Christmas Past

Saks-#2The images in this post were taken at Saks Fifth Avenue, way back in December of 2007, when Bill and I were visiting the city to see some good theatre, movies, and eat mouth-watering food.  These days the city is way too crowded for me to be comfortable at this time of year, so we’re staying here at home reliving trips from the past.  Besides, Bill will be having knee replacement surgery on January 4th.  He’s in a lot of pain, so traveling, especially to the Big Apple is out. I can tell you he’s already salivating over a few shows that will be there in the spring. I have a feeling that once the surgery is over and the pain subsides a bit, he’ll have show tickets ordered and train tickets in hand.

Today I found myself remembering one of my favorite early TV shows that we watched on Sunday nights way, way back in the ’50s, called, I Remember Mama. It was a drama-comedy about an immigrant Norwegian family living in San Francisco during the 1910s. Peggy Wood, played Mama, and Judson Laire, played Papa.  I was smitten with the family and their lives as told through the eyes of their grown daughter. They were the family I longed for; loving, supportive, and extremely kind … unlike my own very dysfunctional family.

The program ran from 1949 to 1954. Since we were the last people on the block to get a TV, I missed many of the early episodes.  But my favorite episode of all time, was the Christmas show, set out in the barn around a manger.  A cow, horse, and sheep tell the story of Christ’s birth from their animal points of view, while the human family listens in on the other side of the door. So sweet. So simple. So life affirming. And for me the perfect Christmas story.

I turned seventy-three last month and find myself enjoying precious moments from the past. I thinkSaks-#4 this remembering is one of the things that makes aging such a special time of life.  As I look back at what once was, I take solace in the way things were and am grateful that I had the opportunity to live a much more simple life when I was a kid.  There were no huge displays of holiday lights, no Black Friday sales. No robots. No cell phones. No standing in line to get a bargain on Thanksgiving night. Gifts were simple and came from the heart.  A handmade doll, a stocking filled with walnuts, oranges, a pair of hand-knit socks or mittens. I went caroling with friends in the our neighborhood.  It is that spirit that I wish to surround myself with during the holidays.

Do you have precious Christmas moments from the past?


Confessions Of An Ex-Catholic


May 30, 1950.  My first Holy Communion

May 30, 1950. My first Holy Communion

 I ADORE Pope Francis. In just one week he has changed the atmosphere in our country from one of intolerance, hate, and bigotry, to one of love, and compassion. Oh, yes, I’m aware that there are still people out there, including some politicians, that haven’t seen the light. I heard that one couple chose not to be part of the crowd surrounding the Pope because he’s chosen not to wear the standard red, Pope shoes. Like him, I prefer to be living in my old and faded stretchy shoes than the uncompromising, iron-clad boots the nay-sayers wear.

I wish this Pope had been around when I was a vulnerable ten-year-old and my parents were thrown out of the church because they were married by a justice-of- the-peace the night before my dad shipped out to fight for his country in World War II. According to the priest who made that decision, my brothers and I suddenly became something called bastards. I had already been baptized in the church and had received my first Holy communion. I was confused. I didn’t understand but it affected my spiritual life for many years until I recently wrote about it in my memoir.

This excerpt from the book describes what I was feeling:

The church’s rejection shook me to the core. My brothers and I would go to limbo instead of heaven. I felt that the church had taken on the role of abuser to all of us. God, who I was lead to believe was the world’s hero, the force that always protected everyone, was no longer there for me. He didn’t recognize my family members or me as worthy souls. He’d simply ditched us on the side of the road.

Even as an adult, I was afraid to go into any Catholic Church. I wanted to refuse when my cousin, Mary Anne, asked me to be a bride’s maid when she was married in the Catholic church. But my mother told me that I couldn’t let her down. My knees were shaking as I followed the procession down the aisle, praying that there would be no explosion of thunder and lightning over the scene because God didn’t want me there. And on Bill’s and my honeymoon in Europe, I didn’t want to visit the Vatican in Rome, simply to see Michelangelo’s magnificent works. I went anyway and in the end was glad that I did.

My First Holy Communion Certificate, received in 1950

My First Holy Communion Certificate

Today I’m comfortable inside churches of all denominations. I’ve found forgiveness and compassion for those religious zealots who trampled on my world. I strongly believe that God is not a punishing deity and that I am worthy to be called a child of God.

I’m not about to rejoin the church. I prefer to believe in a higher power in my own way. I find God in in the star-lit sky at night, in the fiery reds, hot pinks, and golden sun-struck clouds at sunset, in a bed of tall ferns and soft mosses beneath a canopy of towering oaks, a child’s smile, and in the song of the wood thrush.

I disagree with Pope Francis’ take on same sex-marriage, the role of women in the church, and abortion. But because of Pope Francis’ visit to this country, I feel ever so much closer to God and my belief that we can make our world a better place for our children and all of the people and creatures that we need to protect as global climate changes rips what we’ve considered normal into shreds.

I am grateful for the peace that Pope Francis has brought to so many people while he was here and pray that the serenity and faith that he’s left us with will not be swept away too soon as we make our way through the work of finding a man or woman suitable to become our next President. Politics is often a dirty game. Let’s help keep it clean. Let’s make room in our lives for everyone, no matter their skin color, religion, or ethnicity.

What is your takeaway from the visit of Pope Frances?

How I Met The Love Of My Life, Part I

A few weeks ago on her blog, my friend Shirley Showalter, told the story about how her parents met and fell in love. She asked me in her reply to my comment, how Bill and I met. So here it is for all the world to see.

December, 31, 1963.

William-Rough_HS4 (1)I was attending Castleton State Teachers College, now Castleton University, just outside of Rutland, Vermont. I lived at my dad’s ski lodge, The Summit Lodge, in Killington, one of Vermont’s newest and upcoming ski areas at the time. I commuted to school, and waited tables at night at the lodge. When there weren’t enough chambermaids about, I cleaned toilets, made beds, and did all the stuff that being in the hospitality business is all about. I wasn’t crazy about the work. But it was what I did to pay my way through college.

I wasn’t dating anyone seriously, but flirted with Bob, another college student who washed dishes at the lodge whenever school was on break. He wanted a serious relationship with me, but I wasn’t interest. He was one of twelve kids, and told me he wanted a huge family like his own. I didn’t really know what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t a whole bunch of kids. I loved learning, being in school, and didn’t want to limit myself to changing diapers, housekeeping, and chopping wood all winter in the mountains of Vermont.

Being New Year’s Eve, the dining room was filled with skiers of all ages, shapes and sizes, celebrating the end of another year. Outside the snow was piled high and still falling. The wind was cold, whistling down the chimneys and occasionally bringing in big puffs of smoke that were supposed to be traveling upward and out, not back into the room.

Tired of the holiday rush, waiting on tables, and connecting with the public, all I wanted was for everyone to go celebrate somewhere else, so I could relax instead of being constantly at someone else’s beck and call.

As the dining room was clearing out, my father introduced me to a couple from New Jersey, who were there skiing with their kids … and their daughter’s boyfriend. I had served their table.

That was the first time I laid eyes on Bill. He was tall, handsome, had dreamy blue eyes, and a cute chin dimple that I liked. That was it. No wedding bells rang. Cupid was off shooting his arrows somewhere else.

I didn’t see him again until May, when school was out. In the meantime, my dad had finished building us a house separate from the lodge, so that we could have some privacy as a family. We’d moved in to our new home during the early spring.

I was aware that Bill had been staying at the lodge occasionally and had become friends with my father who helped him purchase a piece of land, where Bill wanted to build his own private ski house. But I hadn’t seen him or talked to him.

Working as a cashier at one of the grocery stores in Rutland for the summer, I was bored out of my mind and trying to save up more money. One day after work, as I walked through the front door of my house, Bill stepped out of the bathroom off the hallway, freshly showered.

Everyone wants this part of the story to be different, but trust me, he was DRESSED in jeans, a tee shirt, and hiking boots.

The Round House as it stands today under it's newest owners.

The Round House as it stands today under it’s newest owners.

It turned out he was in the area for the summer. He and one of his college roommates at Princeton, an architect, were beginning to build the ski house they’d both been dreaming about. It was to be round and made out of stone. They were camped out at the house sight in a huge tent furnished with cots, a refrigerator, a telephone, and a tiny television set. But there was no shower and since the creek at the bottom of the property was icy cold, my dad had kindly invited them to shower at our house anytime.

Bill hired both of my brothers as gophers to dig holes, move rocks, and do whatever needed doing as the building process began. Reid couldn’t have been more than ten years old, which would have made Zed fourteen. He paid them a dollar an hour and as a bonus, took them and three or four other kids he’d also hired to the movies in Rutland every Friday night.

Bill and Russ, his roommate, were frequent shower users at my house and often stayed for dinner. My mother, a fabulous cook, loved their oohs and aahs over the food she prepared, which guaranteed them seats at our dinner table whenever they were around … which was a lot of the time.

They were both really nice guys, but I wasn’t shopping at the time. It was a period of my life when I spent my time as one of the walking dead. I worked by day and went home to my parents home, bored and wishing I was anywhere else. School was out for the summer so I wasn’t seeing anyone I knew. But having left school after my freshman year to go back to Long Island to work and figure out what I wanted to do with my life, all I wanted now was to get my degree, go off on my own, and find a teaching job somewhere far away and hopefully interesting. I didn’t want to live at home with my parents and never dreamed I would find love in the mountains of Vermont.

Oh, Darn. There isn’t enough room here to tell you what happened next, because the love hadn’t started yet. So you’ll just have to wait until next week to find out how our first date worked out and how a VW bus full of kids helped me find the love of my life.

In the meantime, you can talk amongst yourselves, share how you met the loves of your lives, and begin writing your own story. It’s important to do that … everyone wants to know about it, especially your kids and grandkids! 🙂

Oh, and forgive my use of current photos.  After searching through many boxes I discovered that Bill and I weren’t using cameras very much at that time.  

Meeting With Old Friends

Lou and Bill with the "Ski Twins, Connie and Joan, October, 2014

Lou and Bill with the “Ski Twins,” Connie and Joan, October, 2014.

Because I moved around so much as a child, there are only a few people I’ve known for a long time. My freshman year, college roommate, Connie, whom I hadn’t seen in a very long time until just a few weeks ago, is one of them.

We graduated tfrom Castleton State College, in Castleton, Vermont, fifty years ago this coming June, with Bachelor of Science degrees in Elementary Education. She lives in Connecticut and I live in Virginia. The last time I saw her was at least 25 years ago on a trip Bill and I took to New England. When we stopped to visit Connie and her husband, Lou, they took us out for a lovely evening sail on their boat. We ate luscious lobster for dinner and spent several wonderful hours together catching up. Over the years we’ve kept in touch with Christmas cards, an email here and there, and  few rare phone calls.

So it was delightful when a couple of weeks ago, I got an email from her, saying that she read somewhere on my blo, that I was going to be in Vermont to visit family, noting that she’d be there at the same time staying at her condo at Pico Peak, next door to Killington, where my parents built one of the first ski lodges on the mountain and where both Connie and I first tried our legs at skiing.

We met on a sunny day, in September of 1960, when we moved into our dorm room together. She was from Brooklyn and I’d recently moved to Killington, from Long Island where I’d grown up. Our New York accents stood out amongst a class of students mostly from New England. We both felt out of place.

The funny part of our meeting was that when our applications were accepted, someone with a crazy sense of humor, decided that Miss Connie Debski and Miss Joan Zabski, both from the New York City area, would room together. What’s better than one Polish girl who knows what perogis are? Well obviously, it’s two. Thank goodness it was a perfect match. Everyone on campus knew us as “The Ski Twins.”

We spent our freshman year missing New York, wondering if we really wanted to be teachers, dating cute guys, and crossing “the line,”  just seven or so miles away, into New York State where the drinking age was eighteen, compared to Vermont’s twenty-one. We both struggled with college level algebra and mostly thought we’d arrived in some weird place where we were supposed to grow up and become adults. But we both needed more time.

At the end of the year, we both decided we’d had enough. Connie went back to Brooklyn, and I moved back to Long Island, to Bellrose, New York in Queens County, where I lived with good friends of my parents. We both got jobs as clerks with the Bell Telephone Company,  known as “Ma Bell, ”at the time, and subsequently as AT&T. We hadn’t been keeping in touch, but Connie found out that I had been hired on the same day she applied for her job, when she saw a letter addressed to me on her interviewer’s desk.

We worked in different offices so we didn”t get to see each other, but occasionally met in the City, for lunch and shopping. Mostly we each plugged away at work and tried to figure out what life was all about. I dated a few of the guys in my office, but basically was bored with them and life in general. Something was missing. My life was all about taking the bus to work, filling out papers, making phone calls, and then taking the bus home again. All of my friends from high school had all moved away. Nothing I was doing made sense.

Connie was going through the same thing and decided to go back to Castleton on her own the following summer. In the meantime, knowing I wasn’t doing anything of importance, my father came down to the Island in early August, to talk me into going back to school. He’d already called the Dean and the President of the college to ask if I could return and when he arrived at my door, he took me to dinner and bought me a drink for the first time ever. Though I really didn’t want to return to the land of ice and snow or live with or near my parents, he didn’t have to argue long and hard. I knew that working in New York as a clerk, without an education wouldn’t get me anywhere.

This time I didn’t live in the dorm. My father asked me to live at  home and commute to school, about forty-five minutes away. I’d work for him waiting on tables at night at his ski lodge and I was to pay my own tuition at school with the wages and tips I earned working for him.

I was fine by day when I was in school. I dove into learning, took a mind blowing European History class, and a Literature class in which I didn’t have to agree with everything the professor had to say. Though I was not terribly happy working for my abusive and controlling father, I knew that school was my eventual way out of living with a dysfunctional family. So it really isn’t that strange, that I first met Bill, the love of my life, when I waited on his table on New Year’s Eve in 1963 at the Summit Lodge. We married in 1965 one week after I graduated.

Connie and I saw each other on campus for the next three years but because I didn’t actually live there, it wasn’t very often. Afer we graduated  in 1965,  we went our own separate ways, but the links between us have continued. We both have unbreakable ties to Vermont, and she’s my oldest friend.

Last week, Connie and Lou and Bill and I had dinner together while Vermont’s leaves were at their peak of fall color, and the fairly quiet, scenic byways were overtaken by what we fondly call, the “Leaf Peepers.”

Hopefully we won’t wait too long before we get together again, and of course, Vermont is a perfect place to do it!  Maybe next year folks?

The Most Important Words In Any Language


When I was a small child learning the ins and outs of getting on in the world, my parents taught me that “please” and “thank you” were the most important words I would ever use.

Up until a certain point, we’re  given everything we want or need automatically. All we have to do is cry, reach, or point. The cookie, stuffed animal, or rattle then become ours. It takes a while to figure out why it would be any different when we begin to speak. But as we get older, we realize that, “I want,” is not good enough to get a positive response.

When we move beyond, “mama” and “dada,” we’re taught that if we want something, we need to ask for it politely. Reminders are necessary for a while, but soon every child learns how to say, “bitte” and “danka,” “por favor” and “gracias,” or “s’il vous plait” and “merci”, depending on what part of world they live in.

There are other words that are as equally important in my life, and I expect in other’s lives as well. They are the words, “yes” and “no.”

Those two words have often been a problem for me. As a toddler, if I said “no,” when I was told to be quiet, I was yelled at or swatted for being disobedient. If I stopped making a ruckus, or said, “yes,” to anything I was asked to do, I was applauded. As a result I learned that “yes” is like saying please and thank you. It’s the polite thing to do. And the word “no,” comes out being something like an insult.

As a young mother, when I was asked to collect money on the block for the Heart Fund? I said, “Sure!” Make cupcakes for the second grade class picnic? “Why not?” Prepare a main course for a neighborhood dinner party when I felt overwhelmed cooking for two small fussy eaters? “Of Course!”

Later, I figured out that saying, “yes” all the time was not always a good thing to do. But still I agreed to do whatever was asked of me. The result was I had little time to take care of myself. There were no quick naps after spending an entire night taking care of of a sick child. There was no time to read a book, or go for a walk by myself.

But how could I say, “no?”

If I did say that dirty word, I felt guilty. It would be an insult to the person who asked me for a favor. I didn’t think any one would like me. I loved being liked. Saying “yes” was a way to be included in a group, a way to make friends, and feel important.

In my sixties, I found out that saying, “no,” wasn’t the end of the world. Most people still liked me even though I’d said a naughty word. There were always one or two who would piss and moan about my refusal, but they were just trying to take something off of their own plates and put it on mine. Those folks are always there in the background, waiting for someone like me to come along. They know from a mile away who will always say “yes.”

Now in my seventies,”no,” has become just as important to me as please and thank you. I still say “yes” often. But these days, it’s because I really want to do something to help someone out, return a kindness, and/or simply want to take part part in something I’d enjoy doing. Guilt rarely raises its ugly head.  When I say “no”, it’s because I’m being kind to myself. It’s because I might need a nap, or  time to finish a piece of writing  I’m working on.  It may also be because I just don’t want to do what’s being asked of me. Whatever it is, I no longer need to make any excuses for myself. I’m in tune with what I need and what I can give.

Do you have problems with the words “yes” and “no”?
How do they make you feel?