Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Cousin Encounter of Another Kind (Five)

                                            ONE TWO THREE FOUR
I felt anticipation and fear as I waited to greet my cousin face to face. Would we be more strangers or buddies? Would we prune the broken branch of our family tree? Encourage growth again? He had called me, hadn’t he? I thought as the door opened. I stepped up onto the threshold and leaned into an embrace that lasted the equivalent of two or three bear hugs.

Fort Hamilton neighborhood
Joe introduced me to his landlord who appeared in the hallway, as landlords tend to do. “This is my Cousin Laura who I haven’t seen for a long time."His voice - full of emotion.

I went to sit on the  platform of the small stoop. Small as compared to one I remembered from the house I grew up in on 17th   Avenue. My cousin filled the doorway, his body supported by a cane, as we waited for his sister and mother to park on the street. “You look thin,” he said. I guess weight is relative.“There they are.” He pointed to his mother and sister as they walked toward us from the car. My aunt, 80, smiled broadly. Our hug – mutually grateful.

“You look wonderful,” I told her.

“Well, I don’t  feel so wonderful,” she replied as she gave a dismissive wave. But there she was, warmer than I remembered. Yet, I wonder if any of us can distinguish between what seemed so - way back when - and  what really was. Or how different our reality was compared to our cast of memory-makers. My father’s brother, not his wife, had been the main character of the family, for better or worse. He left a lot opened to interpretation. But then, don’t we all?  

Joseph’s sister climbed the steps. I was thrilled to see her. And even though she had, of course, aged, she seemed full of energy - clearly reminding me I was over five years older than her. I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve thought about how different I would be today - if my parents had not moved out of Brooklyn when I was ten. Did my cousins who stayed offer a glimpse of that difference?  

We headed to the car. My aunt said,“Let’s drive to 78th Street,” then turned to me. “You want to see you old house?”
Did I !

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Cousin Encounter of Another Kind (Four)

                          ONE  TWO THREE
I boarded the N train in the city at 57th Street and 7th Avenue. After a local stop or two the train emerged into the daylight.I could see the Brooklyn Bridge span over the East River through the window across from me, Just past the bridge, a looming Watchtower sign came into view. The last time I focused on these landmarks was on my TV screen, September 11, 2001, when thousands of Manhattanites mass exited the city. What looked Apocalyptic then, appeared as serene as a busy city could be serene on this sunny, humid morning.

Still, I could not keep myself from thinking What am I doing alone in this railroad car of strangers? Then I saw the chart of stops farther down the N line; ones that had a more familiar ring to them: Prospect Avenue, 59th St., New Utrecht Ave., 86th St. I remembered how my mother had so enjoyed wheeling her shopping cart in, through, and out of the small, Italian family-owned storefronts that lined 86th Street and 18th Avenue, before she became a reluctant Nutmegger. 

The train stops ran all the way down to Coney Island. It occurred to me: I might not only be trying to recapture the past. Maybe I was starting a future.
I followed my cousin’s instructions and got off at the Fort Hamilton station. I had planned to pick up a dozen cannoli  on the walk to his apartment. Within a half block I realized the 1950s “Little Italy” neighborhood I use to visit as a child had changed its milieu from Mediterranean to Far Eastern. Blueberry muffins from a Chinese bakery on 8th Avenue would have to do.
My iPhone Navigation App measured just over a mile from where I stood to Cousin Joe's address. I walked the ascent of street numbers quickly; the avenues, not so much, in the increasing humidity. In about twenty minutes I phoned from the front steps of his four-family apartment house.
He answered, "Be right down". Said his sister, the driver in the family, would pick us up on the stoop. Now there was a Brooklyn word: stoop. In Brooklyn, neighbors sat on stoops - in New England, porches.
(to be continued - just one or two more .....really!)
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Monday, September 24, 2012

A Cousin Encounter of Another Kind (Three)

Like No Other Place in the World!

My wish to return to Brooklyn and actually getting there were two different matters.

Matter #1: Transportation.
Even with a new Gamin GPS (my old Magellan just stopped taking a charge) I was tentative about following a talking compass through New York streets filled with New York drivers. Each and every one of us, I was sure, would be vying for the same parking spot.

My brother passed on going but suggested rail to Penn Station. Then transfers to Brooklyn.

Matter #2: Finding the right time to visit.
 My cousins and I had talked just before Easter. I wanted to finish up my teaching semester – and then put off the mini-odyssey because my daughter was well into her third trimester. She would be moving into a new house in a few weeks. And, we joked, she was getting as big as a house herself. I wasn't going anywhere until my grandson was born.

I finally set the day trip for mid-August, a month after the birth. And then the sciatica kicked in. The sciatica I brought on by putting 1200 miles on my car in two weeks as I drove back and forth to the hospital in Worcester, MA where Patrick was born, and then to his home just south of there.Who knew, moving foot from gas pedal to brake to gas pedal, over and over, would further irritate the inflamed nerve?

The Doctor apparently knew –  as soon as I told him how I'd worn a groove in the I-84 fast lane the previous few weeks. He ordered me off the road -four days at least. And a muscle relaxer.

Finally, a week after Labor Day I set out for Brooklyn. I boarded a 6 A.M. Amtrak train and pulled into Penn Station by 9. I asked a transit worker in uniform to direct me to the N train connection my cousin had said to take.

“You have to go out on the street for the subway entrance.”

Subway? On the street? I thought. This was getting  complicated. Thankfully it was second nature to the police officer on the corner of 33rd Street and 8th Avenue who directed me a couple of blocks uptown to a subway entrance.

I was almost there.

(to be continued - one more time!)

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Friday, September 21, 2012

A Cousin Encounter of Another Kind (Two)

Communion Day in Brooklyn mid '50s
(To read Part One of this series, click here)

When I heard my long-lost Brooklyn cousin’s voice on my answering machine I knew I would redial and reconnect. Yet, I hesitated -  because I expected the worst.

After a deep breath and silent prayer I punched in the number.

“Hi  Joseph. Cousin Laura.” I was speaking very fast. “  I recognized your voice. What a nice surprise” I slowed down.  “How are you and your family?”

His  overall assessment allayed my worst fears. Neither tragedy nor triumph had provoked the call. Just curiosity. He had found me online on People Finder.
Yes, there had been some health issues, but no immediate crises.  His mother was well and he too, had recently become a grandfather – which meant the surname our fathers’ shared as brothers would carry on to another generation. His sister’s family lived close by his apartment in Brooklyn (all new addresses). Why, he said she was right there with him.

“Here I’ll put her on.”

And so another voice from the past, again oddly familiar, rang true. We giggled a bit, as girl cousins are apt to giggle. Her young adult boys still lived home. “Never a dull moment!” we agreed.

“How are you really doing Laura?” she asked, this time with the depth only a blood-related gal can dig down to. She referred to my life as a widow, fourteen years now. I told her more than most need to know.

*  *  *  *  *

Cousin Joseph didn’t drive. I said I’d come to Brooklyn.  

I had secretly considered returning to my Bensonhurst roots for some time - even with no one in particular to visit . I wanted to check out the old neighborhood – one which my cousins lived close to. The neighborhood that compelled me to ask every Brooklynite I  came upon, “Remember the show Welcome Back Kotter?”
          . . . and if they remembered I’d continue, “Remember the high school building they use to pan at the beginning and end ?”
          . . . and if they still remembered, I’d  declare, “That’s New Utretch High, where my dad went. We use to live right by there - up 17th Avenue.
New Utretch High on 16th Ave in Brooklyn

Yes, 17th Avenue. How I’ve longed to get a feel for its past and present again.  But I don’t think I would have made plans to return to Brooklyn, not this year anyway, without the phone call out of the blue from Cousin Joseph.
 (to be continued)



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Cousin Encounter of Another Kind (One)

Sometime before I began trying to figure out the nomenclature of my grandson’s little cousins, something grand happened between me and a couple of “big” cousins.

I had returned home one afternoon, just before Easter.  A red light flashed on my phone message machine.  I pressed play, expecting to hear a solicitor. Instead I heard,

“Hi Cousin Laura. This is Cousin Joseph.”

Somehow the sound of his voice (must have been the Brooklyn drawl) had remained familiar after some forty years. Forty years in which distance, deaths, illnesses and changes of addresses had crimped our lines of communication - until that week before Easter, when the voice of my father’s brother’s son (his Dad and my Dad long passed) sounded on my message machine. And in the long-distance miles a mind can run in a moment, a marathon of decades sped by me: our weddings, our losses, our long lost tradition of sending Christmas cards.

I listened to his instructions to return the call And even though I knew I would redial and reconnect, I hesitated. Because I expected the worst.
(to read Part Two of this series, click here)

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Once and for all, I’ve got the cousin-clature down. Second vs. first, that is. My nieces and nephews’ kids are second cousins to my kid’s kid. God willing, I’ll figure out the rest when the next generation comes along.

Patrick's twin first cousins
Little Patrick, my 7 ½ week old grandson, has two first cousins – and one on the way. His Dad’s brother’s twin girls  - the two cuties strew petals upon their Aunt and Uncle’s grassy wedding aisle  just short of a year ago. Both Erin and Raegan had been talking to Baby Patrick – in utero – for many months before getting to ooh and aah  over his arrival. They  now await their own little sibling - due early spring. Works well. Each little twin will soon have a baby to “tend” to  - Cousin Patrick and Baby Brother or Sister.

With second cousin Mikayla
Patrick, however, is loaded with second cousins – their Mom and Dad’s first cousins’ kids (You following this?). Close by there’s Cousin Joey’s boys – Dominick and Rocco and Cousin Stacey’s Tess, a one-year-old about to become a big sis any day now. Around the Boston area there’s Logan, Lily, and Mikayla, the-three-year-old who got to hold him a couple of weeks ago.

And I must say, this little fellow has been held and handed back and forth from parents to grandparents to uncles, to aunts, and to cousins with little fuss. Oh sure, he can fidget and occasionally  wail. Last Sunday Uncle Conor held him, sort of like a football, as the little guy watched his first Patriot’s game on TV. All seemed well enough until Patrick began “Wah, wah, wah” –ing.

   Patrick's a Pats fan, like his uncle and his uncle's uncles!.
“I know, I know. The defense is terrible,” commiserated Uncle Conor.

And soon, the disagreeableness  passed – for both. The Patriots won 34-13.


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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eleven Years Since 9-11, a Commemorative Poem

In recent years I've written essay after essay. I haven't written a poem, I think, in decades,  until today, the 11th Anniversary of 9-11.
Above my porch today,
as bright a blue and cloudless sky

as the crystalline view through my classroom window,
eleven years ago,


Second period of that past brilliant day,
a gangly group of sophomores held, for the first time

the story of the Finches: Scout, Jem and Atticus,
in their hands.
The promise of a new school year wrapped in the promise of the still fresh millennium.

At my classroom door,
 a teacher on hall duty appeared.

“ Did ya hear?”  he, by nature not an interrupter, asked.
“A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.”

“How unlucky:
 a misguided plane,

a planeful of passengers,

the business men and women,”
I remarked, before,

back to our paperbacks, I continued to read aloud  how

“Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself,”
on page 11.

And before I could finish Chapter One
of the  American classic

the not-by-nature-an-interrupter
appeared at my door again

with news of a second plane,
calling  crash number one
the first  domino of deliberately staged disaster,

a chain still reacting as he spoke.

And  I, a rarely-deviate-from-the-lesson sort of instructor,

switched from the planned introduction of classic fiction

to the live drama of Brokaw on the classroom TV
designating the Big Apple  the epicenter of epic tragedy.

A grandmother now,
I sit on my porch
and gaze at the similar  blue heavens,

never having forgotten how quickly  bright cloudless Day
can turn to monochromatic Night

filled with the swirling smoke and ash of buildings and human debris.

” Never again,” I  pray,
compelled to linger by this September's fading zinnias,

hoping that the butterflies will still come.          

Thursday, September 6, 2012

100 Blogs and Counting

What does one write after 100 blog posts?

The one hundred-and-first blog post.
What does one say?

Thank you – for the more than14,000 page views from over ten countries in less than two years. See for yourself:
Statistics on left from
United States

United Kingdom









Yes, thank you for reading and sharing the kind of stories I never know I have in me, until I start writing.

That’s what I love about putting fingertips to keyboard –the discovery. The surprise.

I think I’m going to write about the present and I suddenly find myself connecting it to a tale that took place decades ago. Like when Em’s trip to Kate’s Ice Cream on Cape Cod in July brought us both, and her brother, back to family trips to Kate’s Ice Cream over twenty years ago. How her move into a small cape just before Patrick was born recalled the small ranch she and her brother grew up in. At the start of every blog I wonder where it will lead. Often I am in awe of the destination.

My life is richer for the stories I've discovered writing this blog  I hope that,  by reading, you find yourself discovering and remembering too.
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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Once Upon a Blue Moon

Last night's blue moon is starting to wane.

 Let me back up a bit.

The first full moon of August appeared the night of August second. As with all full moons, this first full moon of August stopped me in my nighttime tracks from car door to house door. The illuminated sky struck me so full of awe, I decided not to go inside just yet. I did unlock the door and let my dog out. I couldn’t be moon gazing outside with Wnnie door-scratching inside, sensing  that I was so near yet so far. The pooch, who is close to blind, slowly descended the back porch steps. She needed no more brightness than the light of August’s first’s full moon.The light in which we both became moonshadows. 

So much had happened during the 28-day lunar cycle that produced this early August full moon. My daughter gave birth to my first grandchild, a boy. And in that time from the early-summer full moon to August’s first full moon, my grandson had travelled from womb to hospital ward to home. On one of the eight days before the first moon of August reached fullness, the baby’s eyes remained open a bit longer than they had remained shut during his wakefulness. By the time this first full moon of August glowed overhead, my grandson had begun to distinguish the constant shapes in his bright world as those of his parents’ faces gazing back at him; the sounds  - their voices .

August’s second full moon appeared last night, August 31. Two full moons in one month is considered a rare occurrence that usually happens just once every two or three years. The second moon in the month is called a blue moon; thus, the expression once in a blue moon , which means once in a great while. The adjective has nothing to do with color, though photographers often tint the prints of this lunar phenomena.

There hasn’t been a blue moon since Emily was first engaged, over two years ago. Now, the next blue moon comes along - and she’s a mom. My son lived nearby and had just entered graduate school around the time of that last blue moon. Now he’s living in the Boston area and working full-time in the oldest and largest private bank in the country. In the time between the blue moon of 2010 and last night’s blue moon, there occurred three moves to different apartments for him and three moves for Em and her husband. .
Journalists have also noted that, in this year’s blue moon cycle, Neil Armstrong died, 43 years after he became the first person to walk on the moon. Seems fitting.
Now, the blue moon of 2012 - which looks so near yet so far -  is waning.
I wonder what will come to pass before the next blue moon appears in 2015?
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