Whenever I Close My Eyes, I Still Can See Your Smile

You never forgot my birthday. I will never forget yours. (I still remember you getting diners at Cinelli’s to sing me Happy Birthday.)

It’s been a little over 25 years since you have been gone. The pain in my heart from your death is not as severe but there are always reminders of what I miss. Christmas has never been the same. I remember your unbridled joy for the holidays. You loved the lights, decorating the tree and playing all the Christmas songs (starting with Thanksgiving dinner.)  We loved counting all the presents under the family tree on Christmas Eve. However you always held one gift back for everyone—-the one that you knew would bring the most surprise and the most joy.

Even though I was four years older, you were the wiser. Yeah, I had the better grades in school  but you were so good and so loved by so many people. You loved life. You took chances. You traveled. You risked your heart. You always smiled. You had so many friends! You were an inspiration to me.

You and I did have some battles. We both knew how to needle one another and sometimes we would have huge verbal wars. But we always had each others back and woe to those who would say something bad about one of us if the other was present.

At my wedding, you happened to get lost finding the park where we were going to take pictures. The wedding photographer wanted to take pictures without you there and I refused to take any pictures till you showed up. It did not make my new wife, Chris happy. However, you did show up, a bit late and had started to party before the rest of us did. 

At your funeral service, one of your neighbors mentioned to me how you told them that there was no one else you trusted more than me. I told your neighbor that no one’s opinion or judgment meant more to me. We both leaned on each other for support and that support and love are what I missed so much the past 25 years.

You were my kid sister that I had to protect. I remember you calling me in my early 20s. You were working alone at a Dunkin Donuts, frightened from being harassed by some guys. I hung up the phone and sped to your job wielding a baseball bat and rushing through the store door like a scowling Buford Pusser. Fortunately for them (and me) they had left but you knew I would did my best to always protect you.

However I could not protect you when the nurses told me that you had died during your surgery to have a tumor removed from your brain. It was not an easy surgery. You had noticed my concern prior to your surgery and were even amused that you heard that I, a committed agnostic, had gone to mass. I would have made a deal with the devil if it would have kept you alive. You passed away 10 days after Christmas and a month before your 39th birthday.

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A Bit of Nostalgia

I have maintained a journal since college (1970). A reader may be amazed and amused by entries I wrote forty to fifty years ago about purchases I made or prices that existed decades ago. Below is a brief sampling of entries…

August 9, 1973

Pair of glasses cost me $44.

Friday, March 22, 1974

Bought an $85 suit on Monday. Pretty snazzy!

Tuesday, April 17, 1979

It’s very hard to find encouraging news. Gasoline prices are close to $.80 for unlimited, $.74 for regular. Many gas stations are gouging consumers and raising prices higher than what the government guidelines call for.

Tuesday, July 31, 1979

Prices:

Flounder $2.29 a pound

Eggs one dollar a dozen

Bread $.53 a load

Steak $2.49 a pound 

Pepsi 64 oz. $.99 

Lettuce $.59 a head

Milk $.86 for a half-gallon

Hamburger $1.99 lb.

Movies $3.50

Saturday, April 12, 1980

Price trivia:

Gas $1.27 per gallon unleaded

Egg McMuffin, hash browns, OJ $1.94

Sunday Inquirer $.60

Sunday Courier $.35

Gatorade $.69 a bottle

Thursday, January 15, 1981

I paid $1.49 for a 45 RPM record today. Only a couple years ago, you could buy a 45 for $.79.

My Life is an Open Book

“It is with books as with men: a very small number play a great part.”

 Voltaire (1694-1778)

When my father died at age 7, I had no older brother or sister for guidance. Essentially I had to rely upon my own resources as I grew up. I also lost my religion fairly early so I was neither a believer or reader of The Bible. I know that many people find comfort, guidance and wisdom from their religious beliefs. However I chose to go a different way. Reading was a critical element in my life. Books provided me entertainment, knowledge, guidance and perspective. I’m estimating that I have read over 5000 books in my life.

There were a number of books that inspired me in my personal life. There were stories (real and fiction) of people who overcame challenges and provided examples and lessons on how one should conduct their lives.

Here is a list of books that made a significant impression on how I view life, death, relationships and morality.

Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived by Lawrence James and Peter Barton

Learning To Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect life by Philip Simmons

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts (I always encourage people just to read the first chapter which is powerful, if they can’t read the entire book.)

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Running to the Mountain by Jon Katz

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Eureka (A Novel) by Jim Lehrer

The Way of the Ronin by Bev Potter (changed my view on work and just being labeled an employee)

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

Winter Journal by Paul Auster

Chasing Death: How my Forthcoming Death Changed My Life by Eugene O’Neill

Stoner by John Williams

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

All Quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque

Creating the Good Life by James O’Toole

If Stupid was a Stock

Analysis: Stupid continues to grow faster than coronavirus. It’s contagion has spread rapidly into our politics, culture, entertainment, business and religions. Anticipate no correction anytime soon for Stupid. Expect that it will be around for at least another four years.

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Six Quick Observations from the 2-19-20 Democratic Presidential Debate

For full disclosure, I have watched all the Democratic Presidential debates. This debate was the most meaningful and all the knives came out tonight that were held in all the candidates’ scabbards prior to tonight.

  1. With each Democratic debate, the better the chance that Donald Trump will be re-elected. The longer the nomination process goes undecided, again, the better the chance that Trump will be re-elected. The debates and some of the inane questions presented by the debate moderators only hurt the Democratic candidates. Some of the questions were just meant to rile up the candidates. Case in point, questions to Amy Klobuchar for not knowing the name of the President of Mexico. Really?
  2. Elizabeth Warren should be the Democratic nominee. She’s smart, articulate, energetic and her verbal takedown of Mike Bloomberg was the template on how a candidate should confront and challenge Donald Trump in a debate and during the election cycle. She had the best debate performance tonight by far.
  3. Mike Bloomberg was very unimpressive. He badly fumbled responding to issues about “stop and frisk,” his support of Obamacare, non-disclosure agreement releases from his employees and failure to release his tax returns. The Democrats badly need his money—-just not Mike.
  4. Prior to this debate, I viewed Amy Klobuchar as the best candidate for VP. The ticket will need a strong woman with legislative experience and from a Midwest state. She exhibited some thin skin and loss of poise when pressed by Pete Buttigieg on her voting record. She does have a reputation for having a bad temper and it flared onstage. I noticed she stalked off the stage when the debate was over, not stopping to shake anyone’s hands. Maybe Pete is angling for the VP nomination over Amy.
  5. I sense 1972 again. The Democrats nominate a candidate who has a huge appeal to young people but who will frighten off more moderate and older voters. Say what you want about Bernie Sanders, he does exhibit a lot more energy and acuity than septuagenarians Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg and Donald Trump. However, he’ll get crucified with the socialist label by the GOP and Fox. I think Trump will, in boxing terms, be able to “rope a dope” his way past Bernie in a debate. Warren won’t let Trump out of the corner.
  6. Joe Biden looks old. He had a decent debate. He attacked Mike Bloomberg effectively. But I can’t see him having the energy to run hard for the election. Good man. But time has passed him by.

Eulogy to my Mom (July 2018)

I thank Father Bill for giving me this opportunity to speak briefly about my mother. On behalf of Monica and I, thank all of you for coming to our mom’s service to celebrate her memory. Monica and I would also like to thank many of you here for your support and encouragement during my mom’s illness. In times like these, we deeply appreciate our family and friends.

Additionally I personally would like to thank three people. First, my wife Chris… she handled two huge projects related to my mother’s illness, first, the sale of her house and second, dealing with my anxieties and issues regarding my mother’s care.

Second, I’d like to thank my mom’s best friend and neighbor for over 55 years, Mrs. Dot Carter. Mrs. Carter and I shared a lot of travels between Pennsauken and Linwood to see my mom the past few years. Many of these trips were regrettably unproductive and heartbreaking but despite the discouragement, Mrs. Carter insisted on accompanying me on most trips as she felt that it was important that my mom knew she was there. My mom had no better friend. And I thank Mrs. Carter for her conversation during those long drives and in relaying stories about my mom.

Last, I want to thank Monica. If any of you have talked to me in the past two years, you know how proud and grateful I am for her. Monica exhibited extraordinary patience and compassion and that was just dealing with me. Monica’s care and consideration for my mom was extraordinary and I will share a story with you at the end to demonstrate that.

Now some thoughts about my mom:

My mom would hate what I’m about to do. She would be very uncomfortable with any type of eulogy or recognition. She was shy, introverted and hated any type of spotlight. She was very uncomfortable being around strangers – – she did not like to mingle. If you had attended my wedding or those of my sisters you would have found her firmly seated in her chair.

She lived a long but not an unchallenged life. The first forty years of more she spent with her mother and those in my family in attendance, who knew my grandmother knew that could not have been easy. My mom was widowed twice, once as early as age 35 with two kids, me at seven and Sandra at age 3. At that time, she did not drive. She had no real education – – I’m not sure that she finished middle school. She had limited skills to go out and find a job.

But a job she did find later in life. When Monica was old enough to be on her own, my mom went to work at the Pennsauken Mart. She worked at a snack bar with Mrs. Carter and she enjoyed her work and she actually began to socialize more, especially with the customers. Her boss, Joe is here and I’m very pleased to tell Joe how much she enjoyed working for you as her boss.

Father Bill would be pleased to know that my mom was a very good Catholic. She faithfully attended mass each week and prayed a rosary daily. Given her suffering the past two years, I would expect that if she had any sins, she has accounted and made penance for them.

She was an avid reader – – reading up to six books a month. ( I did inherit my mother’s interest in reading.) Her tastes ran to fiction and she had no interest in politics (though she was wise enough to consult with me before she voted). She enjoyed music and my understanding is that she was quite a dancer in her younger years. ( I did not inherit my mom’s talent for dancing)

Mom was old school. She never used a computer or owned an iphone. Her favorite places to eat were not at fancy restaurants but more personal places called Sandra’s, Chris’s and Sean’s. My mom’s personal Yelp ratings for those cooks exceeded five stars.

She stayed active in her later years. Till her 70’s she walked around Cooper River. In her 80s, she walked 3-4 circuits around the Moorestown Mall a few times per week. My mom’s body did not wear out – – it was her mind that failed her.

My mom had two great passions. The first is her love of fashion. If you look at the collage, you can’t help notice that my mom was very stylish. I told you earlier that my mom did not like to be the center of attention – – but that didn’t pertain to people complimenting her on how she looked. My mom was as meticulous as Melania Trump in how she looked in public. Fashion, not conversation, was how my mom communicated her personality and mood.

The greatest passion my mom had and the most important was her love for her children. She loved us equally but treated us differently. My mom once told me “don’t take this personally Eric, but a mom’s relationship with her daughters is special.” She had expressed to Mrs. Carter and later to me that she wished that she had been more affectionate with us but Sandra, Monica and I never doubted her love.

So I knew I was third in the pecking order but I did not mind. Both Sandra and Monica were very special – – though very different. Sandra’s death in 1995 was devastating to my mom. My mom lived vicariously through Sandra and envied her career and personality. Sandra took my mom on various vacations, trips, shopping and dining excursions and opened new experiences and worlds for her. My mom never fully recovered from Sandra’s death.

As for me, her biggest fear especially after Sandra died, was that I would die prematurely. Since my father died at 35 from a sudden heart attack, my mom would become very agitated when it snowed. She did not want me to shovel my sidewalks fearing I would have a cardiac arrest. My mom intimated on several occasions that Chris should shovel the snow possibly suggesting that Chris was more expendable than I was.

Monica was my mom’s favorite child (or so my mom told me one day). My mom fretted that she did not see Monica enough. However when my mother’s mental condition worsened, she did not want Monica burdened with her care. However it was Monica’s decision to move my mother to a long term care center by her so she could take care of her.

On my mom’s last day, Monica was by her bedside at 7:00 a.m. Monica suspected from her last few visits in observing my mom’s labored breathing that the end was near. Realizing that the last sense to go before one dies is their hearing, Monica gently spoke to my mom and noting that it was July 4th , wondered if Sandra was organizing a barbecue in heaven. Monica did not want my mom to die alone and she didn’t. What I find personally comforting about my mom’s death is that my mom knew Monica was there at her last breath and that last voice she heard was Monica’s. And my fervent hope is that when my mom moved from death to eternal life that she heard a voice she so surely missed, Sandra’s.

I love you Mom. I will continue to keep my promise to you!