Sunday, July 16, 2017

Some memories I posted on FaceBook today

There are three people who changed my life: 1) I was born into a large, loving, liberal, accepting, generous family, which also had very high expectations in terms of developing character, integrity, and doing my best in all things. Thank you to my parents, who were always readers, who expected me to work to my capacity in school, who encouraged and pushed me, and insisted that I go to college. To my aunties who did exactly the same thing, and to my cousins, who celebrated every achievement with an unexpected party, complete with cakes that said things like, Happy Award, Denise. Having a family that celebrates your achievements and pushes you to do more, is the greatest blessing. 2) Librarians, you have the capacity to shape a child's outlook on the world - did you know that? Thank you to the librarians at Shute Memorial library, who were girlfriends of my mother, and told her that they had given me all the kid's books to read and now I needed to start reading from the adult section, or I would lose the love and habit of reading. They promised her that they would guide my reading choices, and what choices they were! They fed me a diet of classic literature, biographies, how to books, memoirs, and well written mass market books. Thank you to the twin librarians at the Shute. 3) A music teacher changed my life. He was John Sullivan, and he taught me the baritone during the winter of 1967, immediately put me in the high school band at 12, then bought me a beautiful double F french horn and guided me through learning that most beautiful of instruments. I had so much fun playing in the school band, woodwind quintet, and jazz band! But then he took me to play with the adults where I was exposed to classical music like I had never been exposed before, directed by the famous Ed Denon (yes, THAT Ed Denon of Boston Crusaders fame). It is one to thing love, appreciate and listen to great music, but it is another thing entirely to play it, in the center of an orchestra, with music swelling all around you and through you. Sully, you made me into a musician, and thank you.
So, my beautiful family, two librarians and a brass teacher changed my life. If you are a librarian or a music teacher (or a teacher of any discipline) you have the power to change the course of a child's life. You never know which child will look at you and say, Thank you!

Spending time flat on my back has put me in a reflective mood, so I guess I'll be vomiting out more posts about my life today.  When I was 16, the librarian sent me to the Boston Public Library, and I got a card there. I read a lot of stuff, especially in the religion section, and a book called The Orthodox Church by Sergius Bulgakov caught me like nothing ever had before, I knew that was where I needed to be. Fast forward a few years: I met and married an Orthodox man, weeventually moved to Sunnyvale, CA in 1980, and I met a priest at Church of the Redeemer, who challenged me, Fr. John Ocana. Fr. John had many gifts; he had the gift of sharing his love and excitement about the faith, and explaining things in a way that you could understand and would remember. After a year or two, I became the parish secretary during troubled times in that parish, and I saw close up that he walked the walk. He lived what he preached. After him, came another priest to that parish, Fr. Kirrill Gvosdev, who, though a little gruff, was/is actually a marshmallow inside. He didn't give great sermons like Fr. John, but what he did was, he lived with his people. He laughed with you, he feasted with you, he cried with you, he held your hand in the hospital, he brought you the gifts and a casserole. He showed up whenever he was needed. You never needed to ask him to come, he'd show up just as you were picking up the phone. He kept in close contact with his people - all his people - either by phone or knocking on the door for a cup of coffee. He knew your joys and your struggles and he did whatever he could to help, even if all he could do was to bring you a cup of coffee in the hospital. He was there. He was present. I cannot tell you how profound an impression these two priests made on me - they were like two sides of the same coin. They are everything that a parish priest should be. Fr. John is very elderly and frail, and Fr. Kirrill is still going strong. Many years! Well done, thou good and faithful servants!
So, I'm an only child, you know. My parents had one pregnancy and that was me. I'm not the stereotypical only child because I lived nearly half the year at the mothership on B. Street, which was overflowing with aunts, cousins, and whoever my grandmother brought home. Anyway, talking about how important having family support is, I want to tell a little story to illustrate what I mean. There was a big kindergarten graduation ceremony for us kindergarten kids, and the parents came. We filed out on the stage to sing our little song, and a little girl named Lisa on my right said, "Look, there's my Mommy and Daddy and my little sister over there!" She knew I was an only child and asked, not so innocently, "Did your family come?" I said, enthusiastically, "Oh yes! My family is those four rows over there!" She could not believe it! My parents, my grandmother, Aunts Nettie, Christine, Jenny, and Anna; cousin Harold Catalano, Marion, Fina, Ethel, Roseanne and Joe, Terry, Uncle Nicky and Auntie Emily with LIttle Em (who was an itty bitty baby) and Maryann, and also Marie Cadigan, my grandmother's best girlfriend. I don't remember who else was there to see me graduate from kindergarten, but there was basically, four generations in the audience for the little only child. Only child? I think not. Loved? I think so!
Then there was the time that I won a debate and got a medal for it. I came home from school with the medal in a little box, and my mother said we were going to my grandmother's for dinner, which was not particularly unusual. The usual cast of characters were there: Gram, two aunties, three cousins with their husbands and their kids, and us. For dessert, they brought out an italian rum cake with the words, Happy Award, Denise, and sang to me. Proud of me? Ya think? Was I supported? Yup. Did I carry that degree of love and pride and support in my heart forever? You bet your ass, I did and I do.
Then there was the time that one of my mother's cousin's kids got married. My aunties were talking about what a wonderful shower it was, and how wonderful the bride was because she went to every table and talked to every one, and how proud her mother must be of her. I listened to them, and when it was time for my own wedding shower, I went to every table and talked with every person and thanked them for coming, and after opening the gifts, I went around the room a second time and thanked them for their gift. The day after, I couldn't wait to get down to the mothership and talk with me aunties because I knew they would be so proud of me. We talked about how nice the shower had been and I waited. Not one word about what good manners I had. Not one word. Finally, I asked them what they thought about me going around TWICE, when whatever her name had gone around only ONCE. They were totally nonplussed. Finally, Auntie Nettie said, "Honey, we brought you up. We expect nothing less from you. You have been taught how to behave and have always shown good manners, so it's nothing special when you do what you have always done." I was crushed for a minute, but then I understood - the bar was high and I met it. The bar may be lower for others, but for me it was high, and I met it. Expectations matter. Kids will strive to meet your expectations. Make sure that your expectations are for good.
People, small things change lives, for the good or for the bad. Be kind, be thoughtful, be encouraging, be loving.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I, too, am an only child, but without cousins, aunties, uncles or grandmother's best friend. Just Momma, Grandmomma and I lived in a big old house. I could count on Grandmomma to be there for grade school and some high school events, mostly I was on my own, though. I learned interaction with others in college and graduate school, and I don't think I ever felt embraced and loved unconditionally until my second marriage. Himself's mother and I were close friends and prayer partners. I think she was hurt when we converted to Orthodoxy and I could no longer attend her Episcopal prayer meetings. But we ended each visit with her saying, "May God draw His circle of Love around you." and with me saying, "May God bless you forever." I probably cried more when she died than I did when my own Momma and Grandmomma died.