Everyone remembers their high school graduation. For some people, it was important, for others, it wasn’t, but everyone remembers it. Walking across the stage, shaking hands with faculty, holding a diploma, and smiling in photos with family and friends. Whether you’re 85 or 25, everyone has graduated high school the same way. Except for me, and the thousands of other high school seniors impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. When spring break was extended, we celebrated the extra time at home. But as weeks went on and the chances of us returning to school in-person set in, so did disappointment. Would we get to say goodbye to teachers? What about senior traditions? No prom? But most importantly, will we graduate? And how? Some schools immediately decided to host graduations virtually, while others, like mine, drew out their decisions until July, and left us hoping for a proper graduation, only to be disappointed. I didn’t realize how excited I was to graduate, surrounded by my friends and family, until it was taken away from me, and despite putting on a brave face and understanding that it was necessary to keep people safe, I was upset. Nothing, however, brings communities together like random acts of kindness, and boy did my community deliver. My church surprised all of its seniors with gift baskets and yard signs, and strangers bought my coffee for me countless times after seeing my decorated car in drive-through lines. After proper isolation, my friends and I were even able to have a mini-prom, complete with decorations, courtesy of our moms. Is virtual gradation going to make up for the life experience I have to miss? Maybe not, but the love from the people around me is more than enough, and it’s because of them that I, just like everyone else, will remember the spring I graduated high school.
Cousins in the Kitchen
My cousins and I have cooked our way through the Coronavirus. And it has served to keep us connected even though we are over 1000 miles apart. The nightly food photo texts began spontaneously on St. Patrick’s Day. My family is proud of its Irish heritage so it was no surprise that we began by sharing photos of our traditional boiled dinners. We instinctively made corned beef, boiled potatoes and cabbage, and Irish soda bread.
It was so much fun commenting on the food, the plates, and shared memories of various relatives’ kitchens and cooking. Without any discussion or planning, there were more photos of food the next night. In the nights to come we would share menu ideas, recipes, and photos of floral arrangements and table décor. We celebrated special occasions like birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and the birth of a new cousin via our nightly food “blog”. We even shared pix of our creative transformations, a.k.a. leftovers, and the occasional food flop.
There were many nights spent trying to perfect homemade pizza dough. Taco Tuesday was a regular in all our menu rotations. Many photos of guacamole were shared, some of the prep and some of the final dish. I discovered a recipe for homemade enchilada sauce that we now all use. No more canned sauce for us!
Like many others in the time of Corona, we have baked bread, biscuits, cakes, cookies, and brownies. We have explored many international cuisines and spices. Mexican street corn has been featured over and over. Fresh vegetables and herbs from local markets and farm stands have been the inspiration for many diners. My cousin found ramps, a springtime delicacy, at a local market in Brooklyn. I cooked with fennel for the time. We all miss sushi.
Our family’s response to the Corona crisis was to gather around the table, eat well, and connect nightly with photos of food and Cousins in the Kitchen. We’re at 70 nights and counting.
My Pandemic Silver Lining
We are in the most extraordinary time of my life. This quarantine has been very difficult for everyone, and extremely tragic for many around the globe. I am most grateful and so far, extremely fortunate to be weathering the pandemic safe at home. The psychological aspects are the most challenging for me, but like many I have also discovered blessings and gifts within the constraints of our lockdown. My biggest gift, and silver lining has been the extra time I have been able to spend with my grandson, Luke Skywalker Cash. My “little” brother is much younger than me and was a confirmed bachelor for years before finally marrying a great lady and starting a family. Our parents both passed away the year before Luke was born, so I now have the great privilege of being his Mimi. They live in Olympia, Washington, but I have been able to visit twice before the pandemic.
By trade and love I have been involved in Theatre and the performing arts for most of my life. First as an actor, then directing and teaching. I volunteered my little brother to be in a musical when he was 5 years old, and then did the same with my three daughters. I was grateful to hear how much my brother appreciated the plays and classes once he was grown. I was honored when he and my sister-in-law asked if we could do my Fairytale Theatre Class via zoom while Luke was out of school. He is an extremely bright four-year-old and it has been a task keeping him challenged and learning while in lockdown. I was thrilled to give it a try! Now we have class every Friday afternoon at 2:00 pm EST, and as it turns out, I probably love it more than he does. We have a great time doing stories, songs, finger puppets, the magic tunnel and dressing up. The time flies, I’m learning to teach online and it’s just fine if we go overtime. It has given me something to look forward to each week, and I also got to “attend” his Birthday party via zoom. It has been a true blessing and something I will always hold dear as our special time together. Of course, I can’t wait until I can see him in person and get that great big hug, but in the meantime, it is the next best thing.
Water. Adventure. Luck! That’s my story!
My sister and I are standing on the wooden dock in Road Town Tortola in the Caribbean! We traveled so far and are now staring up at the tall ship we are going to board.
“Rusty Bucket” someone muttered in the crowd. Shrugging our shoulders, we clamber aboard, eager to explore Yankee Clipper, our home for the next week.
We are excited because this is our first vacation “sans parents” and we are going scuba diving in the crystal clear Caribbean Sea!
We are now enjoying the welcome party on the fantail complete with 151 proof rum when our rum numbed brains hear “there will not be any scuba diving on this trip!”
We quickly went up to the captain, this tall, tanned figure in dress whites, “Captain Burke, we came a long way to go diving”, we gushed, “Could we borrow or rent some tanks to take on the cruise so we can dive?” He looked out into the quiet island harbor, stroked his chin, and was slow to respond. But, then he said “Well you can pack your bags and in the morning you can jump ship. That’s the Yankee Trader and she’s going to be sailing across the Caribbean on a delivery cruise to Belize and you can do all the diving you want. Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Cozumel, Belize . . “.
“What about . . . how much” we stammered
“Don’t worry, I will tell the Captain you are coming aboard!” We were breathless with exhilaration. So unexpected. We would be gone all summer instead of one week.
What should we do? We could get fired! What about rent? Can we do this should we do this . . .?
Oh my god oh my god . . . what should we do? We did it!!! We lost our jobs and got in a lot of trouble. But for days we dove in the clear blue Caribbean and lived a free and sun-filled life!
We did it! We lost our jobs and got into a LOT OF TROUBLE, but for 21 days, we dove in the crystal clear Caribbean Sea. You know what? Before the year was over . . . we BOTH got jobs on Windjammer’s ships, living a Free and Sun-filled life”. Will I always feel so free?
My daddy taught me to write by writing
To enjoy the feel of a pen in my hand or a keyboard beneath my fingers
To believe in magic and mold words into a perfect story
To speak with clarity though my voice shook
To stand up for myself by standing up for others
To stand tall when I wanted not to stand out
To judge a person only by the content of his character
To not brand a person with biased labels
To give a dollar to a stranger because it’s the right thing to do
To be kind when no one’s watching
To never be scared to soar by giving me wings
To know I have a safe landing place, should I falter in flight
To not let a diagnosis define you
To fight like hell against an invisible monster
To never be afraid to show I am afraid
To accept a setback as it is and move forward
To celebrate the smallest triumphs
To appreciate the little moments
To love by loving
To do by doing
My daddy still teaches me
After my father died, my mother called my sister and me into their old bedroom. My dad’s big lacquered jewelry box was on my parent’s bed – where he kept his personal things. Together, we were going to go through it. Let me just say that we all loved my father dearly, and he was totally a stand-up guy-a responsible, loving father and husband-so we really didn’t expect any big surprises. What we did find was loose change, jewelry, various papers, a thick white sealed envelope and a big pile of losing OTB tickets. My father loved to gamble. He played the horses and bet on football. In NY we had off-track betting, or OTB. One could bet on horse races without having to be at the track. There were OTB storefronts in all the neighborhoods, and my dad, like my uncles, and all of their friends, headed down to OTB on Saturday mornings to study the race sheet and hang out with their cronies. This was acceptable because my dad only bet with his allowance. My mom handled all the money for the household, including paying the bills. She permitted my father an allowance every paycheck, which was for him to spend as he pleased. My dad never complained about this system, and I think he enjoyed this system. My dad wasn’t gambling with the mortgage payment or the electric bill money. It wasn’t a lot, but it gave him freedom, and my mother didn’t even bat an eyelash about it. She knew gambling was what he enjoyed; it was his hobby. The funny thing is my dad really wasn’t a lucky guy. Quite the opposite, he had a reputation for losing, and losing big. I can remember one time a jockey fell off a horse mid-race, and of course that was the horse my dad bet on-disqualified. Another time my father’s horse was in the lead, but suddenly he dropped dead right before the finish line. This would play out in front of our eyes. On Saturdays they televised the 9th race on TV, called “Live from Aqueduct Racetrack”. My mom would pull the portable TV on the rolling stand into the kitchen so we could watch the race at dinner time. That morning, my dad would be studying the racing sheet, and if he was at a loss for a bet, he’d ask me or my sister to pick a horse. We learned how to read a racing sheet early on as a rite of passage, all the cousins knew how. The televised races were so exciting–we’d all be screaming and urging his horses on. Then if he lost, he’d be in a bad mood. My mom, sister and I mostly thought his losses were funny. We were a giddy crew to begin with and he was a dead serious kind of guy. It was tough being the only man in our house, with two giggly girls and a mom who was just as bad. Plus, he was a NY Giants fan – not the best team in football by far. Watching the games, he would swear a blue streak, throw his Giants doll at the TV, rip up his betting tickets, and say he would never bet again. But he did! He would bet on everything, but he never bet against the Giants, he just couldn’t. They were his team, and betting against them would be inconceivable. See, my dad had eternal hope. Hope that the next time, he’d hit it big. He’d pick that trifecta, the Giants would make the playoffs, even win the Superbowl. My dad lived his life with the emotions of anticipation and expectation leading the way. Hope. My dad was a wonderful father. He passed on the excitation of live horseracing; the love of football; he made me a diehard Giants fan, but mostly he gave me the greatest gift, that of hope. For me, there always is a chance I will be lucky, I will choose correctly, things will work out. And when we went through his jewelry box that night, we came across all those losing old OTB tickets that he had saved. We also found a big, thick, sealed white envelope. My mom looked at us and joked tearfully that now we discover he had a secret wife and family. I knew we wouldn’t have to worry. I had everlasting hope in my dad. And that envelope, it was stuffed with cash, over $1,000. We knew he went out a winner!
I was 21, off at Nursing School, and living off-campus in an OK but not great apartment with my friend Jamie and her sister Mary Anne. I went out to get in my car and it wouldn’t start. Turns out the battery was missing. What to do? Seemed like a problem Dad could solve. Dad was a shift supervisor at Dow Corning in Hemlock, Michigan. He was working 3 – 11 that day. So, getting to him involved calling Mom to get the number, dialing it up and because it was second shift and the operator worked days, Dad answered my call. I explained the situation. Dad said “Ask Dave (Jamie’s boyfriend) to take you to K Mart and buy the medium-priced battery. Then ask Dave to put it in. Go buy him a 6 pack of beer as a thank you.” Worked like a charm.
You are such a dad.
– Rant about politics.
– Make cheesy dad jokes.
– Insist that I will not be allowed to date until I’m forty years old.
– Lecture people in customer service.
– Put tons of salt and pepper on everything.
– Reminisce about what it was like “back in your day.”
However, you also do so many amazing things that set you apart from others.
– Tear up over Hallmark and feel-good movies.
– Served in the military for 21 years.
– Watch shows with me till midnight even when it is “lights out at 10:30.”
– Drive me to all of my theater rehearsals.
– Give me a hug every night, no matter what.
– Love and care for everyone, no matter their circumstances.
– Give advice to random strangers like they were your own child.
It would be selfish of me to keep all of your great qualities to myself, so I am glad I get to share you with everyone around me. Please never change. I hope you always cry at sappy movies and make cheesy dad jokes. Don’t ever stop giving fatherly advice to strangers and loving everyone. Your small acts of kindness and small gestures of generosity do not go unnoticed. So I, on behalf of every person you have ever affected, would like to thank you for making our lives a little brighter. I’m sure we would all like to thank you, and any other great dads out there, for putting meaning into Father’s Day. So, maybe you are “such a dad”, but that is what makes you so great. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thank you for being my dad.
Love you most,
THE LAST GIFT FROM MY FATHER
My father died 3 years ago. In the year before his death, I spent a lot of time with him. He shared stories of his youth, and we traveled together visiting family. One of the things we discussed was cars. We were both in the market for a change and we were both looking at SUV’s. He had a big truck and was ready to downsize. He also thought he would buy Mom a newer model car. She had an old Cadillac she called her “creampuff” car. Dad was very knowledgeable about cars and we discussed which model would be the best and so on. One day when I went over to visit, there sat a SUV in the carport. He had gone out and chosen a new car before me! We all laughed about it and used that car to travel around. It had lots of “bells and whistles”. He just knew it was the right car for Mom for after he was gone. 6 months later Dad died. One of the things I wanted to do was buy that car from Mom. She did not want it, did not like it, and was set on keeping her “creampuff”. So, are you wondering how it is that a car I bought from Mom is a gift from Dad? Well, let me tell you. I knew it was a very good car if my Dad picked it out and I would not have to worry about going to a dealership and haggle my way through a car sale. And every time I drive the car, I have the memory of Dad in the passenger seat as my co-pilot, telling me stories. If you see me in my car, all alone, talking to myself, you might think I am crazy. But I am not. I am talking to my Dad. He still rides with me in that car, listening to all my stories. What a great gift! Thanks, Dad.
MEMORIES OF THE BIG FARM
During those young years on the big farm, I lived outside for all the daylight hours. Roaming on the bluff with my black cat or climbing to the top of trees where the wind would blow me around. Pretending I was either flying or sailing and I had never seen the ocean at that time. The rest of my time was spent following Daddy around being the farmer’s daughter.
I spent the winters making fudge, peanut brittle, and cookies for everyone I knew. Making doll clothes for my neighbor’s girls – Cecilia and Pam Glenn. But spring was soon to come. I watched the ground for the first sign of daffodils yellow on the hills and paperwhites outside my bedroom window. Lots of my days were spent in the barn looking for kittens in the hay. I couldn’t wait for them to open their eyes. Then the apple trees would bloom, beautiful pink and white blossoms. Most of the time no one knew where I was, and I would live in those trees until the blossoms were gone.
When the ground was ready, Daddy would start plowing. I loved the smell of the loose topsoil, and I spent time literally “following in his footsteps.” I remember hopping in his deep shoeprints one to the other to keep up with him. I adored my Daddy, and he always allowed me to tag along with him. When he would go into the back fields, I would run to meet him so I could ride the mules back to the barn. They were so sweaty and slick I could barely stay on as I held on to their mane. Daddy would laugh all the way to the house. Imagine how bad I smelled when I got there. Thankfully back then I could easily fit into a #2 wash tub to clean up before supper.
One of my favorite places to play was in the big pasture. There was a small pond that never dried up, so in the spring it would fill up with tadpoles. I would watch every stage of their development as they turned into frogs. I lost interest when they matured, and I wondered what became of them because there where hundreds.
That part of my life on the big farm was filled with wonderful memories still entrenched in my mind. There was a grape arbor near the dirt road. I would sit there on top of the vines and watch for dust to come up over the hill, which wasn’t often as there were few cars. Now I look back on those vines as a symbol of life itself, so intertwined but always leading back to the base and the beginning, and so it has been that way for me.
I was thirteen when we left that place. I came in from school one day and daddy had my cat in a burlap sack ready for me to join him in the back of the truck to leave and go the new place. A smaller farm, easier to handle for Mama and Daddy. A new community, a county away, where I would go to a new church and a new school where I would meet my future husband. Daddy lived to be 92 years old, and I never stopped adoring and admiring him. He always had a great curiosity and zest of life that I know he passed on to me, and he never lost it. I would grow up to learn he had a fascinating life full of travel, adventure, and wars before he settled down with Mama to start a big family on that first big farm.