Friend Carol is 60

Carol and I hung out together, doing exciting stuff such as watching, of all things, The Waltons every Thursday night.

I’m referring to my friend since kindergarten, not my wife.

In second grade, the class got to dance a minuet waltz. Bill danced with Karen, Bernie with Lois, and Carol with me; why I remember this so many years later is beyond me. I think I developed a bit of a crush on Carol, because the next year, I hit her with a snowball, unintentionally in the head; I felt terrible.

The whole class got to spend time at her family cottage on a lake in northern Pennsylvania, which was always a treat.

At some point, someone came across a list of IQ scores of our class. No names were associated with the numbers, but it was generally conceded by her classmates that she was the one with the highest ranking.

I used to walk Bill, then Lois, Karen, and Carol home most days, especially when we were in junior high, so Carol and I got to talk with her one-on-one more than most of my friends.

In high school, Carol and I were both involved with student government, and in our junior year, I became president, and Carol, vice-president, a remarkable feat, given the disdain our left-of-center politics had generated when we first got to the high school.

During the summer of 1972, she and her boyfriend at the time, and the Okie and I all went to Syracuse to see The Godfather. At the end of the summer, she, her beau, and my sister Leslie were the three witnesses to my wedding to the Okie. After the Okie and I split, and Carol and her beau broke up, Carol and I hung out together, doing exciting stuff such as watching, of all things, The Waltons every Thursday night.

A few years later, I went to her wedding in Binghamton, after which she moved to the Poughkeepsie area.

One time, some of my FantaCo colleagues and I were coming back from a New York City comic book convention when the car broke down on the Taconic Parkway. Having neither AAA car service or credit cards, we didn’t know what to do. In desperation, I called Carol, and she put our towing charge on her credit card – we DID pay her back – and got us on our way.

She was the only one of my Binghamton friends to make it to a MidWinter’s gathering, in 1991, if memory serves; very good wax magic that season. Soon thereafter, she moved to Texas. So I don’t see her often anymore, though we did get together a few times, not just the 32nd reunion, but a couple of times when she and I both happened to be in Binghamton, and in July 2011, when she, Karen, and I ALL were in Binghamton the same weekend.

I should note that her family’s also great. Her mom was the coolest mom of all my friends’ mothers. Carol asked her mother and sister to represent her at Karen’s mother’s funeral this past summer. Carol’s daughter, who I had never met until fairly recently, sent my daughter a huge unicorn, which continues to be Lydia’s favorite stuffed creature.

Happy birthday, my dear friend Carol.

20 to 25 People (or So)

So that’s 25 to 27 people.

Here’s something I dumped on Jaquandor – he’s still thinking about it: “Come up with a list of the 20 (or 25) most important/influential people in your life. I’m particularly interested in those people who may be out of your life now (a music teacher, a lost friend) who you look back and see their impact.”

So, with no disrespect to those not on the list who I love dearly, here’s my list:

My parents
My two sisters
My paternal grandmother, who was my first Sunday School teacher. She also taught me canasta, the first “grown-up” card game I ever played.
My maternal grandmother – my sisters and I spent every day after school with her as well as most of the summers
Great aunt Deanna, her sister- played card games and Scrabble with me, protected me from some of my grandmother’s excesses – I can still hear her say, “Leave the boy alone!” – and loved watching JEOPARDY! on TV
Great aunt Charlotte – my mother’s uncle’s wife, the force behind whatever moxie my mother showed, and the matriarch of many of the people I consider as cousins, having no first cousins of my own.

Two or three friends I’ve known since kindergarten, some of whom may get mentioned here eventually.
Pat – the secretary at my elementary school, she had Friday Night Bible Club at her house, which I attended from the time I was nine until I was 16.
Paul Peca – my sixth-grade teacher, who I mentioned here
Walter – my parents’ godson, and the grandson of MY godparents, essentially handed down to me two jobs, one as a newspaper deliverer, and the other as a page at Binghamton Public Library
Helen Foley – Rod Serling’s favorite teacher and one of mine.

The guy I met the first day of college
Alan Chartock – from whom I took American Government and Politics in 1971
Lynn – college friend in my student government days
Tom Skulan – founder of FantaCo, where I got to meet a lot of interesting people
Fred Hembeck – who got me into blogging

Eldest niece – the avuncular role I had with her spread, as I occasionally took care of my friends’ kids as well
Debbie – good friend in the 1980s, and I know a ton of people through her
Broome – ditto, and there are probably more people I know indirectly from him in the Albany area than anyone
Eric – I could mention almost any choir director, but he was arguably the best at making difficult music seem achievable
Three or four exes, one of whom nagged me to go to library school

Wife – among other things, if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t own a home
Daughter – parenting is just different than being an uncle

So that’s 25 to 27 people. It was my original question, so if I want to cheat a little, so be it.

Mary Durkot, R.I.P.

We have to to help each other remove the bindings of our collective grief.

I attended my third funeral of 2012 last week. But let me back up a bit.

Mary Durkot was the mother of one of my oldest friends, as in my friend and I went to kindergarten together. This means I knew Mrs. Durkot – I never referred to her by her first name – for over a half century. She lived in Binghamton, NY, my hometown, all of her 92 years.

One of the last times I saw her was when my daughter was a baby. She took such pleasure in seeing her, as though Lydia were one of her own grandchildren.

On June 30, the day before she passed, all four of her children, along with several of her grandchildren and great grandchildren, spent the day with her, as my friend put it, “laughing and cracking wise.” This was pretty remarkable in that only one of the children live in Binghamton, with the others in Boston, Brooklyn and near Baltimore.

Unsurprisingly, she had arranged and paid for her wake and funeral years earlier; she even picked out the dress she wanted to buried in.

The Wife and I arrived at the funeral home about 5:15 last Thursday evening. My friend did not know I was coming, since I was not 100% sure myself. She seemed shocked, but pleased with my presence. Some of our mutual friends came by, including the sister and the mother of our mutual friend Carol (not to be confused with my wife Carol). At 6:30, there was a prayer service. This was in the Russian Orthodox tradition, and while I had grown up in this Slavic neighborhood, this was likely the first funeral of this style I had attended. A lot of chant, a bit of repetition. I tried to pick up on the sonic rhythm, occasionally successfully.

Friday morning was the brief prayer event at the funeral home, followed by the 2/5s of a mile funeral procession to the church, which we found ourselves part of. More chanting and prayer, followed by a homily that I really liked. The narrative was based on the scripture where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. The priest noted that Jesus did not remove Lazarus’ burial cloth, and that Lazarus was unable to remove it himself. It was up to the others to help Lazarus. In the same manner, we have to to help each other remove the bindings of our collective grief.

During the procession to the cemetery, the hearse broke down! (On Clinton Street, for you Binghamtonians). The procession was scheduled to go past the house on Mygatt Street where Mrs. D lived for many years. The house was sold only last December. The running joke was that, while the house was very nice, the new owners kept the hedges THREE INCHES higher than Mary would have liked. Most of the cars went onto the cemetery, but the pallbearers returned to where the hearse broke down to put the coffin in the back of someone’s pickup truck. It WAS a nice pickup. There are several cellphone pictures of the back of the truck, with the flap down, showing the coffin and a bag of potting soil, to be used for the burial.

Afterwards, The Wife and I were invited to eat a very nice meal at the church with the extended family and then we went our separate ways, though my friend and I tacitly vowed to be more in touch; I hadn’t seen her since July 2011.

I must say that, while I went primarily for my friend, and for her mother’s memory, I also went a bit for myself as well. Celebrating the passing of someone in her tenth decade is a bit more expected – though the passing of a parent is NEVER expected, I’ve found – than the death of a 57-year old. Or a 20-month old.

Blood, music, SCOTUS

I got a big chuckle out of my daughter vigorously singing the chorus to a Phil Ochs song.

I’ve now donated blood 149 times. The only two times I’ve ever had difficulty were time #59, obviously several years ago, and time #148, in April 2012. The commonality was that I was sitting in a chair each time, rather than lying down. The April visit was brutal, with three different attendants manipulating my arm, the needle…it took well over 20 minutes when it generally takes me 6 or 7; I’m talking about the actual blood flow time, not the preliminary exam, et al. I was so exhausted and bruised afterward, that I went home and went to bed, instead of going to choir, which had been my intent.

So when I went again last week – getting “back on the horse,” as it were – I made sure I went to a place (Empire State Plaza, for you locals) that had cots.

Sure enough, 7 minutes and 6 seconds, and I’m done. The medical person helping me this time insisted that lying down is better for the blood flow, and easier for recovery, but that people prefer the chairs because they are more comfortable. She also noted that 5 to 8 minutes is optimal; some guy who bragged about being able to donate in 4 minutes would be in serious trouble if HE were ever in a serious accident.
For Father’s Day, my wife gave me a ticket to the Old Songs Festival at the Altamont Fairgrounds, about a half-hour from here. When I was younger, I went all the time, but I think the last time I attended was in 2002, the year my wife went to Ukraine. She did not go with me this time either because of church obligations; she is on the Administration Committee and is helping sort through over 100 resumes for a part-time church secretary.

But the Daughter went with me on Saturday, June 23. We spent the first hour trying to wash sunscreen out of her eye, but eventually, we could enjoy the program. Went to see a couple called Magpie, and another couple, Kim and Reggie Harris perform songs of Phil Ochs, the noted folk singer who died over 35 years ago. Sunny Ochs, Phil’s sister, was there, too, and she has long encouraged singers of Phil’s songs to change the lyrics to more contemporary references when necessary. I knew LOTS of the songs, but I got a big chuckle out of my daughter vigorously singing the chorus to Love Me, I’m a Liberal, one of those songs with changed verses. (No one knows who the late talk show host Les Crane was anymore.)

Then we went to the Songs of the African diaspora with Peace Train, a black woman and a white woman from South Africa, assisted by Kim and Reggie Harris, who had come from about as far on the fairgrounds as one can. Kim noted that the girl who was sitting in front at this show (yes, the Daughter) was dancing at the Ochs show (true) and that Kim wishes she had that kind of energy.

The last Sunday in June, the whole family attended a high school graduation party. Ever have a really good friend you lose touch with, even though they aren’t that far away? That was the case with my friend Debbie, the mother of the graduate, who was one of my very best friends in the 1980s, but who I’ve talked with only intermittently since. It was good to see her again, though she was so busy playing hostess that we didn’t talk much. Maybe next time…

So what did you think of that Supreme Court ruling last Thursday? Oh, not that health care thing, the decision that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional. “The Stolen Valor Act…makes it a federal crime to lie about having received a military decoration or medal, punishable by up to a year in prison if the offense involved the military’s highest honors.” I support the ruling that the law was unconstitutional on First Amendment/freedom of speech grounds with the same biting-of-the-lip sensation that had when I agreed with the Court allowing Nazis to demonstrate in Skokie, IL. I support the principle more than I hate the action.

As for that OTHER case, I had taken a “Well, it’s better than the status quo” take on that 2010 health care bill, the Affordable Care Act. But with the meltdown by its opponents, I am enjoying its affirmation by the Supreme Court far more than I expected. Meanwhile, CNN should slink off in shame for reporting, for seven minutes, the absolute wrong outcome. (FOX News also muffed it for two minutes, but it HAS no shame.) The term “Obamacare” had been designed as a dis, but that putdown may now work in the President’s favor.

A Real Red-Letter, Pink Ribbon Day

If you want to learn more about cancer and the history of cancer treatments, I strongly recommend the book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. It reads like a mystery novel and is written by an oncologist.

When I got to church this past Sunday, someone from the choir hit me up to contribute to a breast cancer walk. She is a breast cancer survivor; I always comply.

That afternoon, the Wife and I go to a potluck party celebrating the end of the medical treatment of a friend of mine of 30 years and her “return to the world”. I had found out about her diagnosis of breast cancer on February 1, right after my mother had had a stroke. The lump in her breast was discovered during a routine mammogram, something she had not had in several years. She had surgery “on the coldest day of the year,” she wrote in the invitation, followed by the “part-time job” of chemo, then radiation.

At the party, she did the big reveal, as she took off her hat to reveal her hair of “about 1/2 an inch long which is about three feet shorter than it used to be!” She practically insisted that everyone touch her hair, which was like a baby’s hair, or maybe a kitten’s fur. But it was nice. She and I talked a bit, mostly about how poisonous the post-surgical treatment was, but of course, everyone wanted a chance to visit with her.

An interesting paragraph from the invitation:
If you want to learn more about cancer and the history of cancer treatments, I strongly recommend the book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. It reads like a mystery novel and is written by an oncologist [Siddhartha Mukherjee]. Reading this book made me appreciate the incredible, amazing amount of work that has gone into researching cures for cancer. Such as – did you know radiation was used for the first time in 1896 (that is not a typo!)? Or that mustard gas leads to chemotherapy?

The Wife and I had to return home to care for the Daughter after a couple of hours, but we both had a splendid time.