Tag Archives: Rest in Peace

Happiness is… Being Together at Christmas

It is Christmas Day afternoon and I am sitting alone in our house, nursing a cold. Dean and Clare are off on a hiking adventure, Andrew is in Atlanta with his girlfriend. I am not complaining — I do like my alone time, but looking at Facebook posts of families opening gifts is making me a little sad.

Christmas 1967. L to R: Kevin, Jeff Green in foreground, Aunt Lelia in background, Ron Choitz as Santa, Debbie (?), Julie (?).

When I was young our Christmas eves were spent with the Greens. I think the family would take turns hosting everyone else for Christmas eve (I remember it at my Uncle Bud’s house, our house and my Uncle Dick’s houses. Maybe Aunt Ginny too, once she was married. The cousins would play together — and often put together a performance of some kind. I was the oldest, so I was the bossy director. When we were all very young, Santa would come. I don’t remember when that tradition ended — maybe when my Gullick cousins moved to Mississippi? I do remember we did have a Christmas eve celebration at my Uncle Bud’s the year after my grandfather died.

Stop me if I have already told this story — it is definitely possible since I like it so much…

Sometime after 1963 (the year my brother was born), my mom made a line drawing of her parents and siblings with the title Happiness is… Being together at Christmas. After my brother found it at the lake house in Wisconsin and posted a photo of it on Facebook, my Aunt Ginny said it looked just like a photo she had and surmised that my mom had traced it from the photo. The drawing is too large to have been traced from the photo, but it was definitely the inspiration.

See for yourself…

original photo
Original photo

So this year they are finally all together again for Christmas — the first time since 1972 when Grandpa died. They have a lot of catching up to do.

Remembering BLC and Sister Margaret

It was September 1979 and I  was fresh out of college with no employment other than my job at an all-night “pancake house” as a waitress. Someone who knew someone who knew I was looking for a teaching position told someone at Bartlett Learning Center (now Clare Woods Academy) about me. They called, I interviewed and was hired as a long-term substitute teacher at the school for learning disabled and developmentally disabled youth. The school was housed on the main floor of a Catholic convent run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis.

At that point in my life I did not have a car so I took a bus to the train station, rode the train the few stops from Elgin to Bartlett, then walked to the school. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked for me.

December of that year I moved to my own apartment. Around that same time, Sister Jane, the teacher for whom I was substituting returned to the school. I was kept on because she needed assistance after surgery. She lived in Elgin and my apartment was on the way to the school so she picked me up each morning and dropped me off each afternoon. Later, for some reason, two other sisters, Barbara and Margaret, joined the carpool (although they lived on the east side of Elgin and my apartment was not on the way to Bartlett) and for several months the four of us rode to and from school together each day. Suddenly my closest friends were nuns! I worked with them, commuted with them and even socialized with them.

After my parents bought a new car and gave me their old Buick LeSabre and I no longer needed to commute with the sisters we remained friends. In fact one of the other teachers at the school told me she didn’t trust me because I was friends with the sisters (one of whom was the head sister at the time).

Sisters Barbara and Margaret shared an apartment on the east side of Elgin. Sister Jane lived alone. Sister Jane was from a state farther west — Nebraska? One of the Dakotas? I don’t remember where Sister Barbara was from — maybe near Elgin? Sister Margaret was from Elgin, though. I knew that because one day I saw Sister Margaret’s photo among the photos of my mother’s classmates in her high school yearbook. I never told anyone but Sister Margaret that I saw the photo because because she was very secretive about her age.

Sister Margaret taught the younger students when I was at Bartlett Learning Center. She was so patient with them and they loved her. She was funny and kind and caring. I can actually still hear her voice in my head. She had brown short curly hair, twinkly eyes and a ready smile. In fact, the only time I saw her even slightly upset was when I told her that I saw her photograph in my mother’s yearbook.

When I read on Facebook that Sister Margaret died yesterday it brought back a flood of memories about my first two years as a teacher. About how I learned  so much about teaching from all the sisters. Sister Jane taught me classroom management skills, Sister Barbara taught me organizational skills and Sister Margaret probably taught me the most important lessons. She taught, by example how to be kind and patient and caring even when I wanted to scream at the students.

After I moved on from Bartlett Learning Center I kept in touch with the sisters for many years. After a while I lost touch with them but a mutual friend occasionally lets me know some information about these wonderful women.

These past 12 months have been a year of loss for me in so many ways. While I’d not talked to Sister Margaret for years, the world is that much worse because she is no longer in it. But she’s sitting at that table in the cafe in my mind’s picture of Heaven.

Remembering George Brett

When I was in graduate school at the George Washington University I joined an online group called Brainstorms (which has nothing to do with GWU). Because there were a fair number of Brainstorms members from the DC area, we decided, in 1999, to have a get together.  Dean and I hired a babysitter and drove to Adam’s house in Falls Church. There were probably 6 or 7 Brainstorms members there and a few spouses. A few things I remember from that night:

  • Chicken sausages could taste really good
  • Falls Church is cool at night
  • George Brett was a great listener
  • Lemony Snickett books could save my kids
Meeting George
George is on the right (photo borrowed from Glen — who is on the far left). This is the night I met George.

On our walk around Falls Church, George asked me about my degree program and what I wanted to do with my upcoming degree in educational technology leadership. I told him that I really wanted to help create online learning environments that involved virtual chatrooms — online spaces where students could interact with subject matter experts. For instance, if someone were learning about Shakespeare, they’d “talk” to an avatar that looked like “the Bard” in an environment that simulated England of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. George didn’t laugh at my dream. He thought it was a great idea and offered ideas.

George, Rupert, GeoDuckie and the POTUS
George, Rupert, GeoDuckie and the POTUS

I saw George a number of times after that, at various Brainstorms functions. The last time I saw George was in 2009 at our Inaugural Ball (where he wore a kilt and his signature bow tie). We interacted online a lot, though. First on Brainstorms, then on Facebook. Several years ago when I asked for suggestions for places to go for a romantic weekend, George emailed me and invited us to stay at his lovely cabin in Wintergreen, VA. We had a wonderful time.

Once, on Facebook, I asked my FB friends to recommend pillows. Shortly after I pressed “enter” the phone rang. It was George telling me that he and Sally were on their way back from Bed, Bath and Beyond where he found the perfect pillows — Laura Ashley. He knew they were perfect because he tried them out, right on the floor of Bed, Bath and Beyond.

The last time I spoke to George, he and Sally were celebrating their wedding anniversary in Florida. He called me, asking if it was me who needed a job reference or something. Typical George — he didn’t want to leave it until he returned to Virginia and took time out of his anniversary vacation to ask. I’d not asked him, but was grateful that he was calling to make sure. I assume he went through his address book until he found the right person.

George died earlier this month — in fact, the same day Sandy died. His memorial service will take place in about three hours. I’ll be headed back to Falls Church — not to meet George or visit with him in his apartment, but to say farewell to him. To be in a church where people from many areas of his life will be gathered to say goodbye to a remarkable man.

George was a thoughtful, kind, gentle man. In all the time I knew him — online and off — he never, to my knowledge, uttered (or wrote) an unkind word about anyone. He left us far too soon. The world is a better place because he was in it, but his passing has left a void in the lives of everyone that knew him.

Too soon, too soon

I don’t know if Marc was at the first Dan Bern show I attended. I don’t think he was at the most recent Dan Bern show I attended. I do know, however, he will not be at the next Dan Bern show I will attend, or any other Dan Bern show whether I attend them or not.

Marc passed away in July. (oh, fuck cancer, by the way).

I don’t remember when I was first aware of Marc. Thinking back, I know he was at the first Birchmere show I attended. I had great front row seats and Marc was behind me, filming the show. I remember ducking out of his way several times during the show.

He was friends with Chris and Winelady — I think I must have known her name at one time, but have since forgotten it — and the last time Dan played at IOTA in Arlington, I know Marc was there because I accidentally left without paying my bar tab and asked him, then Chris and Winelady if they were stuck with it. No one admitted to paying my tab.

Marc was always behind a camera or video recorder. He always wore a baseball hat and a windbreaker kind of coat. He always had a modest smile on his face.

The first time I drove out of my comfort zone (Delaware) to see Dan Bern play, Marc was there to make me feel comfortable.

The second time I drove out of my comfort zone to see Dan Bern play (Baltimore), Marc introduced me to Dan and his girlfriend, Danielle. Dan was in a jovial mood (he was playing Carnegie Hall the next week!) and I got a Dan Bern kiss on the top of my head.

The time I asked Dan Bern to sign my daughter’s autograph book, Marc was there to tease Dan that I wanted my breasts signed instead. (apparently someone asked for that type of autograph during the previous show).

Marc met my husband at one of the last Dan Bern shows I saw and I took Marc’s photo (that I cannot find) at another relatively recent show. We promised to keep in touch, but didn’t. It was through an Internet search that I found his obituary. His death was confirmed by one of Dan’s old band members who knew Marc.

If you happen to follow Dan on Facebook, take a look at this cover album photo. Marc took it.

Dan’s playing in Arlington on Thursday. It won’t be the same without the possibility of Marc showing up.


Happy Birthday Saul Korewa, wherever you are

I am writing this on the last day of February, 2011. It will be posted on the 55th anniversary of the birth of a unique person. He won’t turn 55 years old today, however. And that’s the bad news.

The good news is that Saul was. He was a good person and cared deeply about his daughters. He was a teacher. He was a religious leader. He even was a TV movie actor.

In the earlier days of the World Wide Web, long before the phrase “social media” was a term and it was considered okay to get to know people solely online, we “met” via a piece of software called ICQ that had a unique “random” feature. One of us, probably Saul , pushed the random button and found my profile and requested a chat. We hit it off immediately. We talked nearly every day (mostly about raising kids) for at least a year — possibly more — until he went off the grid and moved to a remote “ranch” in Nevada.

He loved the da Vinci painting Ginevra de’ Benci. He fiercely defended his faith. He didn’t always follow rules. He was a good son and a good father.

About a year ago we reconnected on Facebook, but he’d disappear for months at a time because of loss of Internet access or a misplaced or lost cell phone. Our last conversation was about how proud he was of his girls and that the middle daughter might go into education and he wanted her to talk to me since I’d been a teacher.

Every so often I’d check out one of his two Facebook profiles (yes, he was a rebel) to see what he was up to, or if he’d checked in recently. Today, knowing his birthday was coming up (remember this is being written February 28), I checked his profile and found a message from one of his daughters saying he’d died in December in a house fire.

I used to tease him about being older than I was. Very soon that won’t be the case. I’ll bypass him. I’m sure he’s laughing about that somewhere.

Since he’s devoutly Jewish, I suppose I shouldn’t think of him at that table in Heaven with my Uncle Don, JFK and my Dad, but if he’s there, he’s sure to be telling some fun stories.

On December 20th he posted a photo of  a composite of the recent total lunar eclipse and tagged me as one of the phases. He died a week later. It’s comforting, somehow, to know he thought about me a week before he moved on.

(photos snagged from the Internet)

A year of goodbyes

In April it was Joan’s mom — suddenly and at home.

In May it was Jerry. He was a couple of years older than I am. He was on his way home from picking his daughter up from college — and luckily not driving.

In August it was Aunt Nancy — she’d suffered for years from lung cancer so the end might have been a blessing.

In October it was Dad.

In January it was Joe — our cat.

Last Friday it was Bill. I’m not sure of his age, but suspect he was younger than I am. I sat next to him two weekends ago at a Burns’ Supper and participated in a dance afterwards in which he was the leader. He carried his 19 year-old daughter who has CP up the stairs with what looked like no problem at all that evening. It was sudden and at home.

And the most disturbing part is — it’s going to get worse.

My Lilac Bowl

At some point after our kids were born I quit really caring if a glass or piece of pottery was broken. It happened a lot, especially when the kids were younger. I figured I could almost always replace whatever was broken and if not, it really didn’t matter.

That’s not to say I don’t have a twinge of sadness when something I really like is broken. Most things I really like are put in the china cabinet and only looked at. If they are taken out of the china cabinet and used, I make sure that I’m the one that washes them. (Dean and the kids seem to think that everything is “dishwasher safe”.) I have a china coffee cup with a cedar waxwing on it that my Mom and Aunt gave me when I graduated from grad school that I only use on special occasions. I have the remaining juice glass that was from a set given to me by Frances Lide that is not used anymore. Its 5 companions were broken one-by-one because we used them when the kids were young.

I have several lidless sugar bowls because Dean has a knack for breaking sugar bowl lids. I’ve given up buying new sugar bowls anymore, knowing the lids would soon be broken.

Today I carefully removed a beautiful heavy crystal bowl from the bottom shelf of my china cabinet. It’s always the perfect bowl for fruit salad, and I’d made a lovely fruit salad for a brunch I was hosting this afternoon. The bowl was a wedding gift from, Rita, a friend and co-worker from my days at Bartlet Learning Center. Rita and her husband lived in Lombard, Illinois where a lilac festival is held every year. She knew how much I loved lilacs so she and her husband bought me a lilac bowl for our wedding. I remember how pleased she was with this gift, mentioning it more than once. The box it came in had “Lilac Bowl” in handwritten on it in black block letters. The bowl, however, had no lilacs on it. It had something that looked more like tulips decorating the outside. I still thought of it as my lilac bowl, however, since that is what Rita said it was. Either the box held the wrong bowl or the bowl was meant to hold lilacs.

Anyway, today it didn’t hold lilacs. It held fruit salad. When the meal was over I carefully carried the bowl into the kitchen, spooned the remaining fruit into a covered container and gently placed the bowl into the sink, turned on the faucet and squirted some dish detergent into the bowl. I heard a muffled crack, but couldn’t see what might have made the sound. After washing the bowl and pouring out the water I saw a crack running around the side of the bowl at about the mid-point between the bottom and the rim. The crack then climbed upward and ended (began?) at a small chip near the rim. The chip had been there for many years — I don’t remember where it came from, but it turned out to be the bowl’s downfall.

As sad as I am about this, it is just a bowl. A bowl with a little story, but just a bowl.

For Carolyn — a confession that comes too late

In 1990 I began working for Fairfax County Public Schools at Rose Hill Elementary School as a special education teacher. I taught students in grades 4 – 6 and worked with many of the “regular” education teachers. One of the 4th grade teachers, Cindy, was also new that year and we, along with Rosanne, another special ed teacher became instant friends.

Cindy often complained to Rosanne and me about the other 4th grade teachers. I don’t recall the content of the complaints, but it seemed to involve her not being welcomed into the 4th grade community. I, being stupidly and blindly loyal to my friends, immediately took her side without seeing any discrimination for myself.

At grade level staff meetings (I had to attend all grade level meetings that involved the grades I taught) I was downright rude to the other 4th grade teachers. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember being cold and abrupt. How dare these women upset my new-found friend? I thought. I’ll show them!

So all year I carried on a private battle with Joyce and Carolyn. Carolyn once confronted me at the copier about my attitude but I denied anything was wrong.

That summer I gave birth to Clare and was on maternity leave until November. I remember walking into Cindy’s room after school on one of my first days back and being shocked to see her and Carolyn laughing together as if they were the best of friends. Something had changed, Cindy no longer disliked Carolyn. In fact, Cindy liked Carolyn. The war was over and no one told me.  Later I asked Cindy when the ceasefire happened and she denied ever being at war with Carolyn.

As the year went on, I got to like Carolyn too, but I always felt uncomfortable with her because of my actions the year before. When another friend, Joan, began teaching 4th grade, she and Carolyn became very close. I too, got to know Carolyn for the warm and kind person she was and the uncomfortableness I’d felt was pretty much gone, but not entirely forgotten by me (and I suspect by Carolyn).

When I started teaching again in the fall of 1995 I worked as a co-teacher with Joan. Two years later I chose to work as a co-teacher alongside Carolyn because she was retiring at the end of the year. I didn’t realize that Carolyn didn’t want the principal to know that she was going to retire, so when asked by the principal why I wanted to work with Carolyn, said because it would be my last chance because she was going to retire.

Not long after my meeting with the principal, Carolyn met with her and came back to the classroom upset. She said that someone told the principal about her retirement plans and that she suspected Laurie, one of the other special ed teachers. I said nothing. Months later when she met with the principal again, she asked her who told her about her retirement. The principal said it was me. Caught red-handed, I admitted that it was, indeed, I who spilled the beans. Carolyn wasn’t upset that I’d told the principal, but because I’d let her think it was Laurie all those months. I apologized and she accepted it and that was that, although I still feel horrible about it.

The next year Carolyn retired and I took leave of absence to pursue a Master’s degree and never went back to teaching. I saw Carolyn several times after we both left Rose Hill, but not a whole lot — mostly with Joan.

In 2002 Carolyn was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before her 60th birthday. I don’t know much about the stages of the disease, but she was in a stage where she’d have to be on chemotherapy for the rest of her life. We talked occasionally. I heard through the grapevine that she wondered why I didn’t visit more often — was I afraid of the cancer? It wasn’t that. It was another reason — but just as selfish. It was because once when I visited a friend who’d broken her leg after not having seen her in a long time was accused by the friend of simply paying her a pity call. I didn’t want to be accused of paying pity calls.

Carolyn hosted a Christmastime dinner party a couple of years ago and after that I sort of lost contact with Joan — we used to instant message a bit, but I’d all but stopped instant messaging on AIM. In the late winter of 2007  Joan had a Jewelry party that Clare and I attended and Carolyn was there.  That was the last time I saw her.

Recently (last week, in fact) I decided I should do something about my friendship with Joan — call her or write her. I also decided to write Carolyn a note and maybe go see her. I’d even decided to really apologize for my behavior the first year at Rose Hill and for the incident our last year as well.

I found out a couple of days ago that Carolyn died just over a month ago. At first I was angry that I wasn’t told about it so I could go to the funeral, but then the feeling turned to one of numbness. Numb because once again I could have done something and didn’t. That inertia or whatever the hell is wrong with me when it comes to communicating with those that might just appreciate it set in again and I missed a chance to say goodbye.



Several years ago the parents of a friend of my son told us we were in for a treat. Their very best friends in the world were moving up the street from us. It turned out that the friends had a daughter the same age as our daughter and they ended up hanging out for a few years.

Times change, people change, kids change. Clare and Isabel didn’t hang out so much after a while but they always kept in touch.

What I didn’t know about the new family was that the mother, Carolina, was a breast cancer survivor. And a breast cancer survivor champion. She founded an organization for educating Hispanic women about breast cancer, then worked for a national breast cancer organization after leaving the one she founded in good hands.

When I heard that her cancer was back I fully expected her to beat it because that is who she was.

Carolina died last night.

Rest in peace.

Fuck you cancer.