Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Off to College to pursue some Knowledge.

     Last week I took a day off from work to help deliver my son to college.  This is the 2nd of my offspring that I've had this experience with, and this blog discusses the thoughts and emotions that go along with these trips.....

     My trip out of my house was vastly different than my children's, thus far.  My Dad and Mom were firm believers in kids leaving the nest as they became adults, 12 kids will do that for you.  My departure, however, was a little more abrupt than some of my siblings.
After a few months of ignoring or breaking most of the rules of my father's house, at 18, he politely informed me that I would no longer have the pleasure of staying there anymore. I'd be lying if I said this didn't shock me at the time, but I'd also be lying if I said this harmed me in any way.  While I might regret my actions that led up to that point, and did apologize to my parents for them, it is a natural part of maturing that creates these conflicts, and my Dad recognized I needed the separation to become the man I was capable of becoming.  I'd say it worked, because I had to work harder to afford my rent, and my school tuition, but that lesson and that work ethic stayed with me from that point on.  I also learned I could count on my family during tough times, as my sister Hummingbird took me in, until the time was right for me to move from there too.  I tried to remember that lesson too, and come to the aid of my siblings and in-laws when they needed a boost too.  So, I got "kicked" out but I learned some good lessons on Independence and Charity, a fair deal, I'd say.

     When our daughter Molly left home it was our first experience with it. She left for the University at Buffalo, so she was close enough to come home when she needed to, but far enough away to assert her independence.  She shared in the costs of her college, and in fact asserted her independence by refusing to let us reimburse her for her college books two years running, although that was part of our deal.  She sure showed me.
She finds self worth in being as financially independent as possible, and I love that about her. I love it too though, when I can spoil her a little by taking her out to dinner, or dropping off a bottle for her on the way back from a Canada trip.  She remains very frugal to this day, in fact she texted us recently to show us a picture of a trunk full of groceries that she had purchased, for only $77.  When we dropped her off, Mom was so overwrought with emotion that when Molly hugged her and said "I love you Momma", all she could do was nod her head and try to stem the flow of tears.  I offered sage advice that was unneeded, she'd figure it all out in time, on her own.  I saw an example of this last week as we visited her at D'Youville College where she recently transferred for nursing.  When she left home, she allowed exactly enough time to arrive at places on time, but when we went to her campus, she left at her normal time and arrived 15 minutes before she was required to be there.  That choked me up as much as saying goodbye did to Mom the first time.  My little girl had learned the lessons we had taught her, and planning on arriving early was one of them.  

     Last week we took another step towards empty nesting by dropping our middle child, Dan,  off at the same college Molly had started at.  We were old pros at moving in, and admittedly he packed half of the stuff that Molly had packed, so we were able to bring it up in one trip. 
Shortly after we got into the room, I exited for the common area on the end of the hall, and returned some e-mails.  Those rooms get pretty tight, and we were over quota for the number of people needed to help finish unpacking, so I made myself useful by making myself scarce.  My son later thanked me for my plan, which I accepted as his acknowledgement of my moving-in wisdom.  He was smart enough to ask us to take him off campus for lunch, as he realized he'd have plenty of time to find the meal places on campus and then to get sick of them.  Smart Boy.  We went to Duff's, and I'll weigh in on the Duff's/Anchor Bar Chicken Wing debate that is so popular in Buffalo.  It's been a while since I've had Anchor wings, but I remembered them to be better than what I had at Duff's.  Duff's wings weren't crispy at all, and it spite of all the very, very's in front of the description of their hot sauce, it tasted like straight Franks Hot Sauce, and could have used a little more kick.  We dropped him off to start his college life after, and I was proud of his Mom when she was able to squeak out 2 words, "Please Call" before she broke down.  It was an improvement to last time, no matter how small.

Andy from Toy Story preparing to put childish things behind
Don't fall for the "You have to buy your sheets from the school, because our bed sizes are unique" trick.  Simply put, they aren't.  You'll surely be hit up for gift boxes to be sent by the college to your children, but if you think about it, don't you know your kid better than they do, and wouldn't they appreciate the gift box with all their favorites in it better than the same one their roommate got?  Sure they would.  I'm not a fan of visiting on Parents Weekend, why not choose your own and plan a better trip than the college puts together? It'll be a lot less crowded.  Make your kid stay in school for at least a month before you even let them consider a transfer or coming back home.  By then, they'll have adapted and like it, or they will have truly hated it, but at least they gave it a chance.  For mine, I'd make them wait until they were accepted somewhere else and could transfer without a break in the education.  I'll finish this blog with a few verses from the Bible, Corinthians 11-13

" 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

      You see, kids leaving home, for college or not, is a natural step.  You have to have Faith that your lessons will guide them, you Hope that they stay out of trouble, and you Love them either way.  We've one more to go, and I've got money that says Char gets a whole sentence out next time.  Wanna bet?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A little on my friend Frank.

     Some of my blogs are easy to write, and others have complex topics that make them difficult to start, much less finish, so some ideas sit on the shelf, waiting for the appropriate inspiration or mood, and this blog is one of those.  You see, the story of my friend, Frank, is his to tell, not mine, but it's a great story nonetheless, so I finally figured out how to tell it.  So this is the story of my interactions with Frank, which are both of ours to tell, but I beat him to it.....

     I first met Frank in 1979 when I was starting High School.  I had attended St. Mary's School up to that point and had mostly been taught by nuns, so Canandaigua Academy was a big adjustment for me (For reference you can check my blogs entitled, The Infamous Red Jeans Story or Sweaty Hands and a Rotary Phone parts 1 & 2).
  My class at St. Mary's had under 30 kids in it, and my Freshman class had over 300...so many more people and so many more girls to strike out with, the numbers were staggering.  If I did the math right, I could strike out with a different girl each week of my high school career, and never have to look outside of my class.  I had just started that process, when I met Frank as he taught an English class that I had chosen as a Freshman.   He was young for a teacher, just less than 30, when I met him, and he still had that "new teacher smell" on him, when I took his class.  He introduced me, through his teaching, to people like, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson (the original Where's Waldo?), and Henry David Thoreau.  On slow days, or days we finished early, he would unpack his guitar, pull out his harmonica, and play for us.  He introduced me then to people like Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Don McLean, and John Prine.  Frank preferred the songs that had deeper meanings in them, that called you to action, and during that time, there were plenty to choose from.  I think it really sunk in that I wasn't in Catholic School anymore the first time he sang "Dear Abby" and finished with the line about a girl in the back seat with her pants to her knees.  Look out Toto, I wasn't in Kansas anymore.  Aside from the inspiring talks, and musical interludes, Frank was like every other teacher, he took attendance, he graded our papers, he commanded his classroom like a ship's captain, but he wasn't like any other teacher I had, because Frank, was blind.  That's right, he sees only "Crystals", yet he did all of these things equally well, if not better, than my other high school teachers.

     I won't write long on Frank's blindness, because he doesn't let it define him, so why should I?  I think it happened later in his youth, and I recall a story about a fall at a track meet that dislodged his retinas, but don't take it as gospel.
The amazing thing to me, was all of his college and musical education happened after that fall.  I suspect that he had many emotions after the accident, but the fact that he didn't let it stop him, or even slow him down, from fulfilling his dreams, was downright inspiring to me. I only recall one class that I had with Frank, but he would remain in my thoughts for many years to come.  I saw Frank for the rest of my time in the halls at Canandaigua Academy and outside of school sometimes at my job slinging chicken wings at Papa Franks.  Each time I would address him by name, he'd do the same, remembering my voice amongst the thousands of others that he must have encountered over his teaching career.  That's pretty impressive, especially considering he taught many of my 11 siblings, and we do sound similar to each other.  Over the next decade, we lost touch, and our meetings were infrequent, at church festivals, out dining, or just passing each other on the street.  The way he navigates my home town of Canandaigua still amazes me.  I suspect he has his own system to tell where he is at any given time, relying on sounds, and smells to help orient him.  I know the outside of Papa Franks always smelled like the fryer, but sometime I'll have to sit with Frank and find out what the other neighborhoods smell and sound like.  Anyway, we went for a spell without much contact, each going in different directions, until I started as a Scout leader many years later.

     My oldest boy, Danny, had just become a Webelos, and we had a chapter where we had to have the Den talk to a handicapped person.  This was tough, because I didn't know any local handicapped people, did I?  It was only after someone else had mentioned a blind person, that I thought of my friend Frank, as you see my experiences with him, hadn't really caused me to focus on the handicapped side of him, and in fact hadn't put him in that category. It didn't fit him.
An early look at Meyer and McGuire
I couldn't think of a better person to talk to the boys, so I called him up and asked.  He immediately knew my voice, and when I made my request, there was a long pause and then he said "Well, you'd have to drive".  I chuckled and assured him, I had no issue of making the drive from home to Canandaigua and back with him.  The boys thought of questions to ask him, and when the night came, he answered each one honestly and candidly, and hooked the boys into the mystique that is Frank Meyer.  He really had them sold, when he pulled out his guitar and played for them.  Many years later, when Danny pursued his Eagle Rank, he thought of Frank as part of a fundraiser he hosted, and Frank generously donated his time and talent to make the evening more memorable.  My only regret of the Webelos evening was my requesting for him to play "Dear Abby" before I remembered all the lyrics.  It wasn't that bad, and all the parents let me continue on as the leader, in spite of my poor judgement.  On the ride back, Frank caught me up on all we had missed, including his life partner Siobhan, and the fact he was playing quite regularly at local haunts.  This created a great opportunity to enjoy two things I liked, bars, and the music of my friend Frank.

     So I first heard my soon to be favorite group, Meyer and McGuire on a Saturday night at Wally's pub.  I knew right then that I would see them again and in many more places.  Frank hadn't only found a life partner in Siobhan, he had found the perfect accompaniment to his original ballads and thought provoking songs.
That night, their fans were plentiful, and rowdy, and singing along with the music, and my friend Frank, wouldn't have had it any other way.  That's one of the draws to him, for me, that he doesn't take himself too seriously, and if fact regularly invites patrons at his show to sing with him as part of  "The Meyer and McGuire Drunken Choir".  I myself joined a few years later (well act surprised at least !). Since then my wife and I have followed them to at least a dozen different venues.  We've heard them on the lake, at a Fish Shanty,in the Culinary Center, at a Wine Bistro, and in the numerous small honky-tonk kinda bars that they love so much like Maloneys in Hammondsport.  Each time, we'd sit up close, and get to meet the people that Frank and Siobhan draw, cuz if there is one thing I have learned, it's that they draw good people to their shows. 

     Formally Frank has not been my teacher for over 25 years now, but that is not to say he ever stopped teaching me. We were at one of his shows at the Cdga Brewhouse on a Sunday night a few years ago and I had a epiphany concerning just that.  Those shows he does "unplugged" and invites budding musicians to join him.  That night I watched a woman regularly go out back to smoke, she wasn't dressed particularly well, and she looked like a lot of her life might have been spent at the end of that bar.
Playing the Yarger Golf tournament
I'll admit freely that when she went up to join Frank, I rolled my eyes as I had already decided what "type" of person she was. She started singing "Me and my Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin and I instantly felt ashamed for prejudging her.  This waif belted out this song with such feeling and intensity that people stopped outside and stuck their heads in to see who it was, even the smokers stopped and stepped back in.  It was at that point that I realized that Frank spent his life around "those types" and in between entertaining them, he'd lend a kind ear, a little advice if prompted, and compassion that some of these folks hadn't seen in a while. I suspect if Jesus were still around now, he's find himself at the same place as Frank more than a time or two (I like that I got to compare him to Jesus, cuz a lot of times when he sees me in the crowd and he plays American Pie, he substitutes my name and my siblings for the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, how does that feel Frank?)  There is not much to say after you compare a guy to God, except to tell you where and when you can see him.  I'll attach his link to his blog and upcoming shows, here  Meyer and McGuire .  I hired him 5 years ago to play our family golf tournament (cuz it turns out we are some of "those types" too) and that is one decision I will never regret.  I do regret not making time for a promised dinner with them for over a year now, and I'll look to correct that mistake soon.  In closing, if you want to hear a pretty decent pair of musicians, playing in the places that they love, check out my friend Frank, and his partner Siobhan.  If you go, sit still, listen deep, watch the crowds that they draw, and request Dear Abby for me, but please check for Webelos first. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lobster, Donuts, and some thoughts from Erma Bombeck.

     It was my Mother that introduced me to the works of Erma Bombeck, while I was in high school.  I couldn't connect in the way that she did, with her tales of motherhood and her trials and tribulations with it, but I knew my mom did.  We read her books and columns regularly.  I lost my mom last week and a high school friend reminded me of a piece by Bombeck entitled "If I Had My Life to Live Over", while expressing her condolences.  I found it very apropos, so I copied it, in it's entirety, next. 

If I Had My Life to Live Over, by Erma Bombeck

Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.
My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.
If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.
Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.
I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.
I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.
I would have eaten popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.
I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.
I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored.
I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.
I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.
I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.
I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.
I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.
I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/ guaranteed to last a lifetime.
When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”
There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.
      As you read this, I am preparing to bury my Mother, and I think it is the coolest thing, that she had none of these regrets.  I never remember her turning away a friend who needed a kind ear, dinner could wait.  She never met a donut she didn't like, and we got to spoil her with them often, especially the last 3 years.  Housekeeping was never, ever, the number one priority on her list, and I loved her for that.  She was one of the best listeners I knew, but if she did comment, she told you straight up, how she felt.  She marveled at her pregnancies and the miracle of birth even after 10 of them.  She was a partner in my Dad's business and for years did the billing and bookwork for him.  She wore silly hats, just for the heck of it.  I'm not saying that she ate a lot of lobster, I'll only tell you that I've already received a call from Maine, wondering about the drop in consumption in this area, and it's only been 5 days.  My sister "She-who-shall-not-be-named" swears both donuts and lobsters are on sale at Wegman's this week.  I think they are suddenly heavy on inventory.  I cannot be sad at this time, knowing that my mother lived her life so well, for so long, but I can learn from her example, and so can you.  Stop worrying about the few extra lbs around your middle (I think that's where the soul is, so let's beef it up for the journey).  Listen deep.  Eat more ice cream, Maple Walnut was mom's favorite. Lastly, in memory of my mom, and to keep those Lobstermen off my back for a while, offer up a lobster or two to her, and don't skimp on the butter.  As you eat it, you'll feel how I feel about my mother, how sweet it is, and how you'd love to have it around more.  I miss you Mom, say hi to Dad, Glenda, and all the rest for me.  
My Mom and I at the Beer tent at the St. Mary's festival

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Spank you very much.

       OK,  I'll admit right up front, that I spank my kids.  Going back to the old stand-by that if it was good enough for me, it's good enough for them, I used this as a tool to discipline all 3 of our children.  I learned to spank from my father, and as a kid, I never confused discipline with hatred,  nor did I ever think that my Dad didn't love me because I earned a spanking. It was simply a cause and effect kind of thing, you did wrong, you expected a punishment.  There are few topics though,  that draw such strong emotional responses from people, as whether it is "right" or "wrong" to spank your children.  I can only give you my thoughts, from my own personal experiences, and then let you decide what works best for you.....

     I don't remember my first spanking, but I do remember a time where I got spanked a lot.  When I was 7 or 8, I lived in the same bedroom as 3 of my brothers, Redface, Aquaman, and Ace.  Each night we would go to bed and we were supposed to go right to sleep, but each night we found this an seemingly impossible task to accomplish.  It would start with someone
Not actually us, but you get the picture....
whispering "Are you still awake?", and with an affirmative response, a conversation would ensue.  Inevitably there would be an argument about some current topic, who would win if Batman and Superman got in a fight (Superman, of course), or who the best Yankee was (Bucky Dent, of course), and our whispers would soon become a chorus of loud "Un-Uhs" and "Uh-Huhs, sometimes escalating to a full blown pillow fight, until the call came bellowing from downstairs to come down right now!  We were in for it, we had riled the Bear.  It was only years later, when I became a parent that I realized how precious those few hours or hour are, where your kids are in bed before you and you can not be a parent for a short time.  My dad worked 2-3 jobs at any given time. He had even less free time than most, so he did not like it when we misbehaved; therefore we were spanked if we did.  So the call would come, and we would fight for who was going to go down the stairs first.  In general the best position was the back, because sometimes Dad would spank only 2 of us, and then say "Let that be a lesson to the rest of you.." Score ! No spanking that night.
A pretty fair representation of what Dad used.

On other nights though, he might start spanking with his hand, and then halfway through call for the paddle.  The paddle I remember most was called "The Board of Education" and it hung on a hook in full view in the kitchen as a constant and visible reminder for us to tow the line.  It was about 20" long, 6" wide and 3/4" thick, and I never met the man who had a harder hand, than that Board, not even my Dad.  That was a bad time to be the last spanked, but for me, not as bad as the days he used his belt.  Occasionally the Board would be broken or come up "missing" so Dad would fold his belt over and use it like a strap.   That hurt the worst I thought, but even on those nights, I didn't feel the "burn" for more than 15 minutes after the punishment was doled out, and in fact, on a rare night, we'd start back up again, and get called down twice.  Those nights the argument would be on whose fault is was that we got spanked, with accusations flying back and forth until ironically we'd get spanked again and make the first argument immediately moot.  We were not bright kids sometimes.  Eventually Dad remodeled the house, added more bedrooms, and split us four boys up, but in that year or two, the spankings flew fast and furious.

     Another odd tradition in the Yarger household and apparently in a lot of  North American households, was the practice of giving "Birthday Spankings".  You'd have your birthday dinner, that you got to pick the menu for (I'd pick Shake n Bake Pork Chops each year), and before you got to open presents, you had to take your Birthday Spankings.  I'm not sure how such a tradition could have started, but it goes back a couple of hundred years, some say it is based on your first spanking by the doctor when you are born, you get one then, then 2 the next year and so on.
MMM, Shake and Bake Pork Chops
Maybe the point was to show how playful spankings could be, or to build character, kind of an extension of the "Pinch to grow an Inch" theory, but nevertheless, no presents could be opened unless you got your Spankings (Unless you were my sister Tear-y). Dad would push back his chair, signaling it was time for you to lay over his lap, and you'd glance at the pile of presents, and at his outstretched hand and eventually take the flying leap to land ass up, ready for your comeuppance. Dad would ask your age to presumably determine the number of swats you got, but I never knew a single sibling that got that prescribed amount.  Dad would "lose count" halfway through and restart or ask you a numerical question and restart at the point of your answer, and of course there were the extra spankings at the end with good wishes attached like "And one to grow on"  That one seemed not to work for me, cause as often as I got Birthday Spankings, I never grew taller than 5' 6.5".  The one for good health seemed to have worked though.  I started this tradition in my house and carried it through for a few years until my wife labeled it "Barbaric" and threatened to stop another North American tradition,  the one where husbands and wives sleep in same bed.  Char 1, Birthday Spankings 0. 

     If there is an adage that I don't understand, it's the one about "Never spank your kids in anger".  To me it always seemed infinitely more cruel to wake them several hours later to spank them, than to deliver the punishment swiftly after the egregious behavior.

I'm guessing it's about being in control when you spank your kids to make sure you don't deliver too severe of a punishment, but if their bad behavior doesn't make you angry, your a better man than I am. We used additional parenting tools to spanking too, like time out and "Go to your room", losing privileges, and positive incentives (bribes), but I always liked to have the Spanking option in the tool belt.   I used it less with each kid, as we got better at parenting and learned what we could live with.  I likely mis-spanked a time or two, but I'm OK with that also (Maybe Molly isn't she still thinks life is fair).  I didn't appreciate it when it happened to me, I distinctly remember getting spanked in a whole line of my siblings one time, until someone else admitted to a dastardly deed.  I thought of how unfair it was, but later as a parent, I realized you don't get it right all the time, and there is a lesson in it either way.  I spanked Molly one night for pushing her younger brother out of a bunkbed, which was very dangerous, and she insists to this day that she was set up.  She may have not deserved the punishment, but she likely learned the ramifications of making false accusations against another, and her brother the accuser did too.  No Molly, it was not fair, but you do the best you can, it's called parenting, not perfecting for a reason.

     I should close the blog now, and I suspect this one will draw some comments both positive and negative concerning the practice of spanking, and it should.  We should always seek to improve, but that doesn't mean we have to throw out time tested methods to do it. I've seen many anecdotal examples of "Spare the Rod, spoil the Child" but I've also seen evidence of child abuse that made me consider never striking a child again.  Two defining moments as a parent, set my view firmly in place.

Once after spanking Nolan for a transgression, he left the room and came back with his blanket and snuggled up with me.  I was dumbfounded and moved immediately to tears.  As young as he was, 5 or 6 at the time, he could separate my job as the disciplinarian and my job as his parent who loved him unconditionally, and within a minute of the incident.  Clearly at that time, I had the balance right (Sorry Molly and Danny).  My friend Tor would undoubtedly make a comparison to God if he read this, so this time, I'll save him the trouble.  I like to think of God as a mixture of the fiery Old Testament God, punishing the wicked swiftly and creatively too (How about that locust thing, or the pillar of Salt?), mixed equally with the forgiving God who would and did, sacrifice himself for us.  I aspire to be that kind of parent, but I am a work in progress.  The second incident happened a few months ago as I took my son Dan to a poker game (What?  I just admitted that I was a work in progress, give me a break).  During the game a friend of mine, who was abused as a child but wouldn't admit it to my son at the time, baited him with the questions "Does your Dad still beat you? and "You won't beat your kids, will you Dan?"  His reply came promptly and succinctly as he simply stated, "You know Mr. T, I'm smart enough not to remove what might be a useful parenting tool, before I learn what the job is about"  That boy is polite, and smart, probably because I spanked him. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

First Fridays with Mom

     For me, it's all about balance.  I like to try and balance the time I spend doing things that are questionable type behaviors against time spent doing volunteer work or things that will help me be a better person spiritually.  Inevitably, the scale tips heavier towards the questionable behaviors more than the spiritual pursuits, but I blame my family and friends for that.  It's not like they ever call me up to go to church with them you see, but I can always count on the "I'm at Happy Hour at the Sand Bar, what are  you doing?" call to come.  It's all their fault.  The one exception to this habit, is my sainted Mother, who is not much of a barfly, but does invite me to go to church with her, and hence the habit of taking her to First Friday Mass was born.

     I think it was over 2 years ago now, that we started to go to First Fridays together, Mom had always enjoyed this, and after she moved in with my sister, she expressed a wish to continue.  I, being the dutiful son, and secondly realizing that my life could use more church in it, agreed to try and take her each month (It actually needs a lot more church in it, but I committed to just one extra visit each month, what a slacker. )  We started going to the early service at St. Mary's and we did enjoy our time there.
The view from the Sand Bar in Cdga, at the Inn on the Lake.
We got to see the St. Mary's kids and sometimes we would stay for the announcements or school awards that they would give out.  It brought me back to my time spent as a student there, a subject that I am probably overdue on blogging about, but this won't be that blog, I've already got enough material in the topic already.  So, we went for a while, but Mom's sleeping habits changed and it turned out to be a lot more work for my sister who cares for her, to get her up, dressed and fed for such an early Mass, so I sought out an alternative service.  One Sunday,  I noticed in the church bulletin, that our priest also did a First Friday Mass at a local adult assisted living facility that was right up the street from Mom, and the mass was mid-day and they were gracious enough to let us attend.  We drove the first time, but sometimes if the weather is nice, I'll push Mom in her wheelchair up the big hill that the home sets on.  I need the exercise anyway, but it's like church, rarely do I get the call to go workout with my friends either.  I clearly have to start hanging around different people, but I digress, back to the home, we normally enter through the back.  We go by the kitchen where a childhood friend works as the chef, and take the elevator to the 2nd floor.  We navigate the narrow passageways, go through the dining room, interrupting the daily game of dominoes, and enter the front formal living room.  That's where we first met The Girls.

      One definition of girl, is "a young woman from birth to adulthood", but that's not the definition I am using in this instance, I'm using one that states "A woman socializing in a group of women, like a night out with the girls" These ladies spend a lot of time socializing with each other, and they each bring a little something different to the party, let me set the scene for you first.

     My favorite resident, yeah I'll play favorites here too, sits just off to the left of us each time, and I'll call her, M. She is small, a little hunched, has a quiet raspy voice and walks with a walker. She always has the daily paper stuffed into a pocket on the front of it, and I suspect she has some memory issues too.  I actually don't have to suspect because each time we come, she'll lean over and do one of two things, sing Take Me out to the Ballgame, or recite a poem/rhyme she knew as a kid.  She never fails to do one or the other, sometimes both, and I love it each time.  She grew up in Rochester, and her father was a butcher, so her poem goes like this....

My Father was a butcher,
My Mother cuts my meat,
and I'm the little Weiner,
who runs around the street.

She says it the same way each time, and it is precious. She takes about 10 breaths to get it all out, and she speaks barely above a whisper, but she gets it out each time with perfect delivery.  Because she has some breathing troubles I cringe on the days she starts with "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", but she not only gets through it, she even adds a Cha Cha Cha to the end of some verses and throws in a hip wiggle while she does it.  Is it any wonder that she is my favorite with showmanship like that?

     Further down from M, sits B.  B is very quiet, and in fact is so quiet, most masses she nod off for a portion of the service.  That is pretty impressive considering mass is barely 40 minutes long at the home.  It's amazing how much time you save when you eliminate all the standing up, sitting and kneeling.  B should be my favorite, because I've been know to get sleepy at mass too, but she just can't compare to M's showmanship, plus she's a few chairs away which makes it a lot harder to have conversations. With varying degrees of hearing loss, and the soft spoken nature of some older folks, there tends to be a lot of repeating of things around the room. It gets pretty comical, hearing the comment of the day, repeated in the different corners of the room, so everyone can keep up on the conversation.  It's even funnier when they mis-hear it, and I can see the confused faces on one side of the room wondering how to follow a conversation that is so non sequitur.  I shouldn't laugh so much at church, and yet I do.

     K sits across the room from us, but her hearing is good and she is a visitor each month, like we are.  She drives in from Victor and with a group of ladies sometimes.  She lost a friend that used to come with her last year, and even though she was older it was unexpected.  She was at mass one month and not the next.  She was planning a trip with her daughter, so she readied her house, packed her bags and set them by the door, she went to bed, and passed away in the night.
Dining room in back, Can you pick out G?
They said her husband went the same way, sans the packed bags, ten years before her.  I hope when I go, I go with my bags packed, it just seems tidy that way.  K is spry and I went to school with her grandson, so we catch up on his goings-on sometimes.  We both attended a wedding together last year, a nephew of my wife married one of K's granddaughters, so I got to introduce my wife to one of the Girls. I'll be honest, I like to keep this little goldmine to myself, and to date, I've only shared the experience with one sister, my daughter, and my youngest son. I think the Girls like it that way.  When my sister, She who Shall not be Named, took my mother one month while I was traveling, she didn't get nearly the warmth or reception that we get.  M didn't even sing for her, go figure.

     There are a handful of other ladies that comprise my group of Girls, but they all haven't made the impression on me that these ones have.  A lot of it has to do with seating arrangements.  I look forward to learning more about them though, on my future visits for masses there.  I wondered why Mom wanted to go to First Friday Mass so much, so I asked her one day, and she told me that you receive special graces if you go.  I later learned from my sister that you have to go 9 consecutive times in order for the graces to be guaranteed.  There are 12 of them in all, but the last one seems to be the best one, it reads....

I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate on the First Friday in nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence: they will not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their Sacraments. My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.    

I'm no theologian, that's my brother Socrates, but the way I read it, make mass 9 times in a row on a First Friday and you get a free pass into Heaven?  Maybe there is hope for me yet, in spite of my wayward friends.