam took classes in the gifted program at Montclair State University. Now they will have to move. The California grandkids – Aidan and Jackson are now at the same school, and doing great with ice hockey lessons. I missed seeing them this year.

My sister Kathy is a great pal and we get together often. After a difficult pregnancy, my niece Audra had a healthy baby boy in February; Dylan's smile lights up my heart! We love seeing him and his big brother Braden. My Pennsylvania cousins paid a visit with their cousin from England in June. Like myself, so many family and friends faced health challenges this year: my cousin Cindy, brother-in-law Jose, my friends Arleen and Sister Pat. Happily all are on the mend. But it makes you stop and ponder.

I am so grateful for my friends, who I meet with often: Pat N.; Peter and Ann; John and Bea. Connected with Sr. Jean Canora and Pat Healey from Catholic Charities days. And my “Met Club” friends pushed me around the Garden in a wheel chair when I couldn't travel. I am truly inspired by all the wonderful people that God has blessed me with.

The book in which I contributed a chapter was published – Spiritual and Psychological Aspects of Illness (Paulist Press).

2010 may have been trying at times but it was also filled with blessings. And so I look forward with great hope to 2011. May you all enjoy a Christmas season and new year of peace, health and moments of sheer delight!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December Dreams

In the midst of this cold Advent season, I feel grateful. Grateful for the peace and nourishment of Mariandale Retreat Center, for the cold clear nights when the stars dazzle my soul. Grateful for family celebrations - the happy birthday dinner for Tina last week. For the creativity and splendor of the Botanical Gardens Train Show and for the gift of sharing it with friends and family: Sister Pat and Terry, Angel, Kathy, Rich, Braden and Dylan.

And I am grateful for the gift of a poem which I share with you.

December Dreams

Am I the bright red leaf clinging
to the bare branch for dear life?
Why can’t I let go like Freddy the Leaf?

Am I the cold December sun sinking
fast into the dusk?
Why can’t I shine one more time?

Am I the silent Yuletide carol?
Why can’t I be the living bird
perched high atop the Christmas tree?

My spirit longs to soar free,
to snap the thoughts that chain me to
my self.

Oh let me rise on eagle’s wings
until You hold me in the palm of Your hand.

© E.M. Ramos 12/2/2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Spirituality of Late Life - Part 4

For other entries on Spirituality of Late Life see Spirituality of Late Life Part 1 below.


So what is Spirituality of Later Life?

The second half of life offers many opportunities for spiritual growth. Late life is often a period of intense inner activity - a sorting out of decisions, relationships and commitments made during one’s lifetime. Psychologists call this process life review. Spiritual directors tell us that this looking inward can be a critical time of spiritual growth or crisis, as one comes to terms with the successes and failures of a life time. For one building on a lifetime of spiritual connection, it can be a period of great deepening of one’s relationship with God and others. As one nears the end of one’s journey, and realizes that much will be left incomplete, one can encounter the enormity of a God who accepts us and loves us unconditionally with all our faults and imperfections.

The many losses of aging - physical impairments, decreased mobility, chronic conditions, retirement from careers, empty nests, loss of loved ones - present a unique opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life and on one’s own life in particular. When one is stripped bare of material ambition, independence and even relationships, one faces one’s powerlessness in a very special way. The full reality of God’s love as gift can be experienced and the contemplative ideal of simply resting in God’s embrace may be realized. Of course, without spiritual guidance and support, this might well be a time of isolation and fear. The idea that older people are safely past spiritual crisis is a stereotype: each person grows or regresses in the spiritual life, at their own pace.

The spiritual odyssey of later life can be a challenge to those who are used to being productive; at the same time, it is an inner journey which can bear much fruit. For most Americans, interiority is a concept alien to our cultural bias for productivity. It is difficult to learn how to be still and silent, so one may discover God’s presence within. It is also painful and scary to look inside; older people, much like the young, seek noisy distractions to avoid the pain. Exploring Late Life Spirituality together in groups that foster faith sharing and reflection can be a help for us on this quest. Learning how to see God’s presence in one’s own life experiences, with the gentle support of companions on the journey, can be the greatest blessing of later life.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Spirituality of Late Life - Part 3

For other entries on Spirituality of Late Life see Spirituality of Late Life Part 1 below.

While I worked for Catholic Charities for 25 years, I oversaw various programs for older persons. Ministry to Seniors was our finest hour, training volunteers in the parishes of the Archdiocese to reach out to their elder congregants in various ways including visits to the homebound. One of the parish programs we initiated were Senior Spirituality Groups, which are faith sharing groups for older adults who wish to grow in their spiritual lives. Facilitated by trained leaders, the participants:

Reflected on their life experiences and God’s presence throughout.
Discussed spiritual aspects of everyday life and concerns.
Shared their unique faith journey with one another.
Prayed for the needs of group members.
The senior years can be a very challenging time of life; perhaps a time to become aware of the “new life” trying to emerge, to seek new opportunities for prayer and union with God, to “meditate and search our spirit“.

We might take time to reflect on our own life experiences and God’s presence throughout, or perhaps reflect on the spiritual aspects of our everyday lives and concerns. We may have the opportunity to share our unique faith journey with one another. In the senior spirituality groups, guided sharing and prayer was an integral part of the participants journeys - a true blessing.

In my next blog I will give a definition of late life spirituality to help us reflect on this special time of life.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Blues

Black Friday Blues

Today has been dubbed “Black Friday”. It is dedicated to rampant consumerism and blatant materialism. It is hard to resist, especially this year with the intense media push and aggressive advertisements with tempting mouth-watering savings via newspapers, mail, TV, radio and e-mail. Many stores were even open on Thanksgiving. An American spiritual tradition - giving thanks to God for all the blessings we enjoy - is now converted into the new American faith in STUFF, buying with every last drop of money you have and then with the money you don’t have. Fill your life with STUFF. I think we the consumers are the new Thanksgiving turkeys and we are being stuffed. Saying this I must confess. If I wasn’t terrified of crowds I would probably be out there shopping for bargains instead of doing this blog. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spirituality of Late Life - Part 2

Spirituality of Late Life Part 2 (Other entries on Spirituality of Late Life can be found below.)

The prayer below comes from my spiritual direction group. I used it in the first session “Becoming New in the Lord”. The image of “Grandmother God” came to me during Bio-spiritual focusing many years ago. It is an image that gives me great comfort and support when I am troubled. My grandmother was that kind of presence to me and I hope I have been the same for my grandchildren.

Grandmother God,
tender and compassionate,
understanding and forgiving,
cradle me in your arms this day,
balance me on your knee,
hold me in your lap
and never let me go.

Like your servants
Simeon and Anna,
even as I grow old,
may I never grow tired
of spending time with you in prayer.

Though I may become timid at times in my witness,
may I never limit the possibilities of the wonders
awaiting me around the corner.

I present my life with all its worries and wonders,
with all its scars and scary moments,
with all its hope and all its hurts
to you, my Grandma God.
You hold my life in your gentle hands.

Into your hands, I commend my spirit. Amen.

Stations of the Crib, Joe Hassah

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Spirituality of Late Life - Part 1

During the past months of blog silence, I had the privilege of offering a series of workshops on Late Life Spirituality. I finished the latest yesterday at a nursing home. In the audience of some 50 elderly residents, many in wheelchairs and pushing walkers, all burdened with the ailments of advanced age, I beheld the most tranquil, smiling faces. These wise elders surely understand spirituality. They have traveled to those deep places and found God’s presence - even in the most difficult of life’s challenges.

So this “offering” of mine has returned many more blessings to me. I have been truly inspired by the depth of the journeys that have been shared with me this Fall. And in my next several blogs, I will share segments of my presentations.

The first session I called “Becoming New in the Lord”. Because all of life is for living and changing and trying new things. Below are the meditations that accompany Spirituality of Late Life Part I: Becoming New in the Lord.

There is always new life trying to emerge in each of us. Too often we ignore the signs of resurrection and cling to parts of life that have died for us.
Joan Chittister

Older people, with the wisdom and experience which are the fruit of a lifetime, have entered upon a time of extraordinary grace which opens to them new opportunities for prayer and union with God.
John Paul II

I consider the days of old,
I remember the years long ago.
I commune with my heart in the night;
I meditate and I search my spirit.
Psalm 77: 5-6

Monday, September 6, 2010

September Remembering

Ah, the beautiful month of September, my month. Remembering today how the little acts of kindness affect us and stay with us. Maybe our spontaneous acts affect others in ways we can’t imagine. Sometimes folks tell us, like when my friend thanked me the other day for encouraging her to go to school, supporting her, and reminding her of all her gifts. It feels good to see that you played a small part in setting someone in a positive direction.

I was remembering the teenage girls at the McAuley HS bazaar some 60 years ago. They took pity on desolate little 8 or 9 year old Eleanor, who had not won any prizes and had run out of money. And she was hungry - some things never change! The McAuley students comforted me and bought me hot dogs and soda. So many years later I still remember - not their names or faces - but their kindness to me. I believe that their act influenced my desire to attend McAuley HS, which led me on the many other paths that result in my life today.

I know that by myself I may not always choose to do unselfish acts of kindness. So I pray for the grace to be aware so I can reach out to others, listen, and perform those little acts of kindness that may make a big difference.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Happy Anniversary

Happy Anniversary in Heaven, Mom & Dad. Seventy years ago today, my parents, John and Elizabeth, were married in St. Brigid’s Church. What love and faith and courage it must have taken to make a joyful commitment to the future, with the dark clouds of world war hovering all around. Yet they took the step and began a family, trusting that “all will be well”. Thanks to them - and their faith, so many lives exist today, including my own, my children, and my grandchildren. I am grateful for my Mom and Dad. And for this day.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Brooklyn Bluegrass in the Bronx

I spent yesterday evening, a perfect summer evening, at the Bronx Botanical Garden for their summer concert series. What a delight! Enjoying a light supper with my friend Catherine amidst the trees, watching the sky grow dark.

The concert was astonishing. A Brooklyn Bluegrass group - the M. Shanghai String Band - came to entertain us in the Bronx. Bluegrass music is happy music. It plants a smile on your face, sets your feet tappin’ and your hands clappin’. The joy seeps right down to your soul. I kept feeling like my heart was laughing through the whole concert.

And what a great group! They played new songs about the big city and old Bluegrass favorites. They had banjos, fiddles, guitars, harmonica, even a wash board and a singing saw! What a wonderful gift these musicians have. Do they realize how much their music affects those who listen and enjoy it, the happiness it brings even if for only a few moments. However, for me, the magic of the evening lingered on, clinging like a happy cloud for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tech Support

My 8 year old granddaughter, Sierra, just showed me how to add pictures to my blog! I am amazed at how easy it was, not that I could have figured it out myself. Thank you Sierra. The first picture I am posting is of you!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Forever Friends

Last week my friends journeyed all the way to the Bronx to be with me. We got a wheel chair and they pushed me around the Botanical Gardens. Later that week, as I sat in the Gardens, I realized that I hadn't written a poem for awhile. I searched for "inspiration" and it came. After some tweaking and evolving, here it is.

Forever Friends

I have friends of every persuasion.

Two legged friends who wheel me about
when my heart's at low tide.

Green limbed friends that drape my
deep down dread
in shimmering stillness.

Anonymous friends who open new doors
when windows slam shut.

Furry friends testing true,
even though I yell
Get off the table!

Unseen friends whispering from beyond
when menacing mists swallow hope.

And I bow to the care of my friends.

Copyright: E.M. Ramos 7/21/10

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Who Inspires Your?

Last Sunday the gospel was the Good Samaritan. As I looked around at the faces in the congregation, faces of so many races and nationalities, I thought: “I am looking at a whole church full of Good Samaritans.” Because that is what the good people in my parish have in common: a profound sense of caring and concern. And they put their caring into action. They certainly do inspire me to be more caring about my “neighbor”.

My husband inspires me. During this episode of immobility, he has chauffeured me around, taken me out to see my family and friends, wheeled me around the Garden, and supported me when I get grouchy and depressed.

My family and friends inspire me. They do so much it takes my breath away! And they care enough in their busy lives to call, e-mail or visit to cheer me up. On Sunday my sister invited Angel and me to lunch with friends. We spent the day dining and gabbing and watching the World Cup finals - although we missed seeing the only goal!

Yesterday, my pals from the Met Club schlepped all the way up to the Bronx to join me at the Botanical Gardens. Although it was pouring rain, we had a happy time in the Café, chatting away.

It is wonderful how caring people can boost your spirits. I am not used to being on the receiving end, but it sure is nice!

Saturday, July 10, 2010


What INSPIRES us? What is there that might give us a “kick start” to live life to the fullest?

Last Spring the New York Botanical Garden had a wonderful exhibit on Emily Dickinson, the 18th century poet. Throughout the blossoming gardens were excerpts from her poems. At the entrance to the Children’s Garden was this thought:

Be inspired. Inspired: to fill with enlivening emotion; to stimulate to action; to motivate; to breathe life into.

What fills us with “enlivening emotion”? What stimulates us to action? What motivates us? What breathes life into us? And what do we do with this inspiration? How do we take action? How does this “breath of life” manifest itself in our works, our relationships?

I get inspiration from some very familiar sources and some that are a bit atypical.

NATURE - especially my walks in the Botanical Garden, Central Park, the Bronx Zoo, and vacation trips (the Pacific Coast, the German Alps, Florence, and Death Valley, to name a few).

BOOKS - and not just spiritual books or poems, although I am big on Henri Nouwen and Anthony De Mello. I’ve discovered that even novels sometimes provide the words or phrase that set my heart spinning and my imagination soaring.

TV and MOVIES - Star Trek has some very “spiritual” episodes that have clarified real life mysteries for me in a real way and helped to deepen my faith.

PEOPLE - Throughout my life I have been blessed to know good, ordinary, and extraordinary people who have inspired me. Some older, some my age, and some much, much younger.
Inspiration has enabled me to write poetry, to paint, to design programs and projects in my work, to start a blog, to look at my relationships in a new way. The list goes on and on. And changes from year to year. As it does in each of our lives.

What INSPIRES you?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Still Struggling

Still Struggling

Well it seems that I have a slight fracture of the hip in the groin area - no wonder it hurts so much. What does this mean? I need to learn patience since I won’t be able to walk the way I’d like to for some time. I need to spend more time at home, inside, quietly. This really drives me crazy since I am an outside person. I am always ready to escape: to the Botanical Garden, to the city, to the mall, to the movies, to see friends. Anywhere but home.

What do I need to learn from this experience? More empathy with those who are challenged and cannot get around easily. I marvel at how people get around the city on wheelchairs and walkers. I’m afraid to cross the street at my new slow pace.

Maybe I need to learn to be quiet and meditate more, to explore that deep dark scary “inner me” that I try so hard to shut out. Maybe I need to learn new things: new tricks on the computer and internet? Maybe I need to work on my presentation for next Fall’s Wisdom Wednesday Workshop that I will be leading. Anyway, I can’t say I don’t have the time. Time is all I have right now. Time to learn, time to get well.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Spring Challenges

It’s been a challenging Spring for me. Busy with happy things: my granddaughter Sierra’s First Communion and grandson Chase’s Confirmation in May. Plus all the May birthdays: Sierra - 8; Marina - 17; and Chase - 14 years old! A big party on May 1st to celebrate all of the above plus my husband’s 70th birthday.

And then I was struck by a persistent cough, tickling in the throat, and hoarseness. Went to the doctor several times but it would not go away. They attribute it to the terrible pollen season we’ve been having but I - true to my nature - began to worry. In the meantime my back went out and I pulled a groin muscle (like A-rod!). I had to get a cane and I could not do my usual hour walk each day; in fact, I could hardly walk at all. This was awful since walking is my main exercise and helps me work off stress.

I became so frightened and my imagination was working overtime. Thankfully, I trust my doctors and they were very reassuring. In fact, everyone was being so nice to me. My friends were concerned and full of stories and helpful hints. Angel was wonderful, doing all the housework and shepherding me around.

I learned a powerful lesson from all of this. My independence, which I value so, is fragile - as it is for all of us. Learning to lean on others, to accept their help is difficult. Through all of this challenging Spring, one thing pulled me through. Prayer. I do remember to pray and even when I pray in darkness, without much hope, the answers come. In the form of doctors, friends, loved ones. A lesson I needed to learn indeed.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Happy Mothers Day

This month I’ve been attending a discussion group on Joan Chittiser’s book “The Gift of Years”. Yes, it’s about growing old and it is very positive. Here is a quote from the chapter on “Productivity”. “When we go on giving ourselves away right to the very end, we have lived a very full life.”

My Mom lived to the very end, despite her illness, being herself to the last. Her final “work”, hours before she died, was to order gifts from the Avon catalog for those she loved. This is how Mom expressed her love; she wasn’t a touchy-feely, huggy-kissy person. She loved to gift.

She was also a fighter, outspoken on issues she felt strongly about. Mom went down fighting, fighting cancer, even fighting the doctors who woke her that night to do a “procedure”. She was a lesson in living to the very end.

Thank you Mom for your courageous example, your generous spirit - a gift to me and to the world! Happy Mothers Day in Heaven and Happy Mothers Day to all mothers everywhere.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Poem for Spring

It's Spring! And I get inspired just strolling amidst the fresh new green of the trees. The feel of Spring this year brought back a memory of a park near where I grew up. When I was a kid, I was convinced there were fairies and woodland creatures in Forest Park, it felt so magical. And a poem came to me, which I share with you.

Along for the Ride

Who rides inside of me?
This fine Spring day
When trees blush
Prettily in pink
And grin frizzy green.

Who rides inside? My Dad,
His love of nature
Rooted deep in me.

Who rides inside? My
Grandfather’s garden
Where once I dug in delight
And now each bud and bloom stir
Smiles inside my heart.

Who rides inside
My deep dark woods?
A Forest Park elf
Behind an old stone wall
Up to some sweet mischief.

I feel the brush
Of fairy wings
Dusting me with mystery.
I hear the hidden creatures
Call from some faraway
Place … or time …

Spring takes the stage again
With a trumpet blast
And a drum roll.
Winter’s dead dread is
But a distant dream.

Spring ignites the great
White Way of my life
And makes her abode
Deep inside … for the ride.

© E.M. Ramos 4/11/2010

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Secrets and Psalm 139

Secrets and Psalm 139

In light of my aversion to having my “secrets” revealed, I wonder that Psalm 139 is my favorite. “O Lord you have probed me and You know me.” It does not disturb me; rather it comforts me to know God knows “when I sit and when I stand,” that He understands “my thoughts from afar.” Maybe it reminds me that I am not alone, that God is aware of little me, that He cares about me.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? From your presence, where can I flee?” Rather than fear being found out, these passages raise some deep down gratitude. Why? I am not sure. It is a paradox. But I trust the feeling. And my prayer “Sacred Heart of Jesus I place my trust in Thee” has gotten me through so many dark moments, how could I not be hopeful when His hand guides me and holds me fast!

On this glorious Easter day, it is no secret that I feel grateful to have the gift of my faith and l wonder at the mystery of the Resurrection. How blessed I am! Happy Easter to all!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mysteries and Secrets

Mysteries and Secrets

I love mystery novels. One of my favorites is the Victorian Mystery series by Robin Paige, which takes place in late 19th century England. Kate Ardleigh and her husband Sir Charles Sheridan are amateur sleuths. What is so interesting and educational are the real historical characters they encounter during their adventures: the Prince of Wales, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and Chas. Rolls (of Rolls-Royce).

All sorts of new inventions and technology are explored in these novels: fingerprints, the camera, the motor car, etc. And the reactions of the people of that time to these new inventions and developments in crime detection. Change is difficult for people to accept. New technology is not always embraced at first. New ways of doing things are not trusted. Some things never change across the centuries! Like people’s attitudes.

One passage that set me thinking was Sir Charles’ explanation of how X-rays work to incredulous listeners. You can actually see inside the body, he says. Imagine the implications for medicine, says a local physician. We may one day even be able to observe the heart beating. And Kate replies: “And soon we will have no secrets at all”.

No secrets at all. That’s how I sometimes feel in the face of 21st century technology. All of these new wonders are robbing us of our secrets. Google anything, including your own name, and chances are you’ll find out more than you ever wanted to know. And when I go for a medical check-up to be scanned way beyond X-rays - blood tests, CT’s, MRI’s - discovering secrets I did not even know I had. Well, no wonder I and so many others distrust and fear these new fangled investigative devices. They take away our last illusion of control, shine an all-revealing light on our nice safe dark corners. No more secrets.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Running to Nowhere

For some time I have felt so impatient. Like I want to hurry everything through and get on to the next thing. No matter what it is. If I’m reading, I want to hurry and finish the book and immediately start the next. I call it “Chain Reading”, much like chain smoking except it‘s not destroying my lungs. I read 57 books last year. If I’m walking I want to hurry and get to some destination, usually the café or some other place to eat. If I’m eating, I hurry to finish, hardly noticing the taste, never savoring.

I want the movie to be over so I can go on to the next thing. At work, I enjoy the planning but my goal is to finish and proceed to the next project -right away. I can’t stand to be without motion, to be still, to meditate, to focus, to pray. I want everything to be over and done with. Instead of breathing and delighting in where I am right now. And where I am right now is in flux. PS I hurried to finish this.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Memories of Dad #5

Memories of Dad continued (See Memories in earlier blogs)

Dad was not as much of a fighter as Mom. He was resigned to a lot. Like living in the city. I asked him about that once and he said he loved New York because he had met Mom here and because we kids were here. When he was demoted (today it would be downsized) in his job after years of hard work, because of all the layoffs, he took it quietly but I know he was hurting inside. Life is not fair - Mom hated that and ranted and raved against injustice. Dad just sat and took it. Maybe it built up inside him, boiled, festered. Maybe that’s why his temper explosions were so scary.

Dad was conservative, too, in his politics. He was very patriotic. He loved America and he believed in everything this country did. He would have gladly fought in any war and died for his country. In fact he tried to enlist in WWII but was refused because of his age and his job at a defense plant. I wonder what would have happened had he lived through Vietnam. Would we have had terrible clashes about that war which I opposed? I wonder.

I appreciated that Dad could listen to me and share my problems and even confide in me about his own personal conflicts. Many times we walked and talked quietly. He listened and told me his problems too. He didn’t solve any but it was so good to be comforted and to know that he had problems too.

Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Dad was the second child in a family of four boys and three girls. He grew up speaking Hungarian. When his older brother Joe started school at Sacred Heart Parochial School, Dad missed him so much that the nuns let him come to school, too, at age four. But he spoke no English and Uncle Joe had to translate for him. Dad remained bilingual all his life. Dad told me once that no one could trace the roots of the Hungarian language; it is not related to any of the Indo-European tongues. I was fascinated by the strange-sounding and mysterious-looking language that I heard him use with my grandparents and that I saw embroidered on the wall hangings in their home.

Young John or Janos (his parents called him “Yanch”) was an altar boy at the Hungarian church. He would go to two churches every Sunday, first to serve on the altar in the Hungarian liturgy, then to Mass in English.

Dad did not like high school at all and dropped out after two years. He would always be defensive about his deficient education; perhaps that was why he valued learning so much and like Mom, encouraged his children to get as much schooling as they could.

Aunt Elizabeth remembers walking home from the store when she was six or seven years old. She met Dad (he was 16 or 17 at the time) and he told her he was leaving, to say goodbye to Mom and Pop. He would up in Ohio and came home a few years later. Once again he encountered his sister Elizabeth , this time on the train. He was very ill with the flu. Later he went to New York because Aunt Anna and Aunt Helen, my grandmother’s sisters, visited Erie with stories of how it was easier to find work in New York City. Dad lived with Aunt Anna in NY. This was the time of the Great Depression and finally Dad took advantage of one of the programs of the New Deal; he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and traveled to Idaho and Wyoming to fight forest fires and plant trees. This experience shaped his life immensely and enkindled a great love of nature that he passed on to all of us.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Memories of Dad #4

Memories of Dad continued .....

My Dad was the quiet, observing person who loved nature and sunsets and clouds and trees. He would rise at 5 a.m. and drive hours to a lake or river and fish quietly all day. He liked a buddy with him, whether it was Uncle Bill or his cousin Gene or a friend from work or me or Kathy or one of the boys.

He was also the one who couldn’t watch a sentimental program on TV or hear a beautiful song on the “relaxing” station WPAT, without tears coming to his eyes. I’m like him in that way, the least thing gets me all choked up and teary eyed. Mom never cried at a movie; at least she never let me see her cry.

Dad was concerned with our education but not in the same way as Mom: he was proud when we brought home good marks but I think it was more of a vindication. Dad was a high school dropout, while his oldest brother was a college graduate. Dad never got over this and would always let me know if he thought I was getting boastful or conceited about my academic achievements. And when I was in college, he resented my “know-it-all” attitude and took it personally. He must have “hurt” from his relationship with his older brother. So our marks must have proved in some way that Johnny Lovas was not so dumb after all!

Dad was a powerful teacher in his own quiet way. He taught me a lot about faith and beauty and constancy. He was the ultimate responsible person. He was the cool head in a crisis. He never panicked, you felt so safe with Dad. He could fix anything - around the house, and more importantly, when Jeff had all his accidents and Mom was hysterical, Dad knew just what to do.

Dad never missed Sunday Mass but he would go himself to the early Mass. He didn’t like crowds and often shared that he thought worship should be a private affair. Every night, he sat on the edge of his bed, head bowed, and said his prayers silently before going to sleep. His favorite spot to think about God was out in God’s creation. Dad had a picture of a Mass being offered on the shores of Jackson Lake in the Teton Mountains when he was in the CCC’s. That was the perfect church for Dad.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Memories of Dad #3

Last Tuesday, February 16th was the 45th anniversary of my Dad’s death. I think I will continue my memories of him by starting with the basics.

My father, John James Lovas, Jr. (12/28/1909 to 2/16/1965)

Dad was tall, about six foot, well-built until middle age when he got a bit flabby around the middle. But he was so-o-o handsome, with his wavy dark hair (later silver at the temples), his piercing gray eyes that always seemed to be squinting, his long nose and perfect mouth. The pipe, perennially perched at the side of the mouth, was the final touch. It gave him a peaceful look and comforted me greatly. I thought he would never lose that terrifying temper while he had that pipe in his mouth.

Dad was the opposite of Mom in many ways. While her walk was hurried, her appearance a bit disheveled, her manner spontaneous, my father’s actions were slow, deliberate, carefully organized and planned, never in a rush.

His walk was slow, with long powerful, unhurried steps. The only time I remember him running was to pull Kathy and me from the lake when we almost drowned. I used to wait for him to come home from work - he’d walk, straight and powerful, up the block. I would run up to him, but he never altered his pace.

Mom was always in a rush, always last minute, often late. Dad was early to bed, early to rise, probably never late to anything in his life, absent from work only twice - for severe poison ivy and a burst appendix. He was on his way to work the day he died of a heart attack.

Dad went about his work on the job and at home in an organized, cool and deliberate manner. He planned a project at his workbench, which was always neat, clean and impeccably ordered. Everything in its place. Even the screws and nails in the baby food jars whose caps were nailed to the workbench so he could unscrew the right jar as he needed it. I think the only one of us kids to take after him is Kathy.

His appearance was always just right. Not a hair out of place. Well-groomed. He never left a piece of clothing on a chair - everything was hung up, in its place.

His speech was reminiscent of the Pennsylvania twang of Erie where he grew up. I didn’t realize this till later in life when I heard some people from Pennsylvania talk and realized how much their accent sounded like Dad’s. His voice was a deep bass, very masculine. He usually spoke slowly and calmly but that temper would cause a roar that could be heard “all the way down the block”.

That Hungarian temper was the tragedy of this gentle man because it could flare up so suddenly and unexpectedly. It made me fear him, which is sad because I loved him so and because he was really such a teddy bear at heart.

In fact, I often compared Dad to a bear. When he hugged me (till I thought I would smother) it was truly a “bear” hug. He was a big old lovable bear, ferocious at times, funny, lumbering, overwhelming, dangerous, but oh, so cute.


Sunday, January 31, 2010

January Poems

I don’t know what it is about winter that inspires the poet in me but it does. Maybe it’s being able to see through uncluttered bare branches, to see what I didn’t notice during the distraction of Fall. Anyway I am just grateful for the gift of another poem.

Winter Whine

This is not your gentle January.
This month means business.
Freeze drying the brain
Shoving shiv ‘ring bones within
To seek refuge nigh
Desiccating hearth,
There to brood on shortened days
To cry dry tears for dead dreams
And look back in anguish.

Or perhaps, January says “go out”.
Sip in the icy breath of life.
Dance merrily on the slippery way.
Dare to fall and rise again.
And look ahead in awe.

© E.M. Ramos 1/8/2010

The next poem was inspired by my dear friend Mary, 95 years young, who says that she seems to be sleeping most of the day. I have long connected late life with winter. And so ….

Winter Waiting

Winter time’s for sleeping.
That’s just the way it is.
All the world appears dead,
Draped in dried, drab reminders
Of Autumn’s harvest.

Yet just below the surface
Life lies in quiet repose.
Renewing energy
Dreaming of Spring
Hoping for rebirth.

© E.M. Ramos 1/17/2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Memories of Dad #2

Here’s some very early ones. The story of my naming. During my Mom’s first pregnancy, they made a trip to my Dad’s hometown of Erie, PA and visited his 8th grade teacher, Sister Mary Eleanora. They told her that they were hoping for a boy, but if they had a girl, they would name the baby after her. And Sr. Eleanora replied: “I’ll pray it’s a boy, but I hope it’s a girl!”

I was the youngest in my class when I started kindergarten at St. B.’s school. In those days, Catholic schools had 2 graduating classes a year - January and June. I was slated to stay in kindergarten another 6 months because I was so young. Dad (kiddingly?) remarked one night: “Tell your teacher to put you in 1st grade or else!” And of course, I told her what my Dad said. When I was promoted to 1st grade in January, I was convinced it was because of Dad’s “threat”.

Dad would wake me up early in the morning for fishing trips, carry me asleep to the car. It seemed like we drove hours to the lake, listening to 40’s music on the radio, songs that warm my heart to this day. I loved baking in the sun, sitting in the row boat, waiting for a nibble, and watching the dragon flies dance romantically on the tip of my rod. Or just be mesmerized by the sun reflected in the water’s ripples. Dad taught me to appreciate silence. And his greatest gift to us: a deep love of nature.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Remembering Dad

As I said in my last blog, I am extending my celebration of my father over the next several weeks and months. Here's installment #1.

My fondest memory is Dad coming to our rescue in an upstate lake. How old was I? 9? 10? 11? I swam out with my sister, Kathy behind me and found I couldn't touch bottom. She grabbed on to me - I knew how to swim and she did not. But I could not move with her hanging on. The bathers on shore just looked and made no motion to come to our aid. But Dad saw what was happening, kicked off his shoes, and came out, clothes and all, pipe in his mouth, to save his girls. I will never never forget the expression on his face as long as I live. My savior! It gives me great hope for any other trouble I will face the rest of my days. Kathy remembers Dad drying out his money after the rescue. I remember that he changed into his bathing suit and wanted us to have a swim lesson. Kathy did. But I wouldn't go near the water for quite some time. Hmmmm...